Who doesn’t love Mexican food? For the delightful crunch of tacos to saucy enchiladas, no other cuisine has the same appeal for such a massive audience. One look at the number of Mexican restaurant chains will tell you that our love affair won’t be waning anytime soon. That’s why this month we are going to dive into the delectable world of Mexican food headfirst!
The beauty of what we have come to know as Mexican cuisine is that you can create a variety of dishes from a few essential building blocks. This month we are going to take a look at some of those essentials and how you can make them at home. When many folks think about making tacos or burritos, they reach for a packet of taco seasoning at the grocery store. Unfortunately, those are chock full of sodium and preservatives, both of which are no es bueno (not good). Lucky for you, I have a foolproof recipe for making your own, and it is perfect for last-minute meals.
Homemade Taco Seasoning
- 5 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 1⁄4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 1⁄4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 1⁄4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 71⁄2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3 teaspoons corn starch
- Add all ingredients to an airtight container and shake
- To make seasoned meat, mix 3 tablespoons of Homemade Taco Seasoning Mix and cup water to every pound of browned ground beef, turkey, chicken, pork or tofu.
BONUS IDEA: Craving seasoned rice? Cook your favorite white rice according to package directions until done, then add taco seasoning and a bit of water and stir. Done!
Now let’s take a look at what you can do with a little pre-planning and a few hours in the trusty slow cooker. Because of the other fillings, a little seasoned meat goes a long way in Mexican dishes. An added benefit is that once it is cooked, it freezes perfectly, thaws easily, and can be ready in minutes down the road.
Slow Cooker Seasoned Meat
- 1 lb. ground beef, pork, chicken or turkey 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tablespoons chili powder
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1⁄2 tablespoon coriander
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
- 2 pints or 1 large can tomato puree
- Sea salt & black pepper
- Brown the meat and drain well. Add onion and garlic to the pan and toss until translucent.
- Add browned meat, onion and garlic to a slow cooker and add remaining ingredients along with just enough water to leave the mixture well moistened.
- Turn the slow cooker to low heat and cover. Allow to cook for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally and adding water only if necessary to avoid sticking or scorching.
ALTERNATIVE RECIPE: To make shredded seasoned chicken, skip the ground meat and mix all of the remaining ingredients together in the slow cooker. Add two boneless, skinless chicken breasts and cook on low heat for 6-7 hours, or until the meat is ten- der. Then shred the meat with two forks and return to the liquid until ready to serve.
Now what would Mexican food be without creamy refried beans? My version is a lot better for you, with no added fat at all. Bonus points because you can also cook them in the slow cooker.
Slow Cooker ‘Refried’ Beans
- 8 oz. dried pintos (about 2 cups)
- 6-8 cups water
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon homemade taco seasoning mix
- 1⁄2 jalapeno, coarsely chopped (or a few jarred slices)
- 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons salt
- The night before, rinse and sort dried beans and add to the slow cooker. Cover with 6 cups of water and allow to soak until morning.
Drain soak water and add 6- 8 cups of water to the slow cooker along with beans and remaining ingredients.
- Cover and set your slow cooker on low heat. Cook for 5-7 hours on low, or until beans are fork tender.
- Drain beans over a large bowl or pot to keep the cooking liquid.
- Using a wooden spoon or potato masher, mash the beans until they are the desired consistency. For me that means a coarse mash that’s about 50/50 creamy and chunky. Add reserve liquid as needed and freeze the remaining liquid for adding to soups or stews later.
Now that you have the building blocks, you can make just about any basic Mexican style dish your heart desires. Add shredded lettuce, cheese, sour cream, and salsa, and you can have tacos or burritos in a flash! Toss it all on a plate with a few tortilla chips and you have an unbeatable taco salad that’s as filling as it is beautiful to look at.
Making quick Mexican dinners is one of the easiest things you can do in the kitchen. Keep it as simple or as involved as you like. Chop some fresh tomato, onion, and avocado and finish it off with a squeeze of lime (and maybe a margarita or two).
Whatever you do, enjoy yourself, enjoy your food, and enjoy your life. That is what we’re here for!
Michael Nolan is a professional gardener and food writer based in Atlanta. His digital cookbook, Food Camp: Kitchen Survival Skills, is available at Amazon.com or through his website, MyEarthGarden.com.