Did you know that the phrase "Taco Tuesday" is actually trademarked? It's held by a so-called 'West-Mex' restaurant in Wyoming, which is why you may heard "TT" used in celebrating taco-eating on Tuesdays, but never in advertising.
But, I digress . . .
My first real taco was on a family summer vacation to New Mexico. We stopped at a taco stand somewhere outside Albuquerque - tired, hot, hungry and annoyed from being cooped up in the Astro Van for multiple days, the six of us descended on the poor, gentle woman rolling savory fillings into corn tortillas. I know that my order made absolutely no sense because I had no idea what to ask for - I think I just asked for beef and "everything". It was at this moment that I began to understand flavor balance - alternating ravenous bites of spicy and savory taco with sips of sweet orange soda was this side of flavor nirvana. Since the extent of my hot pepper experience at that time was limited to cayenne, scotch bonnet, and whatever ubiquitous chili pepper is used in grocery store "chili powder", the multiple layers of heat and gentle sweetness in that taco blew my mind.
New Mexico takes chilis seriously - in fact, New Mexico produces more chilis than any other state in the United States. Most dried varieties are available only by special order, but several such as Ancho, Chimayo, and Chipotles can be found in good markets nationwide, and chipotles in adobo (a thick, spicy gravy) can be found almost everywhere. I've had the privilege of visiting beautiful New Mexico several times over the years, and every time I've passed through Santa Fe I stop by the Santa Fe School of Cooking to stock up on chili powders and other hard-to-find Southwestern goodies. The school also has a well-stocked online shop, so if you are feeling adventurous, check it out!
When I do tacos at home, I like to take my time to make the meal as fun and festive as possible, whether it is for a Tuesday, or for Cinco de Mayo. This is hand down, my favorite taco-centric meal. I call it "Three Chilis" because each dish features a different chili - the salad has fresh jalapeños, the black beans feature chipotles in adobo, and the savory Carne Adovada has Chimayo. If Chimayo chili is too spicy for you, go with the mild variety or Ancho powder. The beans and carne can be made in advance, but the salad is best fresh before the vegetables start to pickle. Start with the carne as it must braise for an hour and then rest for 15 minutes before serving - if you make it the day before serving, chill in the refrigerator overnight. Giving it an overnight chill will really let the flavors develop - just reheat on the stove to serve.
1/3 c. canola or sunflower oil
3 1/2 lbs. pork butt, cut into 3/4" cubes
2 c. onion, small dice
5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 t. ground cinnamon
2 t. ground cumin
2 t. ground coriander
1 beefsteak tomato, grated (about 1 cup)
3 c. chicken stock
2 T fresh oregano leaves, minced
1 bunch fresh cilantro, stems and leaves separated and chopped separately
2 t. crushed red pepper
3/4 c. ground Chimayo or Ancho chili powder
2 T good honey
2 T sherry or red wine vinegar
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Heat the oil in a heavy bottom dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the pork and brown all over, working in batches. Remove browned meat to a plate and cover with foil. Set aside.
3. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion and garlic to the dutch oven and stir until soft and just golden. Add the ground cinnamon, cumin, and coriander to the pot and stir to coat the vegetables. Raise the heat to medium-high and then add 1 cup of the chicken stock, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any stuck on bits.
4. Add the remaining chicken stock to the pot. Then the oregano, cilantro stems, crushed red pepper, Chimayo or Ancho chili powder, honey, and vinegar to the pot. Salt and pepper to taste and stir once or twice to combine. Bring everything to a gentle boil.
5. Turn off the heat. Pour everything into a heat-safe blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
6. Wipe the dutch oven clean with a towel, then add the browned pork back to the pot and pour the sauce liquid into the pot. Cover and bake in the preheated oven for one hour until the pork is fork-tender. Serve hot with the tortilla of your choice or cover and refrigerate overnight. Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro leaves before serving.
4 c. washed and shredded green cabbage
2 c. cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded, peeled and cut into thin slices
1 c. red bell pepper, seeded, halved, and cut into thin strips
1 c. yellow bell pepper, seeded, halved, and cut into thin strips
1 c. carrot, shredded
1 c. scallions, chopped
For the dressing:
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 T. jalapeños, seeded and minced fine
2 T. good honey
1 t. salt
1. Add all of the vegetables to a large salad bowl.
2. Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients until well combined. Pour over the vegetables and toss gently to combine. Serve.
Chipotle Refried Black Beans and Farmer Cheese
2 T. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
15 oz. canned black beans
1 T.. chicken stock
2 T. Chipotles in adobo
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 c. farmer cheese or feta cheese, crumbled
1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add the garlic and sauce until just soft, about 1 minute.
2. Drain the beans and add to the skillet. Stir to dry out the beans - as you stir, begin to gently smash the beans.
3. Add the chicken stock, lime juice, and chipotles and continue to stir and smash until you have a smooth but slightly chunky texture. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with the cheese.