Let guests roll up their own dinner at a soft-taco bar

Posted Tuesday, Sep. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Sweet potato and black bean tacos with spicy coconut ginger salsa Makes 8 servings Indian flavors are combined in this vegan-friendly taco. The sweet potatoes and black beans also make a nice side. 4 large sweet potatoes, medium dice 2 tablespoons canola oil 1 teaspoon salt 1 clove garlic, minced 1/2 Vidalia onion, small dice 4 tablespoons tandoori paste 1 can unsweetened coconut milk 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans or substitute canned 1. Preheat oven to 350. Toss the diced sweet potatoes in 1 tablespoon of oil and salt. Place on a baking sheet and roast in the oven until soft and lightly browned, approximately 30 minutes. 2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, saute the garlic and onion with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil until translucent, approximately 3 minutes. Add the tandoori paste and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the coconut milk. Then fold in the black beans and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Fold in the roasted sweet potatoes and keep warm until ready to serve. Nutritional analysis per serving: 251 calories, 15 grams fat, 27 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 1 milligram cholesterol, 503 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber, 51 percent of calories from fat.
Spicy coconut ginger salsa Makes 8 servings 1 jalapeño, stemmed and seeded 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled 1 cup grated sweetened coconut flakes 1 bunch cilantro, large stems removed 1. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the jalapeño and ginger until smooth. Add the coconut and cilantro and pulse until roughly chopped and combined. Nutritional analysis per serving: 47 calories, 3 grams fat, 5 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 24 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 57 percent of calories from fat.
Shrimp adobo tacos with roasted corn, tomato and Vidalia onion salsa Makes 8 servings 2 cloves garlic 1/4 cup tequila 1/4 cup brown sugar 2 tablespoons oregano, preferably Mexican 3 1/2 ounces canned chiles in adobo sauce 1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp, cut into 1/2-inch pieces 1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine garlic, tequila, brown sugar, oregano, and chiles and sauce, and process until smooth. 2. In a medium bowl, combine the cut shrimp with the adobo mixture. Transfer to the refrigerator to marinate for one hour. 3. Preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and spread the shrimp and sauce evenly. Broil for approximately 5 minutes, stirring once until shrimp are opaque and have some charred spots. Nutritional analysis per serving: 101 calories, 1 gram fat, 7 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams protein, 86 milligrams cholesterol, 87 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 12 percent of calories from fat.
Roasted corn, tomato and onion salsa Makes 8 servings 1 cup corn kernels, either fresh or frozen, Silver Queen preferred 1 Vidalia onion, peeled and roughly chopped 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved 1 tablespoon cumin 1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon canola oil Juice of 1 lime 1/2 cup chopped cilantro Salt, to taste for serving 1. Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl, combine corn, onion and cherry tomatoes with cumin, salt and canola oil. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, or until corn is browned. 2. Transfer to a serving bowl and combine with the lime juice, cilantro and salt to taste. Nutritional analysis per serving: 54 calories, 2 grams fat, 8 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, no cholesterol, 273 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 35 percent of calories from fat .
Pork tacos al pastor with peach salsa Makes 8 servings Substitute any stone fruit for the peaches in this twist on the traditional pineapple-based al pastor taco. 1/4 cup canola oil 1 teaspoon salt 2 cloves garlic 1 teaspoon cumin 2 tablespoons chipotle chile powder 2 teaspoons oregano, preferably Mexican 1/2 cup orange juice 1/4 cup white vinegar 2 peaches or nectarines, peeled, pitted and chopped 1 2-pound pork tenderloin, cubed 4 peaches or nectarines, peeled, pitted and cut into quarters 1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine canola oil, salt, garlic, cumin, chile powder, oregano, orange juice, white vinegar and the chopped peaches. Puree and transfer to a plastic zip-top bag, along with the pork, and marinate 2 hours or overnight in the refrigerator. 2. Preheat the oven to broil. Remove the pork from the marinade and place on a baking sheet along with the 4 quartered peaches. Broil for 5 minutes, turning once. Remove from oven and keep warm until ready to serve. Nutritional analysis per serving: 245 calories, 11 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates, 25 grams protein, 74 milligrams cholesterol, 343 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 41 percent of calories from fat.
Peach salsa Makes 8 servings 4 broiled peaches (See pork tacos al pastor recipe), roughly chopped 1 red onion, finely diced 1 jalapeño, seeded and finely minced 1/4 cup chopped cilantro Juice of 1 lime 1. In a medium bowl, combine chopped peaches, red onion, jalapeño, cilantro and lime juice. Nutritional analysis per serving: 38 calories, trace fat, 8 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, no cholesterol, 3 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 3 percent of calories from fat.
Korean BBQ beef tacos with kimchee sesame salsa Makes 8 servings This food truck favorite is brightened with a quick kimchee slaw salsa that can be made even hotter by serving chili flakes on the side. 2 tablespoons sugar 1 scallion, white part only, minced 1 clove garlic, minced 1/2 cup soy sauce 1/2 cup sake 2 tablespoons honey 1 pound ground beef, cooked and drained 1. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, minced scallion, garlic, soy sauce, sake and honey, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until warmed through. Add cooked ground beef and keep warm until ready to serve. Nutritional analysis per serving: 208 calories, 12 grams fat, 10 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams protein, 43 milligrams cholesterol, 1,068 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 56 percent of calories from fat.
Kimchee sesame salsa Makes 8 servings 1 head Napa cabbage, shredded 2 carrots, shredded 1/4 cup sesame oil 1/8 cup white vinegar 2 tablespoons chile flakes 1 tablespoon salt 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds 1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Nutritional analysis per serving: 88 calories, 8 grams fat, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, no cholesterol, 806 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 83 percent of calories from fat.

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The notion of the do-it-yourself taco bar has many mothers, going back to those cheap feed-the-kids kits that include seasoning mix, taco shells and sauce.

But DIY taco bars are not only a great idea for a family meal; they are a great way to feed a crowd at a game-watching party, book club gathering or even a birthday get-together.

It was the “Roll Your Own” section of the 1997 cookbook License to Grill by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby that won me over to the idea that a taco bar could be creative fun for a party.

Schlesinger and Willoughby built their bar around marinated meat and seafood grilled on skewers and served with an abundance of mix-and-match garnishes.

Right now, food trucks are a major taco delivery system — part of a scene that’s as much social as culinary, and revels in cross-cultural experimentation with flavors from around the world.

Inspired by all that, we’ve taken to making taco fillings and salsas that borrow spicy, sweet and savory ingredients from Mexican, Korean, Indian and Southern cooking traditions. Laying them out buffet-style with some sides lets you feed a crowd, while your guests mingle and make a plate.

Set up the bar with the fillings and salsas, baskets of warm corn and flour tortillas wrapped in kitchen towels, and platters of crispy lettuce and cabbage leaves.

Include a variety of garnishes like lime wedges, pickled onion, sliced jalapeño, scallion and radish, chopped cilantro, sour cream and crumbled Mexican cheese, plus guacamole, chips and several kinds of hot sauce.

And let the party begin.

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