Tacos are an often requested and often denied dinner item around here. The thought of soft tacos makes me grumpy and I won't make them for my family. I'm a crunchy taco sort of girl and yet I rarely have one of those 'taco kits' with the neatly stacked pile of cardboard crunchy shells. Tristyn asked for tacos yesterday and it was on the tip of my tongue to turn him down because I didn't have any taco shells. I opened my mouth and Tristyn cut in 'Can't you make taco shells?' I closed it again with a snap. Yes, why not? I set about looking for a how to fueled only by coffee and a sudden but strong desire to have tacos for dinner that night. I didn't find anything that was suitable; all the recipes were telling me how to make what goes inside store-bought shells.
I decided to wing it.
This makes it easier to roll out later. I don't have a tortilla press so that means I have to roll it out by hand and it's far less irritating if the dough isn't snapping back. I made my tortillas into 7.5 inch rounds because that's the size of the bowl I was using to trace out the tortilla. The dough I made could have easily made 10 eight inch tortillas or 12 seven and a half inch tortillas if I wasn't too fussy about the edges but I was being fussy about the edges. I saved the scraps.
After all of the tortillas were rolled out, I heated a pan over medium heat, gave it the slightest coating of oil because I wasn't using a non-stick pan, and dry fried each tortilla for about a minute per side. They were stacked and allowed to cool. Meanwhile, I heated another pan of oil over medium heat.
Using tongs, I lowed half of a tortilla into the oil. The hot oil bubbled around the tortilla half making it pliable enough to use the tongs to fold the tortilla in half. I held the upper half of the shell in place and while waiting for the lower half to turn golden brown I wished over and over again that my tongs were longer. Then, using a fork to aid the process, I turned the tortilla over and fried the other side.
When all of the tortillas were fried, I tossed the scraps from rolling into the hot oil. As soon as they turned golden, I lifted them out of the oil, drained them on paper towels and quickly salted them. My children enjoyed them that afternoon for a little snack. Waste not, want not!
The oil was hot and bubbly and it took less than two minutes to make each shell. I didn't want to lay the hot taco shell against paper towels for fear one side would un-crisp or lose their shape before they cooled so I devised a method of allowing them to drain while still maintaing their shape. I used long grill skewers to hang the shells off of and then placed either end of the skewer over a glass. Once the shells were completely cool, I laid them on a few paper towels on the counter to await taco making in a couple of hours. I am happy to say that they did not lose ANY crunchiness.
I stuffed the tacos with ground beef that I used a datil pepper sauce my friend who recently moved to Florida brought me. It lended a spicy but slightly sweet and smokey flavor to the meat that I thought worked amazingly well. Then, came cheddar, a type of pico de gallo and chopped baby spring mix lettuce.
The children knew that the shells were homemade but my husband did not. Two bites into the first taco, he stopped and examined it. 'This is a really good shell,' he said. And I, bursting with childlike excitement but struggling to contain it, told him that I had made the shell from scratch. He proclaimed it far, far better than those awful ones you get from a box at the grocer's and I hope that if you try making your own crunchy shells that you'll agree with him too.
Crunchy Taco Shells
1 2/3 cups flour
1 cup corn meal
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup water + 1 or 2 tablespoons extra as needed.
Additional oil for frying
Additional salt for salting crunchy scraps if desired
1. In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Mix in the oil and the 1/2 cup of water. Dribble in the additonal 1-2 tablespoons of water if needed until the dough is all gathered into a ball. On a clean surface, knead the dough 3-4 minutes or until it is smooth.
2. Divide the dough into 10-12 portions of equal size dependent on if you want 10 or 12 tortillas or scraps for frying. Form each portion into a ball, flatten slightly and cover with a towel. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.
3. Roll each ball into a thin tortilla with a diameter of 7.5 -8 inches. Heat up a frying pan over medium heat. If you are using a non-stick pan, you might wish to very lightly oil the pan. Dry fry each tortilla for about 45 seconds on each side. Allow tortillas to cool.
4. In another pan, heat about 1/2 inch of oil over medium heat. Using a pair of tongs, take a tortilla and lower half of it into the oil. As it softens, 'fold' the top half over the bottom half to form the classic taco shape. When it is beginning to to turn golden brown, turn the tortilla and fry the other side. Drain using the draped over skewers method described above or place the tortilla fold up to the ceiling on paper towels. Repeat with each tortilla. If desired, fry scraps and salt for a treat.
5. Stuff the shells with your favorite taco fillings and enjoy!