When I was a kid, Taco Night was always the best dinner. Not only did you get to have spicy and delicious Mexican food, but you got to assemble your tacos all by yourself.
Oh. My. Golly.
Now that I’m older, Taco Night is still one of my favorites. I love setting up a little taco bar with all the fixings. And if you have kids of your own, you know how delighted they are to build their own tacos.
It becomes more than a meal. It becomes an event.
Taco Night also is very economical because the ingredients are among the least expensive you can buy.
Tortillas cost next to nothing. You can buy corn or flour tortillas, in various sizes depending on what you like. Just heat them up right before service in a cast iron pan or in the microwave, then keep them warm by wrapping them in a clean dishtowel.
Or you can buy hard taco shells, which are corn tortillas that have been deep fried. These are a little more expensive, however.
Fill your tacos with any kind of ground or shredded meat you want. Ground beef, turkey, or shredded chicken all work well. Tacos are also a great way to burn out leftovers.
This is a great place to use some of that shredded chicken or pork that you smoked yourself in your smoker.
Another favorite is fish tacos. I use frozen tilapia filets because they are usually very reasonably priced, but you can use just about any kind of fish. Just defrost them, season them and put them under the broiler for about 7 minutes before chopping them up into big chunks.
Season your filling with an envelope of taco seasoning, or just use two parts cumin to one part chili powder, which is basically what’s in those envelopes anyway and it’s a lot
For the cheese, shredded cheese is often on sale, or you can save a little more by buying block cheese and shredding it yourself. Not only is this cheaper, but it tastes better because pre-shredded cheese usually has been sprayed with a preservative to keep it from getting dusty while sitting on the shelf.
White cheese tends to have less fat than orange cheese, but I prefer a combination of both, such as a mild cheddar and a Monterey jack.
The next ingredient is shredded lettuce. Iceberg lettuce is very inexpensive, but it lacks almost any nutritional value. I prefer red leaf or green leaf, which are much better for you and not that much more. After cleaning the lettuce (in your salad spinner, if you are lucky enough to have one), cut it into bit size pieces or horizontally into thin strips to shred it.
To me, the salsa makes or breaks the taco. Remember those little containers of hot sauce from Taco Bell? Weren’t those terrific? I haven’t been to TB in probably 15 years, but I can still remember exactly how they taste.
For my Taco Night, I like to use a regular mild salsa (whatever is on sale) combined with a healthy dollop of chipotle salsa, which is very spicy and is made with smoked jalapeno peppers. By itself, chipotle is too hot for me, but it adds a terrific smoky, spicy underlying flavor to regular salsa.
Sour cream acts as a cool counterpoint to the spicy salsa. Fat free sour cream is preferred in our house.
Finally, there’s the guacamole. We are huge fans of guacamole and usually have it two or three times a month, at least. It’s also our go-to appetizer to bring to parties. I’m planning a whole other blog devoted exclusively to guacamole in the near future, so stay tuned.
If you live by a Hispanic market, they usually will have some very good housemade guacamoles, which are not super spicy. But be careful not to confuse it with avocado sauce, which looks similar but has much more heat.
Or you can make your own guacamole. For this week’s Taco Night, I made a Mango-Walnut Guacamole, also known as a “Fruta”. It’s basically regular guacamole fortified with diced fresh mango for sweetness and chopped walnuts for a little crunch. Delicious.
Surprisingly, tortilla chips are probably the most expensive element of taco night. It’s easy to grab a bag from the shelf without looking at the price, but some bags can cost close to $4 apiece. That’s way too much. Instead, look for sales or buy them at a discount grocer such as Aldi’s. You are not going to find a wide variety in quality between the $4 tortilla chips and the $1.50 bag.
For presentation, set up a cute little taco bar and invite your family to build their own. You can make it as elaborate or ordinary as you want. I love to use mismatched serving bowls I buy at garage and rummage sales to liven it up. Your family will love it and it
will make one of the least expensive meals one of the most memorable.
Do you have any special meals that turn your family’s dinner into a memorable occasion? Why not share your ideas in the comments section?