As I get more settled into my new job and schedule, I’m finding more ways to streamline my day, especially when it comes to meals. Gone are the days of being able to keep a big bag of supplies in the break room fridge and coming up with different concoctions whenever lunchtime arrived. Now I’m all about packing lunches, prepping for meals a few days in advance, and trying to come up with sensible things to eat after work. I feel like the mother of a kindergartner at this point, such is the need for constant prep work!
The hardest part has been making the switch from fun & exciting dinners to fun & exciting lunches. After years of working the 8-5 circuit, not having the evenings free is a little strange. I miss celebrating things like Taco Tuesdays, and breakfast-for-dinner gets really confusing once you start having it around 2am (because at that point, isn’t it just breakfast again?). So, I’m making small lunchtime changes here & there to allow these little traditions to continue, only on a less elaborate scale.
I threw these puppies together a few days ago on a whim, chucking the more time-consuming sweet potato hash with poached eggs I’d originally had in mind for some quick tacos instead. Going in a sweet potato-less direction was not an option, as it appears that they’re my first I’m Obsessed With You, Dear Ingredient of 2013, so I figured I’d cook them up with some ground beef I had defrosting in the fridge for a simple taco filling. But let me tell ya, these are anything but simple when it comes to flavor.
Easy to prepare and quick to assemble, these little guys are packed with spices and a little heat for kick. Earthy, smoky cumin, spicy cayenne pepper, and a couple dashes of smoked paprika take an otherwise tasty taco filling to a whole different level. The mild sweetness and velvety smoothness of the sweet potatoes help to tame a bit of that kick, so if you’re a little on the shy side when it comes to spicy food, you should be just fine with these.
Served street-style on small corn tortillas with plenty of chopped onions and cilantro for garnish and crunch, just two or three of these make for a delicious, yet effortless lunch. Because I get home so late these days, I try to have dinner options in place before I leave so I don’t have to start from scratch when I get home, and this recipe turned out to be perfect for this new practice. I made a big batch of filling, had the fresh veggie toppers all chopped up and ready to go, and all I had to do is reheat and serve. If you’re pressed for time and looking for meal-related time savers, you’ll definitely want to bookmark this one.
Before we check out the recipe, I wanted to point out how keeping your spice pantry stocked, even with the very basics, can make all the difference in the world when you’re cooking. As you can see here, what could have been a good dish is now a fun one, alive with exciting flavors. Except for the spiced paprika, which I actually happened to find at my beloved Trader Joe’s for a mere $1.99 (!!!), the ingredients used to take the taco filling from meh to OMG are quite simple and relatively inexpensive.
Of course, you could just go the taco seasoning packet route and save yourself some measuring time. But you’ll be spending way more in the long run and won’t have the ability to tweak those flavors until they make your taste buds sing. Keeping basic herbs & spices on hand opens up a world of possibilities, and with some of the shopping suggestions in Tip #2, you should be able to create a decent spice pantry of your own without breaking the bank. Once you find out what works for you and you commit to keeping those herbs & spices well-stocked, there’s no limit to what you can do, even with the most basic ingredients.
Okay, it’s recipe time! Let’s check it out. : )
Spicy Beef & Sweet Potato Tacos (makes about 4-6 two-taco servings; average cost per serving: $1.50)
1 small sweet potato, cut into 1/2″ cubes (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 c chopped yellow onion
1 T cooking oil
1 lb ground beef
2 T tomato paste
1/4 t ground cumin
1/4 t ground cayenne
1/4 t smoked paprika (regular paprika works just fine)
Salt & pepper to taste
8-12 small (4″) corn tortillas
Chopped onion & cilantro for garnish
Salsa or pico de gallo (optional)
1. In a large skillet or fry pan, heat the oil and add the garlic & onions. Cook until just fragrant and slightly translucent. Add the chopped sweet potatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, until they start to soften slightly and just begin to brown.
2. Add the ground beef, tomato paste and seasonings, and fold gently into the potatoes & onions. Cook the meat until completely browned and the sweet potatoes are tender. Check for seasoning and adjust according to taste with salt & pepper (and a little more cayenne if you’re up for it).
3. Heat the tortillas on a griddle or skillet. For the softest tortillas, lightly moisten your hands with water and pat both sides of each tortilla until it’s just damp. Place on the griddle and cook over medium heat for about 45-60 seconds on each side. Place on a plate and keep covered with foil until ready to serve. For crispier tortillas, spray your griddle with cooking spray or add a small amount of oil, then add the tortillas. Cook until warmed through and slightly browned around the edges.
4. Assemble those tacos! Grab a couple of tortillas and place a generous spoonful of the beef & sweet potato mixture inside. Top with chopped onion and cilantro, serve with a side of salsa if you like, and enjoy!