I am a third-generation taco maker. I learned the art from my mother, who learned from her mother before her. Our tacos―not quite crispy but not really soft―are legendary in my family circle and the recipe is not to be trifled with. (At a extended-family gathering I once confessed to adding sour cream to my line up of taco condiments and thought for a moment my name might be crossed out of the family Bible.)
Why does a Tex-Mex dish have such a hold on a family that originally hailed from Scotland? Well, they ARE delicious. But I think part of their charm is their place in our family history. It’s our signature dish; the one we make for special occasions like Christmas Eve, birthdays, and days ending in “y.” For us, tacos—our version, not the fast-food or restaurant kind—are the ultimate comfort food.
As a little girl, I climbed onto a chair by the stove, wooden spoon in hand, to break up clumps of ground beef as it browned. As soon as I was old enough to be trusted with a knife, my job was to chop lettuce, onions, and canned tomatoes. (This was before Ro*Tel® started selling their tomatoes in cubed form, a move that transformed my taco-making life.)
Meanwhile, Mother carefully spooned the browned meat into corn tortillas heating on a lightly oiled griddle, and in a complicated maneuver involving tongs in one hand and a spatula in the other, folded and flipped each one before tucking it into a dishtowel-covered pan. One happy family, coming right up.
After I left home, my parents and brother moved to Florida, where they were bemused by grocery stores offering 17 varieties of grits . . . but no tortillas. Until they relocated several years later, every visit was preceded by this reminder: “Don’t forget the tortillas.” Every time I left Dallas there were 100+ tortillas squeezed into my carry-on bag. After all, a family gathering without our tacos was unthinkable.
My parents and younger brother are now enjoying their tacos in heaven. (Yes, of course there are tacos in heaven! It wouldn’t be heaven without them.) As the only surviving member of my immediate family, I no longer have to wait for anyone else to finish with the cheese sauce or pass the onions. The delicate dance of “You can have the last one.” “No, you take it. Really.” “No, that’s OK…” is over.
Except . . . every now and then—and always at Christmas Eve—I pull out Grandmama’s griddle (the one big enough to cover half the stove) and fry up a batch for friends. We gather ’round the table, push up our sleeves, and make new ‘taco memories’.
Even when I’m cooking tacos for one, there’s something special about it. Somehow, after the browning and chopping and assembling and garnishing, that first bite tastes of more than just Tex-Mex goodness. It has the flavor of shared laughter, treasured memories, and soul-satisfying comfort.
It tastes like love.
Susan’s Family Tacos
Brown ground beef (allow ¼ – 1/3 pound per person) in skillet. Liberally season with salt, pepper, garlic salt, cumin, and chili powder. Drain and set aside.
On a griddle or large skillet (nonstick preferred) heat just enough oil to barely cover bottom of pan. Place corn tortilla on griddle; add heaping tablespoonful of meat on one side. Carefully fold tortilla over meat and cook until slightly crisp but not crunchy, 30 seconds – 1 minute depending on heat of oil. Turn taco over and cook on other side another 30 seconds – 1 minute.
Place in pan lined with paper towels (square or rectangular cake pans work well) and cover with clean dishtowel to keep warm. Repeat until all meat has been used. If cooking for a large group make several smaller pans and store in 200-degree oven to keep warm until needed.
Serve with picante sauce, grated cheese or queso (Ro*Tel-Velveeta cheese dip works well), diced onions, shredded lettuce, and (don’t tell my aunt) sour cream. We’re probably not related, so go ahead and add guacamole and diced black olives if you so desire.
It’s easiest to place all condiments on the table and allow each person to ‘doctor up’ their tacos as desired. You’ll want to provide plenty of napkins, too. My grandfather used to declare “it’s not a really good taco unless the juice drips off your elbow.”