(CNN) — If the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the word taco is this crispy corn tortilla stuffed with seasoned ground beef, shredded yellow cheese and lettuce, then it’s time to move beyond the emoji.
October 4 is National Taco Day in the United States, but any day in October (or any month, really) is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the varied world of tacos.
“When I was living in Mexico, I realized there was this word, ‘taquear,’ which means to put something in a tortilla or go eat tacos somewhere,” says New York-based writer and author Lesley Téllez. of “Eat Mexico”.
“It’s not just a physical thing, it’s a way of eating something,” he added.
If you have tortillas, you are already halfway to making tacos. Whether made with soft flour or corn tortillas (dough), fried corn tortillas, or with other grain variations like quinoa or yucca flour tortillas, the taco is truly flexible, to both literally and metaphorically. You can buy a bunch of ready-made tortillas or make your own at home; King Arthur Baking has several recipes with different flours.
Tortillas have been used as edible containers since the days of the Aztecs, but the popularity of tacos grew with the spread of modern Mexican cuisine in the 20th century. They can be filled with almost anything imaginable: from stuffed tacos from Tex-Mex cuisine, to fish tacos from Baja California, to food trucks that offer regional specialties, the possibilities are endless.
And with so many ways to fill a taco, why limit yourself? “I’m opposed to the idea of taco night because it’s not one night, it can be every day,” Tellez says. “There’s a whole universe of tacos out there.”
This month, use the taco as a backdrop to feast on both traditional and improvised recipes. And if you’re near San Bernardino, California, you can visit Mitla Café and try the tacos that inspired the founder of Taco Bell.
Once you eat one of Mitla’s freshly fried tacos, like I did at the end of a long drive down Route 66, you’ll wonder how you can eat a food taco again. fast.
When it comes to taco fillings, mild pork and beef are traditional and loved by many. Sure, you have a favorite taqueria offering you a plate of mouth-watering tacos, but if you want to make them at home, you can try one of these recipes.
The carnitas, made with pork shoulder cooked in orange juice and Coca-Cola, are juicy and crunchy at the same time. Traditionally, pork is fried in lard before slow cooking, but this slow cooker carnitas recipe offers the option of using coconut oil.
Barbecuing refers to the method of slow roasting tough cuts of beef, goat or lamb in a pit. (When it comes to tacos, beef tends to be the most popular.) But instead of digging a hole in the backyard, barbecuing in the Instant Pot makes the process much easier.
Chicken tinga, a Pueblan dish characterized by its spicy chipotle tomato sauce, is another favorite side dish. This shredded chicken is another easy to replicate taco filling in the Instant Pot, or for a hassle-free dinner, you can use shredded roast chicken.
For vegetable box subscribers struggling to figure out what to do with their produce, tacos are always a great answer. If a vegetable can be cooked, it can be made into a taco filling, according to Téllez. “Tacos can be made with lots of sautéed mushrooms, sautéed butternut squash, and diced tomatoes,” he suggests.
Mushroom tacos can be made simply with a pan of sautéed cremini mushrooms, or with meaty wild varieties like oyster mushrooms for a vegetarian take on carnitas. (If you want even more ways to cook with mushrooms, try these ideas.)
Pumpkin tacos can be filled with summer squash and zucchini when in season, or tough squash varieties like butternut, kabocha, or delicata during the cooler months. When the delicate squash blossoms are available, grab a handful and fry them in a light batter as a filling for a quick taco.
In one of Tellez’s recipes from “Eat Mexico,” shredded carrots are the most delicious and unexpected taco filling. They can be rolled into tortillas and pan-fried for a flauta or simply in a tortilla of your choice.
Breakfast tacos any time of the day
Austin, Texas seems to have turned the breakfast taco into something to wake up to in the morning, but you don’t have to go to the Lone Star State — or anywhere else beyond your kitchen – to enjoy a loaded omelet and fill.
Eggs are standard in breakfast tacos, whether scrambled or fried, but the rest of the topping is up to you. Chorizo, potatoes, cheese, salsa, beans, avocado (fresh or fried) and even meat or brisket are some of the possibilities.
And if all else fails, just look at what you have at hand and turn it into a signal. “My favorite tacos take the leftovers I take out of the fridge and reinvent them,” Tellez says.
Her secret to turning sad leftovers is to always stock the fridge with classic taco ingredients that pack a punch. “I tend to store a lot of bandages,” she explains. “I always save the hot sauce I love, cilantro, raw jalapeno and raw cabbage because it lasts forever.”
With an arsenal of fresh, tangy, and crunchy toppings, everything from fried rice to frittatas can be turned into a taco filling. Take stock of what you have and strike at ease.
— Casey Barber is a writer, artist and editor of the Good website. Food. Stories.