I don't get the idea of Taco Tuesday. Except for the alliteration, as a native
Texan I can see no reason to limit one's consumption of these delicious mélanges of vegetables, meat, cheese, salsa, and whatever other ingredients
that strike one's fancy to one day each week. When any and all types of fillings plus tortillas are readily available just about everywhere in the
country, why not make them on Thursday? Or Sunday? And for that matter, why only eat them once a week? In addition to the simplicity and fun of
making your own, most major cities and many smaller municipalities now host a variety of taquerias offering both traditional and innovative fillings.
If all else fails, there's always chains such as Chipotle and Taco Bell.
I always have tortillas, cheese, lettuce, and salsa or picante sauce on hand,
and each week's shopping list includes other taco ingredients such as beef, pork, chicken, even fish, and beans. My method is to heat seasoned pinto or
black beans (one can season the beans with any combination of herbs and spices—though garlic is a must—according to taste and desired level of
hotness), then add cooked meat or fish if desired. Sprinkle some grated cheddar or Monterrey Jack cheese on a tortilla and microwave for 30
seconds, spoon the bean mixture onto the tortilla, and top with shredded lettuce and salsa. Any salsa or picante sauce, mild, medium, or hot, will
work. I recommend two Texas brands, Desert Pepper from El Paso and Mrs. Renfro's made in Ft. Worth. I usually make enough for at least two meals.
All this taco talk has led my mind back to my Southwestern childhood and
adolescence. Back then, Friday night was our family's customary time to go out for Mexican food. In Dallas, our restaurant of choice was El Fenix,
founded and operated by the Martinez family for 100 years and still in business today. My mouth waters thinking about the enchiladas swimming
in savory sauce and blanketed by melted cheese. Or tostadas, chimichangas, quesadillas, and the yellow Spanish rice and refried beans alongside each
dish. Not to mention the bottomless chips and salsa and the equally boundless stacks of soft corn tortillas that we buttered and dipped in the
salsa and used to mop up after finishing the main course. Still hungry? Grab a homemade pecan praline at the register when settling the check.
For some reason this New Orleans delicacy was de rigeur in Dallas Tex-Mex restaurants.
In Oklahoma City, where I completed middle school and high school, we
would dine at Pancho's Mexican Buffet, located in a strip mall not far from our home. The unassuming exterior opened into an American
interpretation of a Mexican cantina. Appearance notwithstanding, the draw of this establishment was the food and the price. We'd pass through the
cafeteria line and choose which ever dishes we wanted and take them to our table which was adorned with condiments and a small Mexican flag
(about which more in a moment). In addition to the usual enchiladas, tacos, beans, rice, et al., Pancho's offered a dish I've rarely been able to find
outside the Southwest, chile relleno, a puff pastry enrobing a mild pepper and covered in salsa. After finishing our first plate, we would raise the flag
and a server would come and take orders for seconds (thirds, etc.). The dinner would be concluded with sopapillas, a light deep fried hollow pastry
that you poked a hole in and poured in honey.
As much as I love many styles and varieties of cuisine, standard American,
local, regional, ethnic and international, nothing else quite satisfies my craving for Tex-Mex.
In the Washington, D.C. area where I now reside, we are blessed with a
variety of Central American restaurants and even an occasional authentic Mexican one, but I have yet to find a true Tex-Mex joint in which to
consume the dishes mentioned above prepared in the way they are back home. But I'm always looking. And in the meantime I can always cook it at home on Tuesday or any other day.
I hope that my readers have enjoyed this brief culinary tour as much as I
did writing it. Maybe it's made you hungry enough to seek out or prepare your own tacos. Just don't get me started on barbecue….
Image by T. Tseng