Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Evolution of a Recipe

     I know, I know it’s been a while…like, a loooong while since I blogged about anything but after a long weekend of good food I’m feeling a bit inspired. This installment will deal with one of my most favorite recipes in the entire world. Taco Soup.

     This recipe (like so many other great ones) was introduced to me by my mother and is a great way warm up from any winter adventure or enjoy durring the big game. I’m not really sure where she found it, but if I had to venture a guess I’d say either Cooking Light or Better Homes & Gardens.

The original recipe is very basic and simple and absolutely delicious, looks something like this …

1 lb. Ground beef, chicken, turkey, browned and greased drained.
1 - can crushed or diced tomatoes
1 – can kidney beans
1 - can of corn
1 - can green beans
1 - Taco seasoning packet
Tortilla Chips
Shredded Cheese

     Literally this is it, you brown/drain the meat, throw it in a crock pot or slow cooker with all of the other ingredients (including all the liquid from the canned veggies) and let it cook on low for 8 hours or more. Serve in a bowl topped with cheese and the chips on the side (to act as the crackers you might have with a traditional chicken noodle soup).

     The first time I made this dish I stuck to the recipe and was very pleased with the results, but since that time I haven’t made it the same way twice. Therein lies the beauty of this recipe, it’s so versatile. There’s really no right or wrong way to make this dish, it’s all based on personal preference of flavors so go nuts with it! I’ll give you a few of the varieties I’ve used in my preparation.

     Sometimes I want it a bit thicker than a soup so instead of using all of the liquid from the veggies I’ll drain off the cans and add a bit of tomato paste. For best results I suggest adding the paste to the meat just after draining off the grease, let it heat through and add your can of tomatoes to this mixture while still in the skillet. This will really help the tomato paste to thicken the sauce rather than sitting like a lump in the bottom of your crock pot. I almost always forego the taco seasoning these days also, I tend to use my own combinations of spices including ground cumin, red pepper flake, chili power, coriander, salt, and pepper. These ingredients should also be added to the meat mixture in the skillet in order to bring out their full flavor potential. A few other quick and easy variations are, using black beans instead of the green beans, adding sautéed onions and peppers, try different varieties of peppers for varying degrees of spiciness, and top with sour cream or guacamole.

My most recent incarnation is as follows (I would say this recipe is moderately spicy, leave out the serranos for a milder bite)…

1.5 lbs. Ground meat (half chicken, half turkey)
1 – 28oz. can, diced tomatoes in juice
1 – can, red kidney beans
1 – can, black beans
1 – can, corn
1 – medium onion, diced
1 – red bell pepper, diced
2 – Serrano peppers, diced
2 – jalapeno peppers, diced
1 – clove garlic, chopped.
4 Tbsp. Olive Oil

Spices/Herbs list: Ground cumin, Chili Powder, Coriander, Red Pepper Flake, Salt, Pepper, Thyme, Oregano.

     Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat; add 2 tbsp. oil followed by ground meat. Heat for 12-15 minutes or until cooked, stirring occasionally. When meat is cooked through, add 1 tbsp. each of cumin and chili powder along with 1 tsp. of coriander, red pepper flake, thyme, oregano and a pinch of salt/pepper. Let this mixture cook for another 3-5 minutes stirring often to incorporate spices. Transfer this mixture to crock pot. Put the skillet back on the burner and add 2 tbsp. oil along with onions, peppers (all three) and garlic. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and sauté these veggies for 4-6 minutes, until soft and add the same combination of spices and herbs; add veggies to meat in the crock pot. **Yes, you can absolutely cook the meat and veggies together in the same skillet, I personally don’t have a skillet big enough to accommodate this volume of ingredients.** Drain off liquid from canned veggies through a sieve or colander, reserving the liquid in a separate bowl. Add drained veggies to crock pot and stir thoroughly to incorporate.

     At this point, what you do with the reserved liquid is totally up to you, here is what I chose to do with it. Add liquid to the hot skillet in order to deglaze, or pick up all the little stuck-on, left behind bits in the pan. Simmer to reduce this liquid by about half (3-5 mins.) stirring frequently. Add liquid to crock pot, let cook for at least 4 hours and I would recommend 8+ hours as the flavors will become more fully developed with time. I generally plan ahead and make it at least one day in advance.

Serving suggestion: Top with freshly chopped cilantro, dollop of sour cream and a few slices of avocado.