It's no coincidence that food shows up frequently in my books, and often in a starring role. Cooking is one of my passions. Every once in a while I share a recipe on this blog, usually in response to someone asking for it. That time has come again.
A friend visiting from the UK mentioned to me that he always stocks up on taco seasoning when he comes to the US, since it's nearly impossible to find the stuff overseas.
Fortunately for him, it's actually pretty easy to make the stuff. I learned several years ago during a stretch of extreme poverty when I couldn't afford any spice mixes and had to basically bum whole spices off friends who bought them but didn't know how to use them.
So, for those of you stuck in places you can't get good taco seasoning, or those of you interested in experimenting with your own recipe, here's how you do it.
You will need:
Red chili powder (mild)
Monosodium Glutimate (MSG), also packaged as "flavor enhancer"
Citric acid (or fresh lemons)
The good news is that you can find ALL of these ingredients (except for the oregano) at any Indian grocery store, which you can find anywhere Indians have settled (i.e. any major city in the western world, or in India).
So, get all the ingredients. If they are not ground, grind them. If they are ground, you've saved yourself a step (but the mix probably won't last as long unless you keep it in an airtight container in the freezer).
Now, here's the part where in a normal recipe you get to learn the proportions. Unfortunately, I don't cook that way. I tend to add things until it tastes/smells right. However, I can give you rough order and proportions for adding them so that you can tweak and find your ideal flavor profile.
Here's how to make amazing taco meat:
- Take a hunk of ground beast
- A mess of veggies
- Add the cumin and paprika
- Add the chili, cayenne, pepper, and salt
- MSG, Citric Acid, and Oregano
Cow is the most popular. I personally mix equal parts ground beef with un-dried hard chorizo, because it's amazing stuff and makes everything taste like heaven, but I also live about three houses down the street from a Mexican grocery that makes the stuff from scratch at the butcher counter. Your mileage may vary.
Add your preferred flavor of ground up beast (beef, turkey, etc.) to a hot pan, along with...
A medium-sized white onion, a whole bell pepper or mild green chilies, and a half jalapeno (for flavor, not heat--we get to heat later). Mince these, along with one or two roma tomatoes, and throw them into a hot pan with a little olive oil. Mix the meat in once the veggies are partly carmelized. Cook everything until the meat is about half done.
These are your base flavors. Everything else inflects them. If you're cooking a pound of meat, use about a tablespoon of each of these. While you're at it, toss in a teasoon or two of garlic poweder (or two cloves) and a dash of onion powder (it adds a subtly different quality than the onions themselves do). Fold the spices in till they coat everything evenly.
The chili gives your taco meat an earthy darkness. The cayenne gives you your heat. The black pepper rounds out the earthiness from the chili. The salt binds it all together. Play with the proportions to your taste.
For a pound of meat, you want about one or two teaspoons of MSG. If you don't want to use MSG, and you're cooking with beef, use some beef bullion instead and cut back on the salt in the previous step. It adds the chewy, meaty flavor to the whole package. As far as citric acid, use it sparingly. A pinch or two should do the trick (if you're using lemons or limes, use an entire fruit, and add it last). Sprinkle the oregano on top, about four pinches worth.
Mix it all together, add a little water to let all the spices dissolve and marry, then simmer it down until it's pleasingly moist. Turn the heat off, and make your tacos.
It might take a few times until you get the exact right proportions, but in the end you'll wind up with something that is superior to the pre-mixed taco seasonings. Those packages are all mixes of more or less these same spices, but they're designed to have maximum mass-appeal, and your palate will invariably crave something a little more tailored to it. And, of course, once you've figured out your ideal proportions, you can mix the ingredients dry and keep them in a shaker. So play around with it, and have fun!
That reminds me, I oughta share that salsa recipe at some point...