First, You Must Decide: Corn or Flour?
The debate between corn and flour tortillas is a heated one: You probably stand by your favorite, and it’s just fine to use that. Corn tortillas are traditional to Mexican-style tacos, and boast a sweet, almost nutty flavor thanks to the ground corn. If time and a tortilla press are on your side, here’s a recipe for homemade corn tortillas. If you prefer the crunchiness of a hard shell, you can even make your own by baking them upside-down on an oven rack’s grate, or by giving them a dip in a shallow frying pan of oil, then draping them over the spine of a book. Use an old (clean!) kitchen towel as a buffer; it’ll absorb up the excess oil and protect the book cover. If you’re looking for pliability, however, flour tortillas are a better bet. They’re great in dishes in which the taco needs to be folded or manipulated, like burritos or quesadillas (which, need we remind you, are not tacos). If you’re going to eat your tacos with cheese, you’re also going to want to choose a flour tortilla, which, when made fresh, is fragrant and perfectly chewy, with just the right amount of give as you bite into it.
Vegetarian or Meaty?
How will you fill your tacos? If time is of the essence, ground meat like loose sausage, pork, beef, turkey, or chicken will do you well: It cooks up in no time, and can take on just about any spice you want to add to it. Cumin? Smoked paprika? You can even crack open a can of tomatoes and let it simmer away with the meat for sloppy tacos. It’s all good. Fresh seafood options, like shrimp, are also done in a flash. For the quickest filling of them all, however, you can always just reach for leftovers. Last night’s steak, grilled chicken, or roast pork will find new life in a taco. If you feel like going vegetarian, you don’t have to rely on tofu or tempeh: Hearty vegetables, like sweet potato and kale, are satisfying and substantial fillers. Of course, no one will fault you for scrambling a couple of eggs and tossing them in a taco. Breakfast for dinner is always welcome.
Spice it Up
How hot can you handle your tacos? If you’re the light-my-mouth-on-fire type, sure, you could add a splash of Sriracha over the top. But adding a crushed dried chile to the pan as you sauté your fillings will up the ante—the meat (or veggies) will be infused with fiery heat.
How Saucy Do You Want to Get?
A taco just isn’t a taco without a little bit of condiment action. It’s up to you to decide what you’re going to gussy it up with: Salsa made from tomatoes, tomatillos, or other fruit are all great places to start. You could crack open a jar of salsa, but it’s ludicrously easy to make yourself. This salsa roja asada comes together in just about ten minutes, and this easy tomato salsa is pleasantly charred, thanks to the magic of the grill. A fresh herb sauce, like vibrant green chimichurri, is also a welcome addition (if not entirely traditional). Whatever you choose, you’re going to want something saucy to “dress” the filling.
Top it Off
No taco is complete without toppings, and for that, we start with cheese. Crumbles of feta, chunks of queso fresco, or shredded cheddar and Jack cheese are all great choices. Do yourself a flavor favor and put in the work yourself: It takes just a few extra moments to grate cheese and it’s infinitely better (and more flavorful) than the preservative-spiked, pre-shredded stuff. Tacos are best when they pack a satisfying crunch, so for that, quick-pickled onions do the trick. Sliced radish adds texture and a vegetal, spicy note, and thinly shredded cabbage is far superior to the flavorless iceberg lettuce tacos of our youth. Cool and creamy avocado slices counter the crunch. So does sour cream or plain, whole yogurt. Whole fresh herbs, like cilantro brighten the bite. Essentially, when it comes to topping a taco, the rules are this: Don’t go so crazy that you can’t lift the sucker up without it falling apart, and don’t forget a squeeze of fresh lime juice over the top.