Everyone has a cheap, quick comfort food dish from childhood memories. Mine is Dad’s Skillet taco recipe. Perhaps, Mom occasionally made it, too. It a classic 1970s dish. It was taco seasoning mixed into ground beef scrapped to the center of the skillet. White rice surrounded the beef. Shredded iceberg lettuce layered the rice. Gooey, melted, shredded cheddar cheese topped the meat, and the dish was finished with plain chopped tomatoes. What I remember most about this dish: Always wanting more cheese.
Today, we know more about Mexican cuisine as authentic ingredients become more available (My knowledge is still not enough, and I will learn more). Mexican cotija or queso fresco cheese replaces monterey jack and cheddar cheese. Sometimes, Spanish manchego cheese is used. Sour cream is replaced by cultured yogurt for when I’m trying to be super healthy, but I know Mexican crema cheese is the ‘real deal.’
Since, we’re not big beef eaters in this household, ground turkey meat is used, in which minced red onions, jalapeño and chopped tomatoes are mixed into the meat. Instead of taco seasoning, I ‘eyeball’ the amount of ground chili powder from ancho or chipotle peppers, crushed red pepper, smoked paprika and ground cumin. Creating my own seasoning produces a clean flavor sans most taco seasonings’ saccharine and salty taste. A bit of fresh oregano adds depth to the meat’s flavor.
In this healthier version, quinoa or brown rice take the place of white rice. After cooking, lime juice, minced cilantro and the occasional sliced scallion are stirred as the grain is being fluffed with a fork. Shredded Iceberg lettuce is replaced with baby dark greens. It’s usually arugula, spinach and/or dandelion greens. I don’t know if these greens are true Mexican ingredients, but leave a comment below to recommend a Mexican version. Fresh tomato salsa with minced red onions, plenty of cilantro and a tad of chili powder garnishes this dish to homey perfection.
This is a Mexican or Tex-Mex inspired dish. It’s quick. The variations are endless. Maybe left-over hominy will be added to the meat. A dash of cinnamon could be stirred into the meat’s seasoning for more complexity. Although, avocados are seldom part of my childhood memories of eating this dish, they are a required garnish for this dish for today.
At the time the dish was created, around 1970, many of the authentic Mexican ingredients weren’t available in average American supermarkets. However, this is my comfort dish. Refined to make it healthy with a clean taste and better ingredients. The irony: Despite all the authentic and clean ingredients, I add plenty of cheddar cheese over my personal serving of Dad’s Skillet Taco. After all, it’s the comfort food taste I crave.
- 2 cups of grape tomatoes; sliced in half
- The juice of two limes; divided
- 1 small red onion; finely diced, divided in half
- 1 large jalapenos; finely diced, divided in half
- 3/4 cup minced fresh cilantro; divided in thirds
- 1 tsp. + 1 tbsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. sea salt; more or less
- 1 tsp. fresh black pepper; more or less
- ¼ + ½ tsp. smoked paprika
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 3 garlic cloves; minced
- 4 tbsp. olive oil; divided in half
- 1 tbsp. balsamic or red wine vinegar
- 1 medium green bell pepper; finely diced
- ½ lb. ground dark turkey meat
- ½ lb. ground white turkey meat
- 1-14 oz. can of tomatoes or 2 to 3 fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 tsp. minced fresh oregano
- 2 cups of cooked grain (brown rice, farro or quinoa)
- 1 cup finely shredded sharp cheddar, aged manchego or cotija cheese
- About a generous handful of dark baby greens
- Toss grape tomatoes, the juice of one lime, first half of diced red onion, first half of diced jalapeno, first third cup minced cilantro, one teaspoon of chili powder, half teaspoon sea salt, half teaspoon black pepper, a quarter teaspoon smoked paprika, half teaspoon ground cumin, one minced garlic clove, two tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Set aside to let ingredients marinate.
- Place last two tablespoons of olive oil in a hot skillet over medium-high temperature. Mix in the other half of the diced red onion, green pepper, jalapeno, one tablespoon chili powder, sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste, ½ teaspoon smoked paprika and half teaspoon of ground cumin. When the season onion mixture is transparent (about 6 minutes), stir in two minced garlic cloves for about 20 seconds. Add both the white and dark ground turkey meat. Frequently stir to break up large chunks of meat. When the meat is no longer pink (about 10 to 15 minutes), mix in the canned or fresh tomatoes and the tomato paste. Cover and reduce temperature to a simmer for about 20 minutes. If necessary, adjust seasoning.
- Meanwhile, mix the second-third of minced cilantro and the juice of the second lime into the cooked grain. If necessary, season with sea salt and fresh black pepper. Set aside.
- After about 20 minutes, uncover the skillet. Stir in the last third of the cilantro and oregano for about two minutes. If necessary, adjust seasoning.
- Reducing the temperature to a very low flame/setting, scrape the meat towards the center of the skillet. Spoon cilantro grain around the meat. Sprinkle shredded cheese over the center of the skillet, where the meat is located. Turn off the heat. Sprinkle baby greens over the cheese. Spoon tomato salsa over the baby greens. Garnish with more cilantro.
6 thoughts on “The Need for Comfort over Authentic: Dad’s Mexican-Inspired Skillet Taco”
Sounds delicious! This is a recipe I can get the whole family to eat. Just have to do a non meat version for my husband. I will put this on the menu for this Friday. Thanx!
This looks absolutely delish! Can’t wait to try this recipe out!
Hi, RJ! Thanks for visiting MyLifeRunsOnFood.com. Instead of protein crumbles or fish, try sautéing seasonal, diced vegetables with a can of rinsed & drained black and/or red kidney beans. After cooking, mix in the juice of another lime. -Sanura
This looks easy & yummy. Always looking to try quick easy meals. Probably will substitute turkey for protein crumbles or fish?
This looks amazingly yummy. I’m going to try this really soon.
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