Taco night is popular in our house. In fact, Elisabeth is never too proud to beg for them. Making tacos is easy, and quick for a busy weeknight dinner, but I always feel a little guilty about grabbing the package with the seasoning packet and throwing it together. Sure, I take the time to chop fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and typically olives and peppers so there are fresh veggies in the mix, but that shouldn’t let me ignore the processed nature of tacos from a box.

Do you really know what your “just throwing in” to the pan?

The packet of taco seasoning I had in my cabinet lists 300mg of sodium. Per serving! So, with 6 servings in a packet that comes out to 1,800 mg of sodium. With a quick calculation using the table in the How to convert sodium to salt (and salt to sodium) post on Catherine Saxelby’s Foodwatch website, I came up with somewhere between 3/4 and 1 tsp of added salt – just from the seasoning packet alone!

With that in mind, I figured it couldn’t be difficult to make my own? After all, with all the barbecue I do, I should readily have many of the required spices in my pantry. Sure enough, a quick online search and I found what looked like a good start in a taco seasoning recipe from Food.com.

My version turned out a little different in that I didn’t have everything listed (damn you, coriander!) and I adjusted the proportions since I didn’t want a lot left over if it was a disaster (always thinking about the Three Try Rule). So, here’s how I put it all together.

The ingredients

for the taco seasoning:

  • img_6493
    … the finished taco seasoning

    4 tsp, paprika

  • 2 tsp, onion powder
  • 2 tsp, corn starch
  • 2 tsp, chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp, ground cumin
  • 2 tsp, garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp, crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp, cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 tsp, dried oregano

for the rest

  • 1 1/2 lbs, 85% lean ground beef
  • kosher salt
  • Boston green lettuce
  • 2 plum tomatoes
  • 1 small can pitted black olives
  • 1/3 cup, water
  • 6 hard corn taco shells
  • 6 soft taco tortillas
  • shredded cheese (cheddar or taco blend)
  • sour cream

The prep

  1. Combine all ingredients from the seasoning and mix together in a small bowl with a fork until well combined, measure out 1/4 cup and set aside.
  2. Shred about 2 cups of lettuce as desired, chop tomatoes, and slice olives, putting them in separate small glass bowl or ice cream dish for the table.
  3. Preheat the oven to 325°F with with top rack in middle position. Layout hard shells on an un-greased baking sheet, and wrap the soft tortillas in heavy-duty aluminum foil. Set aside.
  4. Preheat medium skillet on the stove over medium-high heat until hot.

The cook

  1. img_6494Put ground beef into hot pan, breaking up with metal spatula, season with kosher salt as desired. Let sit undisturbed in the skillet until browned on bottom and fat liquid begins to accumulate in the skillet.
  2. Meanwhile place the shells and tortillas into the oven.
  3. Break up the beef into even smaller chunks mixing to brown uncooked parts. Let sit again for a couple of minutes.
  4. Break up again until desired chunk size, mix it about in the pan and let sit until no red can be seen and quite a lot of liquid has accumulated (but before beef totally dries out).
  5. img_6507Drain the liquid from the skillet into a spare can, or a Pyrex measuring cup lined with aluminum foil. Use a cover on the skillet to easily remove the liquid without making a mess or burning yourself.
  6. Return skillet to stove, lower heat to medium and mix in the 1/4 cup of seasoning.
  7. Pour in water and continue to mix until no powder can be seen, sauce forms and thickens (about a minute).
  8. img_6501Remove from heat, stir again and move seasoned beef to a serving bowl for the table.
  9. Remove shells and tortillas from oven, place on serving plate for the table.

The eat

Dig in! Assemble tacos with whatever combination of toppings you choose. Serve with sides of Spanish rice or refried beans, and enjoy. You’ll find the seasoning adds a fresh bite that accumulates a little more heat on the tongue after each bite, but not in an unpleasant or over-spiced way. Of course you can adjust the proportions of the seasoning in any way you desire. Just keep the corn starch ratio the same to ensure the right consistency.