Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Taco Dinner From The 1970s
Before Taco Bell, before El Azteca in Clarksville, before R&R Deli served a dozen spectacular dishes from the Shell station, there was Old El Paso.
Old El Paso delivered Mexico in a box. Or at least that was the idea. Hard shells in a box, taco seasoning in an envelope, taco sauce in little bottles. This was the world before salsa. Taco sauce was thin and mild and left the fridge only on taco night. We didn't even have refried beans until our babysitter taught my mother about them.
You can recreate the 1970s even in these days of "no trans fat. Mrs. HowChow liked the burgers made with Laurel Meat Market's ground chuck, but she requested an Old El Paso night as well. To be true OT, you need to limit yourself: Old El Paso hard shells, the taco seasoning, iceberg lettuce, diced tomatoes and shredded cheddar. Consider the canned green chilis, which were an innovation in the early 1980s. But don't serve avocados, which are ubiquitous today but tasted inauthentic when I added them to our table.
No soft tacos. No authentic corn tortillas from Lily's Mexican Market. No chipotles. Mrs. HowChow and I shared the same childhood strategies to put the cheese on the beef so you get a little melting along the way. Top with the vegetables and crunch away. It's not just nostalgia. We really enjoyed dinner.
The final authentic touch would be eating until your stomach hurts. As I remember, taco night involved no portion control. My brother and I crunched taco after taco by the box, then made "taco salads" with the leftover fillings and the inevitable broken shells. (The Old El Paso that I bought today had no broken shells. They have clearly improved the packaging in the past 25 years.)
Next time, I might just whip up an appetizer that I remember from the same time -- slice green olives, stuff them with ground beef, then deep fry. That's party food. I'd get one before I was hustled off to bed. It's the 1970s on a toothpick.
Old El Paso is a General Mills brand, so you can buy them at almost any grocery store -- and at Laurel Meat Market for a one-stop shopping with that delicious ground chuck. For real Mexican, you should start at Lily's Mexican Market -- or just read all my posts about Mexican cuisine.