80’s-style Comfort Food?: Beef Soft Tacos with Chipotle and a Crunchy Slaw

Diane writes: This is totally random, but I’m craving the tacos my mom used to make from the Ortega box. I know those spice packets are still around (I actually have one in my pantry – see attached pic – not sure how long it’s been there!), but I’d rather make these homemade without the preservatives and gunk in those packets. I picked up ground beef and my spice drawer is loaded. I have to go out one more time today so I could theoretically pick up something else. My 2 kids are teens so we are all fine with a little heat.

Tony’s take: I’d be lying if I said I remember what night tacos were in my house growing up, but the Old El Paso kit definitely made an appearance at least once a week. Paired with shredded cheddar, iceberg lettuce, and a wonderfully bland “taco sauce”, that had to be the least nutritious/most beloved food of my childhood. But enough of the reminiscing; to answer your question, yes, this is really easy. You can make a spice mix that is far better than anything you can get out of the packet and little more work. This seems to be a popular question: I answered a similar one back a couple months ago. I’ll give you a slightly different take, with a little more heat and interest for your adventurous crew. After browning the beef, stir in some spices, minced garlic, and finely chopped canned chipotle. Then serve this spicy, slightly saucy browned beef with warm corn tortillas and topped with a slaw of thinly sliced cabbage and red onion. Kind of like your mom’s tacos, updated with a little heat and healthfulness. Now, the goal is to hook your kids on these!

Serves 4. Prep time: 20 minutes. Cook time: 5 minutes

What you need: Ingredients: Ground beef (about 1 1/2 lb.; 85% lean is the right mix), S+P, spices (chili powder, ground cumin, dried oregano), green cabbage (about 1/4 head), red  onion (1/2), granulated sugar, lime, olive oil, garlic (1 cloves), canned chipotle.

Equipment: Large, heavy based skillet, wooden spoon, cutting board, chef’s knife, large bowl (for the slaw), tongs

How to do it: Get prepped: In a small bowl, mix kosher salt (about 1 tsp.) with 2 tsp. each chili powder, cumin, and oregano, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, and a pinch of cinnamon (if you like). Thinly slice about 2 cups green cabbage (or Napa) and 1/2 red onion (about 1/2 cup) and toss with salt, granulated sugar (about 1/2 tsp. each) and the juice of 1/2 lime.

Brown the beef: Use a large skillet for this, preferably nonstick. Heat a splash of olive oil (about 1 Tbs.) or canola oil with 1 garlic clove (minced) over medium-high heat until the garlic starts to sizzle steadily and becomes fragrant and just light brown at the edges, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the beef (about 1 1/2 lb., 85% lean would be best – saute it with a little more oil if the beef is leaner than this) spreading it out in a single layer, and cook for 1 minute without touching so it starts to brown. Then cook, chopping the beef  up with a wooden spoon to break it into small pieces, until it loses most all of its raw color, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with the spice mix, 1 minced canned chipotle (and 1 Tbs. adobo sauce), and cook, stirring, until the beef is completely cooked through and the spice mix is evenly dispersed, about 2 more minutes.

Serve: Spoon the beef onto warm corn tortillas (zap them in the microwave), top with some cheese if you like, the slaw, and a squirt of the remaining 1/2 lime.

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