Mad Scientist Tacos

Dr. Cyclops attempts to make taco shells with a modified Van Der Graff generator.

It was the week after Thanksgiving and I was dog tired of Turkey. Kim was out of town and I had gotten some ground beef and some rolls and tortillas and was planning on a week of cheeseburgers and tacos in her absence. I started to make myself a burger and was overtaken by the mad scientist impulse and started looking around the kitchen for the proper ingredients to construct a monster. I had been watching Rick Bayless’ priceless Public TV series “Mexico, One Plate at a Time” and was inspired to make some kind of interesting taco filling. I spotted a few sweet potatoes that never made it into the oven for the Thanksgiving feast and figured that would be a good place to start. Here is what I came up with:

1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into a brunoise (tiny dice)
1 lb ground chuck
1 small onion, finely chopped
½ red or yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
½ cup walnut pieces
½ cup dried tart cherries, chopped
1 tbs ancho chili powder
1 tbs good paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tbs tomato paste
2 tbs red wine vinegar
2 tbs olive oil
1/3 cup water or beef stock

Start by cutting the sweet potato into a tiny dice called a brunoise. Fans of Top Chef will note that inappropriate use of this method caused Michael Voltaggio get poor marks on his poached egg dish in the first part of this season’s Finale, but in this case it is essential to the dish. Saute them over medium high heat until they are almost tender and starting to take on some color, about 5 minutes. Add the walnuts and turn it up to high for a few minutes to toast the walnuts and finish cooking the sweet potatoes, being careful not to let them burn. Set them aside and add the ground beef to the same pan, cranked up to high. When the meat starts to brown add the onions, garlic, peppers, dried cherries and the dried herbs. When the onions have turned translucent turn the heat down to medium. Clear a little space in the bottom of the pan and add the tomato paste, allowing it to caramelize slightly. Deglaze the pan with the red wine vinegar and add the remaining spices and stir for a minute or two. Return the potato walnut mixture to the pan and add a little bit of water or stock to bring the whole thing together and cook for a few minutes more until the liquid in the bottom of the pan is almost gone.

I was amazed at how good this dish turned out as more than half of my mad scientist efforts are barely edible one time wonders but I will actually serve this one to my friends. The walnuts add a great textural component and the cherries play off of the sweet potatoes perfectly. I garnished it with a quick salad of cherry tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, lime juice and olive oil. While this dish may not be an authentic Mexican dish the inspiration was genuine and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is something like it being served this very minute somewhere in Mexico City.

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7 Responses to Mad Scientist Tacos

  1. Melanie says:

    WOW! Amazing what you can do when you’re using up leftovers and cleaning out cupboards! I might ask Art to try this one.

  2. Herb says:

    I’m glad you’re the mad scientist now. I am left to Weight Watchers frozen junk and some times a steak and baked potato. The egg plant parmesan for Thanksgiving was a sudden ins[iration that turned out pretty good. I “bake-fry” the eggplant in a minimum of good olive oil so as to reduce the fat intake of the consumers.

  3. Abby The Twin says:

    Well, I would call this recipe “Frankentacos”….as it seems like you created a monster.

  4. kimberlyksmith says:

    Or maybe you invented something delicious that’s never been done before, you mad scientist you. Now that I’m back, I’m going to want you to make this one again so I can taste it.

  5. Emily says:

    You had me sold from the ingredient, walnuts, on! Any leftovers?

  6. karl says:

    I came home kind of late and my son made dinner…the leftover goat into a fried taco crunch thingee…I’m more a lamb guy and the goat was a bit…….chewy…but I ate half of it so as not to hurt his feelings. I asked him about the next day and he said….”That was Goat?”

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