I’ve hearted taco nights ever since hanging out at Wendy Klein’s house during those lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer in the sweltering San Fernando Valley.
If Shirlee Klein announced tacos were for dinner, I’d saddle up to the bar at the kitchen table where bowls of shredded lettuce and cheese, chopped tomatoes and black olives were well within reach. I’d down about six crispy beef tacos and work ’em off playing ping-pong or night swimming in the illuminated kidney-shaped pool.
“One more taco for the road?” my hostess would inquire.
“You bet, Shirlee! I didn’t get this gut eating apples.”
My own girls also crave taco night at least once a week, so I try to vary the ingredients to keep ’em fresh – and healthy. Here are 5 ideas for nutritious, green, tasty fillers:
1. Baha Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa
Watching your weight? No problemo! Fish is a great, low-fat protein for taco night, an ideal alternative to free range turkey or beef. This recipe from Organic Authority calls for cod fillets, corn tortillas and green or red cabbage, along with crumbled cotija cheese – all ingredients that keep taco night light! The salsa (make a batch and use it on other dishes) includes ripe mangos, cilantro, lime, red bell pepper, onions and zingy jalapeno. It’s hard to get away from battered fried fish in fish tacos, but I find grilling or broiling is the healthier way to go. Make sure to choose a sustainable fish variety, or better yet, grow your own right in the backyard.
Image: Organic Authority
2. Ground Turkey Tacos
We gobble up turkey tacos in my house, always using free range ground turkey meat (dark is actually better for tacos and not terribly fatty). You can mix the dark and light meat if you like, and this recipe from Fine Cooking measures out the seasonings so that you don’t have to resort to the packaged mixes containing MSG. The flavor comes from the chili powder, cumin, salt and fresh cilantro, and I love the addition of fresh avocado in this simple recipe. My kids prefer flour tortillas, so I shop for brands with the least amount of lard. The new organic varieties from the La Tortilla Factory are available in many markets.
Image: Fine cooking
3. Zucchini and Corn Tacos
Here is another great soft taco alternative to beef. This Epicurious recipe is a delightful summer entree with a pleasing presentation. It is similar to the tostada, an open face salad on a tortilla shell, which some taco enthusiasts prefer to the folded hard shell. The tomatillo (green) salsa keeps it authentic, while the onion, zucchini, black beans and garlic keep it heart-smart. You can brown your tortillas on a griddle with a bit of olive oil or other beneficial fat instead of deep frying a massive shell.
Image: Yunhee Kim
4. Spiced Lentil Tacos
More kids (and grown-ups) are becoming vegetarians, which is why tacos are a primo choice. Taco bars are largely comprised of veggies, so go that route but omit the meat. This recipe from Epicurious uses dried brown lentils as the main ingredient, which are healthy and exotic. Veggie kids who eat beans (if they aren’t eating meat, they should!) will really enjoy it. Some Epicurious followers who have made this dish say the filler is so good, they eat it with brown rice as another meal option.
Image: Plamen Petkov
5. Slow-cooker Chili Chicken Tacos
EcoSalon has long sung the praises of slow cooking and the old crock pot is a great way to go when making tacos. The chicken (free range, organic of course) falls apart after a long, gentle simmer in the slow cooker, and this naturally works well for shredding the meat into tacos. Garnish with plain yogurt instead of sour cream for even healthier results!
Image: Martha Stewart