Friday, November 19, 2010

The Perfect Taco Seasoning

Here's a quick and easy recipe that will save you both time, money, and calories. That taco seasoning that they sell premade at the store is full of MSG, salt, and preservatives. And you never know how long it's been at the store or how old the spices are. By making your own taco seasoning, you're guaranteed to know that it will taste the way YOU want it to taste, and that it was made from quality ingredients right out of your own pantry.

The up-front investment in purchasing these spices may seem high, but  you may have some (or many) of these spices already in your pantry. And if you make a big batch of seasoning, in the end you'll be saving money. And you may end up with leftover spices that you've never tried before.

There are 8 spices in this recipe: dried cilantro, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, cumin, onion powder, paprika, ancho chili powder, and chili powder.

Yes, you read that right--two kinds of chili powder. Regular chili powder, which you're probably most familiar with, is a blend of spices that includes paprika and onion powder.

Ancho chili powder is made from just one chili, the dried poblano pepper (called ancho once it's dried. Confusing, right? Just like jalapenos are called chipotles after they're smoked.) You've probably seen poblanos at your store, or eaten them if you like those cheese-stuffed peppers known as chiles rellanos.

Neither of these chili powders are spicy, by the way, so don't be scared! All the heat is from the cayenne pepper, which you can increase or decrease to your liking.

My recipe fit pretty much perfectly inside a 4 oz. glass spice jar. It left just enough room on the top to shake everything together. I used a funnel to pour each spice in.

Oh, you notice that I didn't add salt or pepper? Well, that's right. I didn't. I like to base my salt and pepper use on what I'm making. I don't want to risk whatever I'm making on too much salt.

Plus, my jar didn't have enough space to add salt and pepper. But that's beside the point.

You can use this seasoning for anything--tacos, fajitas, tortilla soups, grilling, or anything else you want to add a southwestern flair to. Today I used it to season simple ground beef tacos.

To start, I browned some beef in a pan with a little oil.

Once the beef has browned, I add the spices. I typically use about 3 tablespoons of seasoning per pound of ground beef.

Then I add an equal amount of water, to help the spices meld into the meat.

If you're used to a thicker sauce with your taco meat (many storebought blends have a thickening agent), add about a teaspoon of corn starch now, too, and a bit more water.

Let everything simmer for 10 minutes or so--just enough time for the flavors to soak in.

You could certainly simmer it for a longer period of time. Or you could pour the meat into a crock pot to keep warm.

Here's my favorite taco--taco meat inside a hard shell, topped with sour cream, salsa, and cheese. I bought an avocado too (I love avocados and tacos!) but it didn't look right when I opened it so I had to toss it. I may be jinxed when it comes to avocados.

Sometimes I use shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and fresh cilantro. Pickled jalapenos might be nice, too, or some roasted corn or peppers.

Once you try this taco seasoning, I bet you won't want to go back to the stuff in the envelopes. Make several batches at once and keep it on hand for whenever you might need it. This is definitely the perfect taco seasoning!

Recipe: The Perfect Taco Seasoning

2 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. paprika
1 tbsp. cumin
1 1 /2 tsp. ancho chili powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. dried cilantro
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (can be increased or decreased depending on your spice preference.)

Mix all spices together. Store in an airtight container.

Use 3 tbsp. per pound of meat when seasoning.

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