Eating better food for less and other tales from a no-moneymoon

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Happy Sunny Tacos

Maybe it's because I associate them with sunny California and all my fun West Coast visits, but when I need a little cheering, tacos can go a long way.

Directions: Pile. Fold. Stuff face.

Long before they were in fashion, I was mildly obsessed with taquerias, specifically those that are mobile and a little dirty looking. The first time I visited California to see a college friend who'd moved home, we were in search of cheap eats and, naturally, we hit a taqueria. I wish I remembered where we went (someplace in LA, how's that for vague?), but I fell in love with the soft tortilla, the salty meat and the fresh mix of cilantro, onion and lime. And there were surprises, too: cabbage was a revelation, fish tacos, radishes, tomatillo's tangy green sauce. This was not the Old El Paso!

So for a little mood elevation, I pick up tortillas and the ingredients for any number of taco combos that are a dependable part of the Lemon menu. In this case I found a deal on beef eye round slices. I'm not a big fan of thin sliced beef because it is such a challenge to keep it moist, but for a quick dinner these worked out perfectly. Cook 'em fast over high heat on one side then turn off the heat and they'll cook themselves while you assemble the rest of the taco fixings. And oh what fixings: Add some black beans and sliced avocado, shred a little leftover cabbage, throw together some pico de gallo and a happy memory comes to the table.

Sliced Beef Tacos with The Works

1 can Goya black beans, low sodium
1 teaspoon white vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 package small flour tortillas (you can find them trans-fat free)
3-4 thin-cut beef round eye
chili powder
1/2 large tomato
1 bunch cilantro
1/2 red onion, diced
1 lime
1/2 avocado
1 cup green cabbage, shredded
2 ounces cheddar, thin sliced or shredded

In a small saucepan, add one can of black beans with their "juice" plus 2 cloves grated or minced garlic, a teaspoon of white vinegar and sprinkling of oregano (maybe a 1/4 teaspoon if you're measuring) and a pinch of salt. Heat over medium heat and move on to the beef...

Heat a nonstick pan over high heat and add a little olive oil. When it's very hot, add your sliced beef and sprinkle with 2 cloves minced garlic, salt, pepper, chili powder and cumin. This is one of the only times I use the sprinkling-cover (what is it called??) that comes with most grocery store spice bottles. Just a little, not too much. When the edges of the beef look brown, flip it over and turn off the heat.

Now for the rest of the fun: throw together in a bowl some chopped cilantro, onion, tomato and the juice of one lime. Slice some avocado and shred some green cabbage and if you've got it, cheese. Take the beef out of the pan and slice in strips. We used three rounds and saved the other half for the next night (with some Chimichurri.)

Pile it on a flour tortilla (heat them in the microwave if you are so inclined) and fold it over. Stuff face and feel the joy of a warm sunny California afternoon (ignoring the smog and traffic, naturally.)

Great use of half-used vegetables (tomato, onion, cabbage, avocado!)
A touch of beef makes this not too unhealthy, not too pricey
Taco happiness lifts the mood on an ordinary night
Leftover toppings + leftover beans = lunch the next day

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