Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tacos: the perfect food for kids

One of the biggest problems about bringing up four children was getting them to eat the same food. Indulgent you might say - they should have eaten what they were given - but it doesn’t somehow work like that these days. There were meals that 3 out of 4 liked like sausage and mash but even then my eldest son bewilderingly disliked the mash. MASH! Who dislikes mash?

The most popular meals (apart from roast chicken and spag bol and even they didn’t work when the girls periodically went veggie) were dishes they could assemble themselves, top of the list being pizza and homemade doner kebabs. To this I’d have now added tacos which strike me as the perfect kids food. And thrifty too.

True you have to have the tortillas and I’m afraid wheat ones won’t do. There’s something about corn tortillas that turns this from a sandwich into an exotic, snack that makes you feel as if you're on holiday. You can of course make them yourself and that would be a fun thing to do but just as you don’t always have time to make pizza from scratch it’s good to have some ready made tortillas on standby.

I’m lucky enough to have a shop up the road in Bristol called Otomi that sells two kinds - one long-life product imported from Mexico and one from the Cool Chile Co which also sells them online. I tried both the other day and preferred the flavour of the Mexican ones but the texture of the Cool Chile ones was much better. (In both cases you need to warm them in a dry frying pan otherwise they’ll snap when you attempt to wrap them round the filling.)

The filling is the cheap bit. You can basically use what you have though I consider a fresh tomato salsa (and therefore some fresh coriander and lime) essential and some avocado nice.

As I had some chorizo, onion and potato I decided to use those, borrowing an idea from Thomasina Miers excellent Mexican Food made Simple. I’d also bought a small tin of chipotles en adobo from Otomi (£1.50) which gave them a nice smoky edge.

Chorizo and potato tacos
Enough to fill 6 tortillas
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 large potato, peeled and cut into small dice
110g semi-soft chorizo (Tesco has a good one in their Finest range)
1 finely chopped chili from a tin of chipotles en adobo + some of the juice (optional) or a teaspoon of mild chilli powder or smoked pimenton
1-2 heaped tbsp fresh coriander
Salt and pepper
1 avocado and the juice of half a lime
6 soft corn tortillas
Heat a small frying pan, add the oil and fry the onion and potato over a moderate heat until soft and beginning to brown (about 8-10 minutes). Add the chorizo and finely chopped chilli and fry until the chorizo starts to char a little. Take the pan off the heat, season with salt and pepper and stir in the coriander. Peel and cut up the avocado and toss in the lime juice. Warm the tacos one by one on both sides in a hot dry frying pan (i.e. without any oil) and top with the chorizo mixture, some salsa (below) and chopped avocado. Eat in both hands. (They’re dead messy)

Salsa fresca
1/2 a small mild onion or a shallot
6 small to medium-sized ripe tomatoes, skinned if tough
juice of half a lime
1 fresh chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
Salt and pepper
Finely chop the onion, tomatoes and chilli, if using and mix together with the fresh lime juice and coriander. Season with salt and pepper. Eat with tacos or tortilla chips

This is a good veggie version. Home-cooked beans would be even better.

Red bean tacos
2 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed
A pinch of ground cumin
1 finely chopped chili from a tin of chipotles en adobo + some of the juice (optional) or a teaspoon of mild chilli powder or smoked pimenton
1 tbsp tomato paste or 2 tbsp passata or other tomato-based pasta sauce
1 tin red kidney beans, drained and rinsed or an equivalent amount of home-cooked red or black beans
1-2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
Salt and pepper
Grated cheddar or a white cheese like Wensleydale or Cheshire or some feta
6 soft corn tortillas
Heat the oil and fry the onion until beginning to soften and change colour. Add the cumin powder, crushed garlic and chili or chilli powder, stir, then add the tomato paste and cook for a minute. Add half a glass of water, tip in the beans and leave on a low heat while you make the salsa and prepare the avocado, as above. (The bean mixture is actually better left to cool down a bit before you use it to fill the tacos. Mash it up a bit first so the beans don't go rolling all over the place.) Heat the tortillas as above and top with the beans, grated cheese, salsa and avocado (for those who want it).

You can also make great tacos with shredded beef or chicken as they do on the taco trucks that are so popular in the US (and increasingly here) Now, kids would absolutely love that.

For more ideas for taco fillings check out Thomasina’s chicken tinga tacos which it strikes me would adapt well to turkey leftovers and Baja California fish tacos (which I reckon you could cheat and make with fish fingers and a spiced up homemade slaw). Or, even better, add the book to your Christmas list. It's got lots of other recipes I want to make.

Have you ever made tacos for the family or what dish do you find all members of the family like?

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