Bad tacos gone good

The Food Dude shares his recipe for bad tacos gone good on his birthday.
by Dave Cathey Published: December 26, 2012
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To which I had no good response other than, “OK, I will.”

I was probably 13 when that happened, and in the ensuing three decades and two since I've made Tacos a la Bell an estimated 768 times. It began with seasoning packets from Lawry's and McCormick's companies, evolved into chile blends, then to all fresh and dried ingredients and settled back to a pared down chile blend of my own.

But man cannot live on tacos alone. Along with those nearly 700 taco ventures came the development of recipes for beans and rice, which I happen to prefer over any I've eaten in restaurants or other people's homes. I also make black beans, but I've had better than mine. I make red beans and rice, but not as good as Pearl's. But the pinto beans I make on taco night can easily be turned into refritos, but I love them equally without being fried and mashed with bacon grease.

Once upon a time, I wouldn't have eaten Tacos a la Bell without an ice cold Pacifico, Bohemia, Dos Equis or Simpatico (oh, the 1990s). But these days, I'll settle for Sweet Leaf's mint-infused green tea or a pineapple soda by Jarritos or Fanta. Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlboro Region of New Zealand ain't half bad with tacos either.

Today, I'll offer you three taco filling recipes. First, will be the from-scratch version, then the quick-and-easy mix. And because I flunked Leaving Well Enough Alone in college, I'm throwing in a green chile version. On top of that, I'll share the secrets to top-notch Mexican-style Spanish rice and the finest pinto beans on the planet.

Anyway, while I'm proud of how good my bad tacos taste, it does occur to me that by the time Dec. 26 falls on a Wednesday again, I hope to have graduated from tacos to something more inspired. Maybe chimichangas.

by Dave Cathey
Food Editor
The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene.
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Tacos a la Bell

2 pounds 80/20 (80 percent lean, 20 percent fat) ground beef, preferably ground sirloin

3 teaspoons light chili powder

2 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

½ teaspoon toasted, ground cumin

¼ teaspoon Mexican oregano

1½ cup water chicken stock or broth

• Mix all dry ingredients and set aside. Brown ground beef in a skillet. Drain thoroughly. Wipe skillet clean, then reheat. Combine beef with seasoning mix and water or broth. Simmer 10 to 12 minutes until the liquid has cooked out, stirring occasionally.

• Serve with warm taco shells, bottled hot sauce like La Preferida, Taco Sauce, Salsa Brava, Valentina or Bufalo, sour cream, sliced or mashed avocado, diced tomatoes, diced onion, sliced radishes and shredded lettuce and cheese.

Source: Dave Cathey

Tacos Gringos

2 pounds 80/20 ground beef, preferably ground sirloin

6 dried de-seeded chiles (can be any of or a mixture of Ancho, New Mexico, Guajillo, Chimayo or Cascabel)

3 sun-dried tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 sweet red pepper, minced

1 white onion, minced

2 to 3 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin

½ teaspoon Mexican oregano

• Bring 3 cups of water to boil. Remove stems and seeds from chiles. Add pods and sun-dried tomatoes to boiling water. Turn off heat and cover 10 to 20 minutes.

• Remove from heat, putting chile pods, tomatoes and half cup of liquid in a blender. Set aside remaining broth. Blend chiles and tomatoes until smooth, 3 to 5 minutes. Keep in processor and set aside.

• Brown ground beef in a heated skillet, drain well and set aside.

• In a saucepan, heat oil at medium to low heat. Add onions and sweat 15 minutes. Add red pepper and sweat another 10 minutes. Add garlic and sweat an additional 5 minutes.

• Move mixture into blender with chile and puree until smooth.

• After wiping the skillet clean, return the beef at medium heat with the sauce, oregano and spices. Simmer until the liquid has cooked out, about 15 minutes.

• Serve with warm taco shells, bottled hot sauce like La Preferida, Taco Sauce, Salsa Brava, Valentina or Bufalo, sour cream, sliced or mashed avocado, diced tomatoes, diced onion, sliced radishes and shredded lettuce and cheese.

Source: Dave Cathey

Green Chile Gringo Tacos

1 pound ground pork

2 cups Quick Green Chile Sauce, recipe below

Quick Green Chile Sauce

10 green chiles roasted, peeled, seeded and diced or 4 cups frozen, peeled, seeded and diced green chile

½ medium onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

¼ carrot, grated

1 tablespoon salt

2 teaspoons fresh ground pepper

2 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

• In a large pot, heat oil over medium to low heat. Add onions and cook until soft, 4 to 6 minutes. Add garlic and carrots and cook another 2 to 4 minutes.

• Add green chiles and mix thoroughly. Simmer another 10 minutes, lowering heat if onions start to darken.

• Add stock and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer at least 30 minutes. You may optionally use an immersion blender to make a smooth sauce. If you don't have an immersion blender, transfer to a standing blender in batches and return to pot.

• Heat a skillet over medium heat, add ground pork and brown. Once browned, drain the pork in a colander and wipe the skillet clean.

• Put the skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 cups of the green chile sauce and the ground pork plus salt and pepper.

• Simmer on medium to medium-low until the liquid has reduced significantly, about 20 minutes.

• Serve with warm taco shells, sour cream, sliced or mashed avocado, diced tomatoes, diced onion, sliced radishes and shredded lettuce and cheese.

Source: Dave Cathey

Salsa-Kissed Pinto Beans

I experimented my way into this recipe, which turned out to be a winner. You'll use the strained liquid from a basic salsa to flavor it. First things first, don't worry about soaking the beans overnight. It's unnecessary, but won't hurt if you think to do it ahead.

Finally, Mexican markets stock the highest quality beans. Old beans won't soften, and these markets will have all the ingredients you need so find Feria Latina, a Buy For Less Mercado, Morelos, or El Mariachi Supermercado.

2 cups pinto beans

2 quarts plus 2 cups water

3 cups chicken stock, broth or plain water

6 Roma tomatoes

1 white onion, divided

4 cloves garlic

6 to 8 dried chiles de arbol

2 tablespoons salt, divided

2 tablespoons fresh-ground black pepper

• Bring 2 quarts of the water to a boil in a large pot. While you wait, sort through the beans to remove any stones or misshapen beans.

• Add the beans to the boiling water and lower heat to medium low. Simmer with lid ajar until the beans are soft, which can take anywhere from an hour to two hours depending on the quality and age of the beans.

• Bring the remaining two cups of water to a boil and add the chiles de arbol. Cut the heat, cover the pot and let steep 10 minutes. Save the liquid for the rice.

• Put the reconstituted chiles plus a ¼ cup of the steeping liquid and garlic in a food processor and puree. Add the tomatoes and pulse 3 to 4 times. Slice the onion in half and set one half aside. Cut the other half into four pieces and add to the food processor and pulse 3 to 4 more times.

• Place a strainer over a medium bowl. Pour the salsa into the strainer and let strain until the beans are soft.

• Slice the remaining onion into ½-inch pieces.

• Once the beans are soft, strain them in a large colander placed in the sink. Wipe out the pot, return the drained beans and the chicken stock and strained salsa liquid. Store the salsa for the rice.

• Bring beans to a boil, add remaining ingredients, lower heat to medium low and let simmer with lid ajar.

• The beans can be eaten 30 minutes later, but if you let the simmer, reducing the heat when appropriate, for another two hours they will be perfect.

• Serve with Mexican-style Spanish Rice and tacos.

Note: To make refritos, fry two slice of bacon over medium heat to render off fat efficiently. Remove bacon and let cool. When cool, mince the bacon and set aside. Scoop two cups of the beans with liquid into the hot bacon grease and mash with a potato masher. Add another half cup of the liquid, the bacon and salt and pepper to taste. Stir frequently, when the water has cooked off, the refritos are ready to eat.

SOURCE: Dave Cathey

Mexican-Style Spanish Rice

2 cups long-grain rice

3½ cups chicken stock or broth

1¾ cups “hot tea” (see below)

½ white onion diced

½ bell pepper diced

¼ cup salsa from recipe for beans

½ cup frozen or fresh peas

½ cup frozen or fresh corn

½ cup frozen cooked carrots, optional

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons chili powder

½ teaspoon toasted, ground cumin seeds

¼ teaspoon toasted ground coriander seeds

• Salt and pepper to taste

• Add the rice to the steeping liquid from the chiles de arbol and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and strain through fine-mesh sieve. Spread the rice over a baking sheet, and place in an oven on its lowest setting.

• Let the rice dry out in the oven for at least 30 minutes. They can dry for up to an hour.

• In a skillet with lid, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the rice and stir rapidly about a minute. Add onions and peppers and repeat.

• Add the chicken stock and stir. Stir in remaining ingredients, cover and lower heat to medium and simmer 10 minutes. Turn heat to low for another 5 minutes, then remove from heat altogether. Remove lid and stir to make sure you haven't burned the bottom, then cover and let stand until ready to serve with beans and tacos.

SOURCE: Dave Cathey

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