For us, taco night used to mean some kind of spicy protein, a slop of canned salsa or hot sauce, sour cream, lettuce, tomato, grated cheese wrapped up in a wheat tortilla that sticks to the roof of your mouth… sound familiar? But then we would go out to a Mexican restaurant and eat the kind of tacos we were really craving. Vibrant colours and sweet, tangy, rich, spicy flavours would all come together in a warm corn tortilla. What made ours taste like garbage in comparison?
I started paying attention and noticed that the things missing when we ate at home were the condiments, sauces, pickles, fruity marinades… the little house-made touches that set each chef’s tacos apart.
With that in mind and after a lot of experimenting, I’ve now narrowed it down to three favourites that are staples on any taco night at our place. Serve these with fish, pork, chicken… I’m not going to tell you how to live your life. All I can do is recommend that you give these (very easy) enhancements a try.
Sweet Mango Salsa
2 mangoes, finely diced (see here for help!)
½ large English cucumber, de-seeded and finely diced
¼ red onion or 1 shallot, minced
2 jalapeño peppers, minced (leave the seeds in if you can take the heat)
2 tsp lime juice
1 pinch of sea salt
This one is as simple as mixing together all of your prepped ingredients. Use the amount of cilantro you’re comfortable with. For me, it’s none at all. Then cover and refrigerate overnight or serve immediately if you don’t want to wait for the flavours to mellow. Serves 4-6 people.
My favourite thing about this is how easy it is to adjust based on what you have and what you like. The fruit really cools down the heat from the jalapeño, so you may find you want to add more kick than the recipe provides. I won’t be hurt. It takes all kinds to make a world.
Quick-Pickled Red Onions
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 tbsp granulated sugar
3 tsp salt
4 shallots or 1 red onion, thinly sliced
Measure your vinegar into a ceramic or glass container that will fit all of the liquid and onions. You’ll be leaving this overnight and plastic or metal containers are a no-go with the vinegar.
Mix the sugar and salt into the vinegar until they have dissolved, then add the onions. Break up the rings as you drop them in and give it all a good stir to make sure everything is covered with the vinegar solution.
Cover the dish securely and refrigerate for an hour before serving if you’re in a rush, but overnight is best. If you keep the extra onions in the brine, they will still be crisp and tasty for at least a week and make a very nice addition to sandwiches and salads.
2 large avocados, pitted and peeled
3/4 cup sour cream
2 tbsp lime juice
¼ tsp salt
Mix the avocado flesh, sour cream, lime juice and salt in a bowl with a potato masher, egg beaters, a spoon… whatever you’ve got is fine. Serves 4, unless you are a monster like I am who would eat this out of the bowl with your hand scooped like a spoon when no one is looking. Please let me know if you have the same problem because I am looking to start a support group.
The volume and ripeness of your avocado will have an effect on how much of the other ingredients you will need. I suggest erring on the side of less sour cream and lime juice at first, then continuing to add more until you love how it tastes and feels. The batch pictured above is less runny than I usually like because my avocado was a little underripe, but still so creamy and delicious.