Taco Basics and Beyond
It seems no matter who I talk to and what their food cravings and traditions, tacos are often listed as a favorite meal. Indian-ish tacos are one of those “recipes” that can save you when you at a loss to know what is for dinner. You can go simple: roast chicken bathed in Indian chutney or Mexican red or green salsa, topped with whatever cheese you have in the fridge. Or you can make your keema, potato curry, aloo gobi, or any curry without using too much of the sauce. Think butter chicken, chicken tikka masala, vindaloo, or rogan josh.
If you want to go beyond the taco basics, think about the four elements of a good taco. Start with the star ingredient, vegetable or meat, fish, or shellfish. Then add in a vegetal crunch: cabbage, lettuce, slivers of radish, cucumber, raw onions, or scallions. And next up, you need some flavoring if you aren’t using a curry. This can go Mexican or Indian, depending on your mood. On the Mexican front, think taco seasoning (my favorite is Penzeys Spices), pico de gallo, red salsa, or green salsa (salsa verde).
Depending on your star ingredient, any number of Indian chutneys or chopped pickles would add great flavor and character to a taco. Because I am not a raw onion fan, I have included my quick pickle that only needs an hour to make and adds a bit of sweetness and acid to the onion while removing its raw heat.
Wrapper & Crunch
As wrappers go, this is only limited by your imagination. The obvious choice is corn tortillas, but flour tortillas work just as well. Pita, naan, roti, dosa, or any flatbread will bring a unique flavor and texture to the Indian-ish tacos party.
Lastly, you need some sort of garnishes to add freshness and crunch. On the herbal front, cilantro, mint, or parsley all work well. One of my favorite toppings is an Indian potato snack called aloo bhujia, which adds a kick and some crunch, or sev, chickpea flour (besan) dried noodles. Use any cheese of your choice (feta, goat, cotija, Monterey jack), but because I often feel I have so much flavor going on, I often skip the cheese.
Here is a laundry list of taco ingredients that you can use to mix and match. If you hit a winner, don’t forget to write it down for future repeat!
Indian-ish Taco Ideas
The Main Event:
- Cheese, shredded
- Curry without too much sauce
- Ground meat of your choice
- Leftover proteins of all sorts: roast chicken, etc.
- Kidney, black, chickpeas, or cannellini beans
- Paneer lightly browned or not
- Tofu, firm
Herbs & Freshness:
- Green chilies, minced fresh
- Iceberg lettuce
- Lemon or lime, sliced
- Tomatoes (fresh or canned), diced
- Aloo bhujia (potato crunchy snack)
- Onions (birista), browned and crispy
- Onions, pickled red
- Onions, chopped
- Peanuts, chopped
- Pomegranate seeds
- Radishes, chopped
- Scallions, chopped
- Sesame seeds
- Sev (chickpea flour noodles)
Sauces, Chutneys, and Pickle:
You will need to play around with amounts here. I find mint or cilantro chutney needs to be mixed with yogurt or it tends to take over the whole taco.
- Chinese chili sauce, sweet or not
- Chinese Sichuan chili oil
- Indian coconut chutney
- Indian coriander chutney
- Indian lemon pickle, minced
- Indian mint chutney
- Indian raita
- Jalapeños, diced pickled
- Mexican salsa verde (green salsa)
- Mexican pico de gallo (tomato and onion salsa)
- Mexican salsa rioja (red salsa
- Sour cream
- Taco seasoning, my favorite is from Penzeys Spices
- Chickpea flour pancake
- Corn tortillas
- Gluten-free wraps (cassava, coconut, or almond flour)
- Flour tortillas
Let Me Know!
I’d love to hear about your favorite wraps and if there is anything you do to prepare them. Here are two loosely presented recipes to get your started.
See the Notes below before you cook.
Indian-ish Tacos Two Ways & More
Ground Meat Tacos (Keema)
- 1/2 pound ground meat ~ Or firm tofu crumbles
- 2 tablespoons taco seasoning ~ Optional; if starting with raw ground meat. See the 1st note below.
- 1 1/2 cups cabbage ~ Or other greens, sliced thinly
- 1/4 cup pickle ~ Diced; red onions, jalapeños, Indian lime, or lemon pickle
- 1/4 cup sev ~ Sev (chickpea flour noodles), or peanuts chopped
- 2 tablespoons mint or cilantro chutney
- 2 to 4 cup plain Greek-style yogurt ~ More or less to taste; start with 2 tablespoons
- slice of lemon or lime
- 7.5 ounces paneer ~ Cut into 1-inch cubes. Buy or make.
- 1 tablespoons neutral oil
- 2 tablespoons chutney ~ Your favorite
- 2 to 4 tablespoons plain Greek-style yogurt ~ Starting with 2 tablespoons
- 1/2 cup cucumber ~ Or radishes or a mix of the 2; thinly sliced
- 1/3 cup scallions ~ Chopped; or red onion, or pickled onions (see below)
- 1/4 cup fried onions ~ Make or buy; Or chopped nuts of your choice
- 2 tablespoons cilantro ~ Or mint, chopped
- 1 slice lemon or lime
Quick Onion Pickle
- 1/2 cup white vinegar ~ Or cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 2 teaspoons sea or table salt ~ Substitutions
- 2 cups red onion ~ Sliced very thinly; about 2 onions
Ground Meat Tacos (Keema)
- Gather all your ingredients.
- If you have leftover ground meat or firm tofu that is already flavored, move to the next step. Otherwise, cook the raw meat, or firm crumbled tofu, with taco seasoning following the package instructions. Or cook the meat and coat with a mixture of chutney and yogurt, the flavor balanced to your taste. Add a bit of salt at this point, if it is needed.
- Chop the pickle you are using, and slice the cabbage or other greens thinly, and chop the peanuts, if using. If you haven't used the yogurt and chutney mixture to flavor your meat or tofu, mix them up now. Balance the two to your taste.
- Warm the wrap you are using. If corn tortillas are your choice, you will want to warm them up. Taking no more than 6 tortillas at a time, dampen enough paper towels to wrap the tortillas completely. Place them on a plate and place in the microwave and heat on high for one minute. Check to make sure the tortillas in the middle are hot enough. If not, heat for another 30 seconds or so. Alternatively, heat a skillet on over medium-high heat and one at a time, cook them for a minute on each side. Place in a towel to keep them warm until you are ready for them. Other flatbreads should be warmed up as well, using the best method, depending on what you are using.
- Assemble: Take a warm flatbread of your choice. Starting with 3 or 4 tablespoons of meat or tofu, start building your taco. Continue with cabbage, pickle, sev or peanuts, a drizzle of the chutney and yogurt mixture (if you didn't use it to flavor the meat), and serve with a slice of lemon or lime.
- Gather all your ingredients.
- In a medium skillet (ideally nonstick) over medium heat, add the oil and sauté the paneer cubes until light golden brown. It is not necessary to brown them on all sides. Remove the paneer to a medium-sized bowl and bring 2 cups of water to boiling. Pour the water over the paneer and allow it to soften for 5 to 10 minutes. Skip this step if you've made your own paneer.
- Fry the onions until crispy if you are making your own birista, or chop nuts. Make the chutney and yogurt mixture, balancing the yogurt and chutney to your taste, starting with 2 tablespoons of yogurt, and salt to taste.
- Thinly slice cucumber or radishes, chop the scallions, onions or pickled onions. Coarsely chop the mint or cilantro.
- Warm the corn tortillas using the instructions for the ground meat tacos above. If using other types of flatbread, warm up as appropriate for the bread you are using.
- Build the tacos in the order the ingredients are listed and serve with a slice of lemon or lime.
Make Quick Pickled Onions
- Microwave all the ingredients except for the onions, allowing the sugar and salt to dissolve. Alternatively, place mixture in a small pan over medium heat for about 1 minute. Let cool and then pour over the onions. Thinly sliced onions will be ready in an hour. A thicker cut onion will be best with an overnight soak.
- If you are using taco seasoning for these Indian-ish tacos, you can find it at most grocery stores. My favorite blend can be found at Penzeys Spices. Or you can make your own taco seasoning and here is a recipe on the great blog Rachel Cooks.
If you don’t want to spend the time making a quick onion pickle, but you want to take the bite out raw onions:
- let soak in vinegar for 15 minutes
- or blanch for a minute in hot water