061219-taste-tacos

Pork and pineapple tacos topped with coleslaw, sour cream and queso fresco, served on flour tortillas. American News photo by Katherine Grandstrand

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Somewhere down the line, tacos became synonymous with ground beef, seasoned with a pre-mixed packet and served with pre-shredded seasoned cheese, maybe some sour cream, shredded lettuce and salsa. There might be black olives from a can, for some reason.

Are fast food tacos to blame? Or maybe the makers of those seasoning packets?

Either way, tacos deserve better — they’ve unfairly gotten a junk food label, but they can be nutritious, packed with flavor and vegetables. And they can be whipped up quickly on a weeknight or capstone a meal you’ve been waiting for all week.

A taco buffet is great for a big party, because everyone can customize their tacos. They’re also a great menu item for a collaborative dinner — potluck’s more structured cousin — because people who don’t cook can still contribute.

All it takes is a little creativity to make a really delicious meal that seems so much fancier than those ground beef tacos we grew up with.

Protein

The protein in tacos can be just about anything — chicken, pork, beef or even beans. It does not need to be ground up, and it definitely doesn’t need to be greasy.

Use a slow cooker or pressure cooker to cook tougher, inexpensive cuts of meat like pork shoulder or brisket, or just to take the work out of it. Chicken breasts cooked in salsa in the pressure cooker or slow cooker make some pretty yummy taco meat and requires very little work.

Don’t be afraid of seafood — fish fillets or even shrimp go great on the inside of a taco.

The base

You could make your own tortillas or just get them at the store. Pick out your favorite, but try different types — hard, soft, flour or corn.

Toppings

No one’s life has ever been improved by shredded iceberg lettuce. Try coleslaw on pork tacos if you want that crunch, but feel free to skip the bag of shredded stuff all together.

Pico de gallo — fresh, chunky salsa — goes great on tacos of all kinds and can be found pre-made. But all it takes to make it from scratch is the ability to chop vegetables.

When it comes to cheese, it’s almost all good, but try some queso fresco — a Mexican crumbling cheese that’s kind of like feta. It adds a bright flavor and a little bit of saltiness.

Because we’re not talking about truly authentic tacos, the sky’s the limit on toppings. Just think of flavors that taste good together and try them. If it’s not good, you still have a story to tell.

The stories of local people and their recipes are featured in Taste. If you have a great recipe or story idea, contact columnist Katherine Grandstrand at 605-622-2310, kgrandstrand@aberdeennews.com or follow

@kgrandstrandAAN on Twitter.

This article originally ran on aberdeennews.com.

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