The taco is the ultimate crowd pleaser, both for those eating them and those making them. The perfect taco is that rare entree that has complex flavors but is quick and easy to create. Whether you're filling yours with traditional basics or using modern flavors to invent a new recipe, whipping up a batch of crunchy or soft-shelled, juicy tacos can take as little as 15 minutes.
Choosing the base for your tacos is all about personal preference. Store-bought hard corn shells have a satisfying crunch, while soft corn tortillas provide a chewy texture and flour tortillas are soft. Give tortillas a bit of bite and smokiness by grilling or pan-frying them on each side until they start to lightly brown. If you love the textures of both hard and soft tacos, try wrapping a soft tortilla around a hard shell. Spread a thin layer of refried beans on the soft tortilla to help the two stay together.
Ground beef or turkey, steak, chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, shrimp, white fish or tofu are all perfect for tacos. Whether you're sauteing ground meat or grilling a fillet, add additional flavor to your main ingredient before cooking. Try marinating your protein of choice in garlic, oil and lime juice, or add taco seasoning to ground meat while it cooks. You may also create your own seasoning mix using spices such as cumin, onion, garlic powder, chili powder or paprika. Test the internal temperature of meat or seafood to ensure it has been safely and thoroughly cooked.
The only thing limiting your taco fillings is your imagination. Opt for the basics by shredding lettuce, grating cheddar or Mexican cheeses, dicing tomatoes or even adding black or refried beans. Top it all off with a dollop of sour cream, guacamole or salsa. Give your tacos a bite with chopped onion and jalapeno, or julienne carrots and radishes to add to a tofu taco. Add an additional burst of flavor by creating a homemade pineapple or mango salsa, spicy poblano sauce or lime and cumin crema. Leftovers, like reheated corn, rice, potatoes or even scrambled eggs, can be added, too.
Assemble tacos as soon as the protein is done cooking. Make only enough tacos for one meal, and then store leftover ingredients separately as pre-made tacos will turn soggy in the fridge. Spoon the ingredients into the shell or tortilla one at a time, using the spoon to spread each ingredient out into a thin layer. Try sandwiching the most flavorful ingredients -- such as seasoned beef or guacamole -- between milder items so you don't end up with bites of nothing but lettuce and sour cream.
Cooking, travel and parenting are three of Kathryn Walsh's passions. She makes chicken nuggets during days nannying, whips up vegetarian feasts at night and road trips on weekends. Her work has appeared to The Syracuse Post-Standard and insider magazine. Walsh received a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.