Yesterday morning, I asked my youngest daughter if she had any requests for last night's dinner. Her immediate response was, 'Tacos!'. Excellent suggestion! I wouldn't mind a little Mexicana myself. My only problem was, I don't like all of the additives and preservatives in the ready-to make taco dinner kits. A quick glance at the ingredients listed on the box and I knew that giving my family food containing maltodextrin, hydrogenated soybean oil from genetically engineered soybeans, silicon dioxide, diacetyl tartaric acid ester of monoglycerides, sodium citrate, dreaded monosodium glutamate and yellow dyes 5 and 6, wouldn't work for me. Don't even get me started on the ambiguous 'spices' and 'natural flavours'.
While all of these things are considered safe by the Food and Drug Administration in low doses, it just does't bode well with me to consciously feed them to the people I love. I have limited knowledge of all the studies concerning these chemicals, but what I do know is this:
Maltodextrin is a polysaccharide that gets stored as fat in the body
Hydrogenated soybean oil, while better than partially hydrogenated soybean oil, is still made from genetically engineered soybeans that can survive being doused with otherwise lethal amounts of herbicide.
Silicon dioxide is the chemical name for sand. The old saying of 'You will eat a pound of dirt before you die', provides small comfort...do I really need to add sand to our meals? Its sole purpose as an additive is to absorb atmospheric humidity so the product doesn't clump..not really a concern if you make your own seasoning combination.
Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Ester of Monoglycerides, commonly known as DATEM. I'm not sure what it is, but if the box says it contains 'no more than 0.5%' of something, I'm thinkin', STOP! WALK AWAY FROM THE BOX!
Monosodium Glutamate, aka, MSG, is an excitotoxin (note the word toxin in there), that over-excites the cells to the point of damage or death causing brain damage in varying degrees and potentially triggering or worsening learning disabilities, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Lou Gehrig's (ALS). Beyond that, it gives me headaches and in high doses, my gastrointestinal system rages an attack I call `Monoglutzuma`s Revenge`!
But, when you think of it, tacos are simply cooked meat with Mexcian seasoning, on a taco shell, topped with taco sauce, and a variety of chopped vegetables and cheese. Off to the grocery store I went. Into my basket went lean ground beef, a can of no salt added tomato sauce, (contents: tomatoes, water), a can of no salt added diced tomatoes (contents: tomatoes, water), a few plum tomatoes, a head of romaine lettuce and some cheese to grate. I had long grain rice, green peppers, onion and all the seasonings I might need at home. The only piece of the puzzle left to figure out was the taco shells themselves. I could have bought soft corn tortilla shells, made some sort of a mold out of aluminum foil and pan fried them to make my own hard taco shells, or I could buy already made taco shells, ingredients corn tortillas cooked in palm oil. Nutritionally, they were equal so I took the short cut.
First up was the Homemade Taco Sauce. I wanted the sauce to have time to sit and for all the flavours to incorporate in a way that only time provides for. All I had to do was pour all my ingredients, (tomato sauce, water, chilli powder, cumin, onion, vinegar, garlic powder, paprika, a smidge of sugar and salt and pepper), into a blender, blend it up until it was smooth, pour it into a saucepan and let it cook for 10-15 minutes before pouring it into an airtight container and putting it in the fridge until I was ready to use it. This sauce is best made the day before, but 6 hours would have to do. (It also freezes really well for another use).
Next up? My Homemade Taco Seasoning, with all of the flavours but none of the chemicals. This is perhaps the easiest thing to make of all. Very simply, in a medium sized jar, add: 2 Tbsp chilli powder, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp dried thyme, 1 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp cayenne powder, 1 Tbsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp sea salt, and a pinch of black pepper. Put the cover on the jar, shake to combine and your Homemade Taco Seasoning is ready to use. The aroma from this combination of seasonings will instantly have you thinking 'olé'!
I thought tacos alone on the plate wasn't really enough for dinner so I decided on a Mexican Rice to have with the tacos. Very simply, I blended canned tomatoes and onion in a blender until smooth, took 2 cups of that mixture and put it in a medium saucepan, storing the remainder in an airtight container for use another day in spaghetti sauce or some other dish, added 2 cups of no salt added chicken broth, seasoned it with salt and cumin, and brought it to a boil. In a large Dutch oven, I sauteed my Basmati rice in a little canola oil just until toasted, added a serano chilli, deseeded and minced, and then some garlic. After letting the garlic cook for about 30 seconds, I poured in the boiling tomato sauce over the rice, stirred it to combine, reduced the heat to low and cooked, covered, until the liquid was evaporated, about 15 minutes. After fluffing it with a fork, I put the cover back on and let the rice sit for about 10 minutes before serving. This rice is very nice garnished with lime wedges and perhaps cilantro, if you'd like. Cilantro is one of those things you either love or hate and none of us are fans, so I excluded it. I didn't have any lime either, so we went without that as well, not that anyone noticed.
While my rice was cooking, I browned my ground beef in a little canola oil, seasoned with 2 tablespoons of my Homemade Taco Seasoning, and added some finely chopped green pepper and onions. When the meat was browned, I stirred in 1/2 cup of water and let the meat mixture simmer until the liquid was absorbed. With all the toppings laid out on the table, including the Homemade Taco Sauce, and the rice in a serving dish also placed in the center of the table, I did up a platter of half hard shell/half soft shell tacos and let my family build their own tacos and plates. It was a fun and interactive meal that everyone enjoyed. The only thing missing was a little sangria, but, hey, it was only Thursday!
Healthied-Up Beef Tacos, made with Homemade Taco Seasoning, topped with Homemade Taco Sauce, and a side of Mexican Rice...all the flavours with none of the hard to pronounce, and harder still to comprehend, additives. I was able to grant my daughter`s dinner request with a clear conscience and a little stealth health thrown in for added measure. There was even enough leftover to make two soft taco rolls for her lunch today, along with a little rice! This was another meal that ticked all of my boxes....easy, healthied-up, inexpensive AND delicious!