Tacos make an appearance on my dinner table typically once a week. Not only am I a fan of the spicy bite that comes from salsas, hot sauces, and jalapeños, but there’s simply no beating the fresh flavors that come together seamlessly in a soft tortilla. It’s almost impossible to mess up tacos, too — even if you’re adding some truly exotic ingredients like octopus, alligator, or tripe.
Still, you can want a traditional beef or chicken taco without getting into a rut. When a desire for creativity strikes, tacos are the perfect meal for experimenting. If you’ve got picky eaters, tacos are also the perfect solution. You can try new ingredients and get a little risky, but with everything on a separate platter, everyone at your table can choose their own ingredients. In essence, they’re the perfect creative compromise to dinnertime.
It’s difficult to imagine boring tacos — the bold and fresh flavors almost always keep that from happening. But if you’re looking for an alternative to run-of-the-mill toppings, try some of these flavor combinations. You might just discover a staple ingredient to add to the table on taco night.
1. Daikon radishes
A sibling of the typical red radish that occasionally gets sliced on top of a fish taco, daikon literally means “big root” in Japanese, where it’s the most commonly grown vegetable. Daikon is mild in flavor, but adds crunch and a vehicle for pickling flavors, which complement the softer tofu in these Asian-inspired tacos from Cooking Light. If you’re used to pico de gallo or Mexican influences for taco night, this flavor combination served up in a corn tortilla will probably be unlike anything you’ve ever had.
2. Nopales (cactus)
No, you won’t be taking a chunk out of one of the cacti from a Western movie anytime soon. But these pads from the prickly pear cactus are quite popular in Mexico and South America and can be found in Mexican grocery stores and farmers’ markets in the United States — most often in the Southwest and parts of California.
The flavor and texture is a bit like a green pepper or a tart green bean. When cooked, it’s a bit like okra. You can toss nopal strips, which pair well with carne asada or your meat of choice, right into the tortilla. To highlight the nopales, Food Network suggests tossing them in with onion, cilantro, and jalapeños.
If you’re looking for a vegetarian alternative to meat tacos and plain rice and beans aren’t cutting it anymore, try adding mushrooms to the mix. You can use portobello strips, which take on a meaty consistency, but any mushrooms will likely work well. Add sautéed onions and fresh ingredients, and you’re ready for a satisfying meal. To take the mushroom tacos to the next level, try these beer-marinated mushrooms with a chipotle crema and pepita (pumpkin seed) relish. Add a beer like Corona to the marinade, and save the rest of the pack for dinner, like the blogger from Oh My Veggies suggests.
4. Curry powder
This additive spice that’s popular in Indian cuisine proves that, yes, anything goes well together when folded into a tortilla. Ground turkey works just as well as ground beef when it’s mixed with taco seasoning, but this recipe from Taste of Home goes a step further and adds some curry powder, too. You’ll add black beans and salsa for a typical Mexican dish, but the curry powder will add another layer of flavor to keep things interesting.
As far as unique ingredients go, pineapple might not be quite as foreign as cactus or daikon. However, if you have yet to branch out at all with your taco game, this is an easy place to start. Pineapple’s sweet and tangy flavor pairs perfectly with pork, so it’s also a chance to try a new protein in your tacos if you normally stick to the ground beef variety. Pork tacos prepared with pineapple flavors are referred to as “al pastor.” This means you can also sound fancy as you’re serving these up for dinner. If you’d like to give this version a try, check out the grilled pork and pineapple salsa recipe from Crumb.
6. Barbecue sauce
Basically, a taco is a taco if you’re sticking meat and other toppings into a round shell of some kind. That incredible freedom means you can put any flavors into your tacos — including barbecue sauce that’s otherwise meant for your backyard grill session. Good Housekeeping suggests making barbecue brisket tacos, using your slow cooker to do the heavy lifting of preparing brisket. Once it’s shredded, you can serve the brisket with cilantro, radishes, fresh limes, and cheese — or whatever else you want.
You wouldn’t necessarily think a starch like potatoes goes well in a taco, but spuds add flavor and help to keep the ground beef from tumbling out of your taco shell once you dig in. You’ll cook the cubed potato in a skillet on the stove, adding the ground beef to cook once the potato cubes are soft (but not browned). Afterward, typical toppings like cilantro, tomato, and onion are fair game, according to the blogger at Mexicrave.
8. Blue cheese
A blue cheese burger with caramelized onions is a perfect balance of flavor, and the combination translates perfectly to these tacos from The Creative Bite. By switching out ground beef for a New York strip, you’ll add texture and unbeatable steak flavor, balanced out with the blue cheese and caramelized onions. The onions are finished with a little balsamic vinegar to add a tiny bit more zip, and it’s wrapped up in your tortilla of choice. If you’re looking for a taco you’d rather eat with arugula and a glass of wine instead of a beer, these might just be the ticket.
9. Bananas and fudge
The original Choco Taco might be a distant memory from childhood at this point, but it’s never too late in life to try your hand at a homemade dessert taco. Sweeten up regular corn tortillas by frying them and adding granulated sugar, then add ice cream and any toppings you choose. In a nod to Mexican cuisine, the blogger at Half Baked Harvest created the these ones with tres leches and fudge ice cream and a banana salsa with peanuts. “Tres leches” means “three milks,” and is often a term used to describe a type of cake that’s soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk, and cream. The homemade ice cream in this recipe used condensed milk, coconut milk, and heavy cream. Making your own ice cream might take some effort, but the end results look too good to pass up — especially with the bananas, peanuts, and chocolate on top.
Follow Nikelle on Twitter @Nikelle_CS