A Tale of Two Leftover Tacos

Quick – name one of your favorite foods. Did you hesitate? I didn’t. One of my favorite foods are tacos, of course! (Popcorn is another one, but that’ll be a whole different post.) I love them in any form or variation – homemade, fast food, Tex-Mex restaurant, authentic Mexican, international fusion – the possibilities truly endless. When you really think about it, tacos are practically perfect in every way – a winning combination of slightly spicy meat, creamy cheese, and fresh veggies all wrapped in a crispy (or soft) tortilla. Me, I prefer tacos crunchy – particularly when pieced together right from the stovetop. I first layer in some shredded cheese at the bottom of the shell before adding the hot taco meat to ensure the cheese gets all melty and gooey. Then I top them off with diced onions and tomatoes along with shredded lettuce for that bite of freshness all great Mexican food seems to have. Basic, I know. What can I say? I’m a traditionalist when it comes to my Tex-Mex tacos. Sometimes I do experiment with different toppings like cilantro, salsa, guacamole, taco sauce, jalapenos, rice, and chili con queso, but I always come back to my favorite yet simple build-a-taco.

Because of its popularity, taco night occurs at least twice a month in our home, and that does not include trips to the local Mexican restaurants for my current taco obsession – tacos de carnitas. (Side note – I need to learn how to make those at home. I foresee the coming of a new adventure!) While we often stick to the same procedures, we have tried and developed new traditions – from repurposing rotisserie chicken into outstanding taco meat to making corn tortillas from scratch. My family actually has a recipe for great homemade crispy shells that we borrowed (okay, stole) from some family friends back in the 1990s. They are labor intensive but well worth the work. I really need to cook some of those soon, but I digress. One of the best changes we instituted has been mixing together our own taco seasoning. I used to swear by the Ortega brand, but now with the surprisingly easy recipe Bryce found online, we will probably never go back. A certain sense of pride accompanies putting together your own spice mix even if you’re just mixing together spices from the cupboard. We also recently added Goya’s chicken flavored Mexican Rice to taco night. Now, rice is typically not a food I enjoy much, but Goya’s Mexican rice sure is tasty – especially when we substitute homemade chicken stock for the water while following the cooking instructions (hint, hint). I know what you’re thinking – can’t he make his own Mexican style rice? Truth be told, I certainly could; however, one of the greatest things about taco night happens to be its low-impact simplicity. Rice from a box therefore fits well into the overall philosophy of our biweekly taco nights. No shame in that.

Another great aspect of taco night is turning the leftovers into lunch. Like chili or marinara sauce, taco meat (usually ground beef in our home) tends to taste better the next day after spending the night marinating in spices. Over the years taco leftovers have taken many different forms, some successful and some not so much. Two of my favorite redux recipes are a taco burrito and taco pizza. While both would make perfectly great taco night creations, as I mentioned earlier, I prefer my tacos crunchy and built following strict procedures for initial consumption. All bets are off for leftovers, and that’s how the following tale of two leftover tacos came about.

Taco Burrito with Lettuce Salad

  • 1 – 8″ flour tortilla
  • 1 Tablespoon salsa con queso (we like the Tostitos brand) or your favorite salsa
  • 1/4 cup leftover taco meat
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese (I like low-moisture, part skim mozzarella, but any kind will work)
  • 1/4 cup leftover Mexican rice
  • Diced onions
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Salad dressing of your choice
  • Salt and pepper

In a microwave safe bowl, combine taco meat, shredded cheese, and rice. I like using a glass bowl covered with a wet paper towel, squeezing a little excess water from the paper towel into the leftovers to provide moisture and better heat retention. Heat covered for one minute to 90 seconds, depending on your microwave. Halfway through the reheating process, stir the meat, cheese, and rice. Notice how the mix is turning into gooey, cheesy goodness! Meanwhile, spread the salsa con queso evenly over the tortilla, and once the meat mixture is heated to your liking, place the tortilla into the microwave for 15 seconds. Remove tortilla from microwave, fill with the heated meat mixture, top with diced onions, and wrap into a burrito. For the salad, I just use the rest of the shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes on hand, dress the salad (with ranch in the picture), and sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper. Enjoy!

Taco Pizza

  • 1 – 8″ flour tortilla
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon salsa con queso or your favorite salsa/taco sauce
  • 1/2 cup leftover taco meat
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese (I like mozzarella, but use your favorite type of cheese – use more if you like)
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Diced onions
  • Diced tomatoes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush one side of the flour tortilla with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Place the tortilla onto a baking dish/stone with the oiled and seasoned side down. Spread the unseasoned/unoiled side of the tortilla evenly with the salsa con queso. Top next with taco meat and then with the shredded cheese. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes or until  the cheese is bubbly and the tortilla is starting to turn golden brown. Remove from the oven, transfer to a plate, and top the pizza with your leftover taco night fixings. Enjoy! 

And there you have the tale of two leftover tacos. I do realize these are leftovers. Please experiment with the recipes and alter them according to the ingredients you favor (and have available). Then share your results – I would love to hear what you turn your taco night leftovers into!

CJC

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