Make it a family fiesta as kids help with Tex-Mex dinner

  • Families, including Mazie and Dan Westermann, learned and cooked together at a pair of Tex-Mex cooking classes at Farmhouse School.

    Families, including Mazie and Dan Westermann, learned and cooked together at a pair of Tex-Mex cooking classes at Farmhouse School. Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

 
 
Updated 9/28/2022 6:17 AM

I recently hosted a pair of Tex-Mex classes for kids and families. Registered dietitian Mary Zupke from The Garden Plate taught alongside me and offered a few healthy recipes, which we tweaked based on what was harvested from my gardens. Just about everyone has had tacos with chips and salsa, but what about tacos baked in a muffin tin? Or salsa made with raspberries and scooped up with churro chips? The novel twists make these recipes as fun for adults as they are for kids. And the broad options for customization mean that everyone finds something to like.

A full plate includes baked turkey tacos, fruit salsa and churro chips.
A full plate includes baked turkey tacos, fruit salsa and churro chips. - Courtesy of Mary Zupke

Our fiesta occurred right after Mexican Independence Day, so we started with some history. Almost everyone thought that Cinco de Mayo and not Sept. 16 was the day that commemorated the end of 300 years of Spanish colonial rule in Mexico. But it was in 1810 that Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla called for independence and rallied his countrymen in Delores with the sound of a ringing church bell. We rang the schoolhouse bell to mark the occasion, just as the president of Mexico does the night before Independence Day each year (though he uses Father Hildago's bell.)

Our menu is not remotely authentic, but it pulls from traditional ingredients like tomatoes, peppers, onions and cilantro that are fresh and abundant in September.

Garden-fresh tomatoes, cilantro and cabbage make great toppings for your taco bar.
Garden-fresh tomatoes, cilantro and cabbage make great toppings for your taco bar. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

The taco filling calls for spicy ground turkey, sold in 16-ounce chubs. But you can use chorizo or plain ground turkey zhuzhed with a splash of vinegar, smoked paprika and ancho chilies. Beyond Meat even makes a plant-based spicy sausage if you want to make these vegetarian.

The filling also uses canned refried beans; you can use the kind made with pinto beans or the black bean version. Look for those made with healthy fats, like avocado oil and low sodium.

Set up a taco bar with various toppings so diners can customize their taco cups. We included a delicious quick-pickled red onion sliced thinly with a mandoline and covered with apple cider vinegar for 15 minutes. There were also brightly colored edible flowers for garnishes -- peppery nasturtium for the tacos and cucumber-y borage for the salsa. If you happen to grow either of these (and don't spray with insecticides or pesticides), they add a thrill for anyone who's never eaten a flower before.

We also set out slices of fresh jicama sprinkled with Tajin, the Mexican chili-lime-salt blend that is good on everything from roasted corn and fresh fruit to grilled fish and the rim of a margarita glass. Nobody had tried this tuberous root before and guessed it was a potato, onion or enormous radish. The precut jicama sold in grocery stores can be dry, so buy a whole one to peel and cut, and you'll be rewarded with a juicy, crunchy, nutrient-dense snack. Despite kids' natural wariness around new foods, I was happy to see an empty platter.

We let the little kids use poblanos or Italian peppers instead of jalapeño for the salsa, but if you like it spicy, you can use serranos instead. The heat is a good counterpoint to the sweet fruit and tart lime. And if you happen to have any leftovers, it's even better the next day.

These taco cups can be eaten with your hands but use a fork to get the extra bits of deliciousness that spill out onto the plate.

Don't wait for a holiday or even Taco Tuesday to try these recipes. Together they are a simple yet festive way to bring your family together in the kitchen any day of the week.

• Leslie Meredith is the winner of the 2019 Cook of the Week Challenge and teaches people how to grow and cook "real" food. She runs Farmhouse School on a historic homestead in Campton Hills. See the school's Facebook or Instagram pages @FarmhouseSchool or contact Leslie at food@dailyherald.com.

Cynthia Cwik practices knife skills in a recent Tex-Mex cooking class at Farmhouse School.
Cynthia Cwik practices knife skills in a recent Tex-Mex cooking class at Farmhouse School. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith
Baked Turkey Tacos

1 pound spicy ground turkey sausage

1 15-ounce can refried beans

2 cups Roma tomatoes, diced (about 6)

1 teaspoon fresh garlic, pressed (1-2 cloves, depending on size)

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

12 6-inch whole grain flour tortillas

¼ cup avocado oil

Optional toppings: Cotija cheese, chopped green onions, chopped cilantro, avocado, shredded red cabbage, quick-pickled red onions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Brown meat in a skillet, drain fat, if necessary and return to pan. Stir in beans, tomatoes, garlic and spices. Brush each tortilla with oil, fold each in half, then in half again. Place one inside each cup of the tin and unfold the top flap to make a cup.

Divide meat and bean mixture evenly into the cups. Bake for 8-10 minutes until the shells are crispy and starting to brown. Add desired toppings.

Makes 12

Adapted from a recipe by Mary Zupke

The sweetness of the fruit salsa is complemented by the spicy turkey sausage and various hot peppers.
The sweetness of the fruit salsa is complemented by the spicy turkey sausage and various hot peppers. - Courtesy of Mary Zupke
Raspberry-Watermelon Salsa

2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced

1 cup watermelon, diced

1/3 cup red onion, diced

¼ cup fresh cilantro (leaves and stems), finely chopped

1 jalapeño, seeded and diced

Salt, to taste

3 tablespoons lime juice

1 pint fresh raspberries

Combine all ingredients except raspberries in a medium bowl. Gently fold in raspberries. Serve immediately or, even better, make ahead so that the flavors intermingle for a few hours.

Serves 6 to 8

Adapted from a recipe by Mary Zupke

Churro Chips

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup of sugar

Five 8-inch whole grain flour tortillas

¼ cup avocado oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl and set aside. Cut tortillas into 8 triangles each using a knife or pizza wheel. Brush both sides of each triangle with oil and lay flat on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with about half of the cinnamon-sugar, then flip and sprinkle the other side with remaining cinnamon sugar. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until crispy. Allow to cool before enjoying with the fruit salsa.

Serves 6 to 8

Adapted from a recipe by Mary Zupke

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