Since I was born and raised in Los Angeles, which is basically the mecca of delicious Mexican food in the U.S., I consider myself to be an expert in eating tacos. Imagine slicing into some nicely charred carne asada hot from the grill or watching the taco truck guy carve thin pieces of al pastor from the spit, dripping with juices and fat. I don’t know about you, but my mouth is watering! So, I think we can agree that tacos are delicious, but sometimes, especially when you order them in a restaurant, they’re not exactly the healthiest.
5 Tips to making a tasty and healthier taco
1. Choose a lean cut of meat or even use plant based protein
When choosing the protein to go inside of your taco, choose one on the leaner side. Chicken (without the skin), flank steak, sirloin, top round, bottom round, london broil, skirt steak, pork loin, shrimp, and fish are all great choices. If you’ve got the extra cash, you could even use filet mignon! If you use ground beef, be sure to choose a leaner grind, such as 90% lean/10% fat, 93/7, or 96/4. I love using lean ground turkey to make turkey tacos! The extra lean tends to be a little dry when cooked, so I used the 90/10. To add some more moisture, flavor and nutrients to ground beef or turkey, finely chop some mushrooms and saute with the meat! Or, try using plant based proteins as the main taco ingredient! Examples are beans, lentils, tofu, seitan and tempeh.
2. Marinate the meat, especially when grilling
A marinade adds so much flavor to the meat through liquids, herbs, garlic, chiles and spices. They also have a slight tenderizing effect through an acid. Examples of acid are wine, vinegar, lemon, lime, seville orange (sour orange). The acid also adds flavor too, especially when you use red wine. Many recipes include oil in the marinade and you may wonder what the point of that is. The fat actually helps to keep the meat moist during cooking and distributes the flavors throughout the marinade.
Marinating the meat prior to grilling can also decrease your risk of cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, marinating meats before grilling decreases the formation of carcinogenic compounds called HCAs by up to 96% !
**** A note about the marinade: Discard the used stuff! I don’t want you contaminating yourself or your family with e. coli or salmonella! If you want to use the marinade as part of a sauce or to baste the meat, reserve a portion of the fresh, unused marinade for later.
3. Choose small tortillas
When it comes to tortillas, the smaller the better. Some stores sell a small, “street taco” size, which is the smallest option. Comparison shop at the store and look at the nutrition facts label on a variety of tortillas. If you’re watching calorie intake, flour tortillas can have quite a bit more calories than corn tortillas. However, if you’re more of a flour tortilla kind of person, some companies make “low carb” or “high fiber” taco size flour tortilla options. If you have a gas stove, warm the tortillas directly over the burner for a few seconds on each side. The very slight char will give your final product an amazing flavor! You can also do this on the grill. If crunchy tacos are your more your thang, check out this oven-baked taco shell method from EatingWell.
4. Choose condiments wisely
Choose condiments that are nutrient dense, flavor packed and give an added textural sensation to the taco. Chopped raw onion, fresh cilantro leaves, red or green salsa, hot sauce, roasted chiles or bell peppers, grilled onions, avocado, or even a crunchy slaw.
If you love sour cream, try making a crema with greek yogurt mixed with herbs or chipotle chiles. If you need cheese, go light on the portion. Just a small sprinkle will do. I love crumbly Mexican cheese such as cotija, or if you don’t have access to that, you could use a dash of crumbled feta.
5. Practice portion control
This may be the only difficult piece of the taco puzzle since it’s sooooo easy to eat taco after taco after taco! So that you’re not tempted to eat copious amounts of tacos, add a healthy side dish component to the plate such as vegetables or a side of whole beans. Serve a garden salad or make extra slaw to serve on the side of the plate. Saute some zucchini with garlic and mexican oregano or roast some cauliflower with cumin and coriander for delicious veggie sides. Want some probiotics with your tacos? Check out Farmhouse Culture’s tangy and spicy fermented Taqueria Mix of carrots, onion, radish and jalapeno.
Don't be shy to marinate this steak for up to 24 hours. The red wine flavor really comes out! Also, spring for good quality tortillas because they make a huge difference in the overall taco experience. I don't have an outdoor grill so I must rely on my broiler. If you cook your steak on the grill, the cooking time should be about the same as cooking in the broiler.
- 1-1/2 pounds of flank steak, extra fat removed
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
- 2 Tablespoons neutral oil or olive oil
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 3 cups thinly shredded green cabbage
- 1 cup julienned carrots (matchstick size) or instead of slicing, use a peeler to make large shreds (should need less than 1 carrot)
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 2 Tablespoons lime juice
- 1 teaspoon neutral oil or olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/3 cup 2% plain greek yogurt
- 1/4 teaspoon adobo sauce from chipotle chile can
- 1/2 teaspoon lime juice
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 10-12 corn tortillas
- 2 avocados, cut into slices
- In a large bowl or in a large ziplock bag, combine the red wine, soy sauce, oil, and garlic. Add steak to bowl or bag and cover or seal. Allow steak to marinate in fridge overnight, or for at least 8 hours. You can even marinate steak for 24 hours if desired.
- Add the cabbage, carrots, cilantro, lime juice, oil and salt to a medium bowl. Stir to combine.
- In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, adobo sauce, lime juice and salt.
- Place oven rack about 6 inches from top of oven. Preheat oven to broil setting (high setting if you have multiple settings).
- Cover a sheet pan or broiler pan with foil. Lift steak out of marinade and place on top of the foil lined sheet pan.
- Place pan in oven and cook for 4-6 minutes on one side. Flip steak over to other side and broil for 4-6 minutes more.
- Remove from oven and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes.
- When the steak is inserted with an instant read thermometer, medium rare will be about 135 degrees F.
- On a cutting board, slice steak very thinly against the grain. A pool of juices will have formed on the sheet pan. Place steak slices in the juices.
- Warm corn tortillas by placing over gas burner on stove for a few seconds on each side, on the grill, or in the microwave for about 20 seconds.
- Spread 1 teaspoon of chipotle crema on the tortilla. Top with about 1 to 1-1/2 ounces of steak, 2 slices of avocado and about 2 Tablespoons of slaw.
If pomegranates are in season, add them to the slaw. They add fantastic flavor!