I have solved a meal situation, and it has been such a successful solution I can hardly keep myself from publishing a cookbook with just this one recipe in it. It’s something I came up with in several parts to handle several different issues, and I think it’s finally perfect. And this is going to be a long story because I’m so! enthusiastic! about all the steps along the way. (If you feel pity at this moment for anyone unable to just skip to the end to find the part that looks like a recipe, you could spare a moment for Paul. Not only has he heard each issue explained in its turn, and each part of the solution explained in its turn, but he’s had to hear the entire thing REVIEWED with each installment.)
It STARTED because one of my favorite meals is leftover taco meat heated up, with salsa and cheese on top, eaten by scooping up bites with bite-size tortilla chips.
But! This is one of the times I appreciate Paul’s careful use of the word “nutritious” (as opposed to “healthy”): it is fine to have tortilla chips, and I plan to have them on many occasions, but they are not a particularly NUTRITIOUS part of the meal. And also, I take them as-needed out of the bag rather than measuring a serving, and I don’t WANT to measure a serving, because I don’t want “a serving,” I want “exactly as many as there are bites of taco meat.” (And also because I don’t really want the “how many chips I’m eating” information, if it isn’t going to change anything anyway.) But what can replace tortilla chips? NOTHING.
MEANWHILE, while I was mulling this issue, Paul and I were ALSO trying to figure out a way to have MORE leftover taco meat: as a family we were using a large amount of ground turkey (seasoned with a taco seasoning packet) for a taco meal and there often wasn’t any leftover for me to eat. SADNESS. When my mother-in-law was alive, she told me roughly a million times (most often while standing over me as I cooked up some ground turkey) that what SHE did to make meat go further was to “add a canna-corn to the hamburg” (she called this a way to get children to eat more vegetables, too, but…corn is a grain, right?). She thought that was a very clever way to save money on meat, and indeed it is, and it would also be a good way for a family who wanted to eat less meat total to decrease their meat consumption.
But there were several problems with this idea. To start with, Paul always hated his mom’s meat-mixed-with-corn. For another thing, neither of us are keen to remove something we consider quite nutritious (the ground turkey) in favor of something we consider less nutritious (a starch). (Your nutrition equation may vary. Nutrition is a CRAZY PLACE. I state our own current inclinations for it so that you can see the problem we were trying to solve here, which could have been just as nutritiously stated in the opposite direction for a family with different nutrition goals: for example, “trying to replace animal products with whole grains.”)
Then one day I was contemplating the Taco Bell menu items that are made with refried beans, which I dislike but Paul and Rob like them. So I thought we could add refried beans to our taco meat (legumes are another area of unknown nutrition, but we are currently tentatively assuming nutritious), except I don’t like refried beans. But I DO like chickpeas! So…I could grind up chickpeas and add them! And I did it, and lo it was delicious and the children didn’t notice, so, score for adding variety and for making the meal more filling so there was more left over for me.
Then we were out of chickpeas but still eager to experiment and so we tried a can of black beans. With the chickpeas I’d used the larger-size can, drained (I remember reading long ago that the soak-water for beans should be removed to decrease some of the, er, “musical fruit” element; I have no idea if this was/is actually true, but the tip has stuck with me regardless, and also the bean water typically looks/smells gross), added water to make it blenderable, and used about 1/3rd of the resulting puree for each 1.3-pound pack of ground turkey. Our opinion was that we could have divided it among two batches instead of three [note: later we tried this and decided no, dividing into three is better with the big can of chickpeas], so with the black beans I used the smaller-size can, drained, mixed with about 3/4 cup of water and 1 packet of taco seasoning mix right in the blender (the taco seasoning needs to be mixed with 3/4 cup water anyway, so this combines the two tasks), then added the whole amount to the meat. It was beanier, and it LOOKED grosser (darker, burned-looking—the chickpeas end up more of a warm terra cotta color with the seasoning), but Paul thought it tasted even better, and the kids noticed the appearance this time but still weren’t bothered by the taste. I liked it better, too, but I think that was because I used the spicy taco seasoning instead of the regular: I’d thought the chickpeas had soaked up too much of the spiciness.
Then I had my third idea, the one that brought this whole thing together. In my eternal quest to try to eat more vegetables, I’d impulse-bought a yellow bell pepper and an orange bell pepper (memory digression: my late mother-in-law, laughingly to Paul, in front of me, after I’d set out a dish of colored bell peppers and dip with lunch: “Swistle’s the only person I know who spends extra on the pretty colors!” Me: “…They…taste different? than the green ones? I don’t like the green ones raw—but the orange/yellow/red are sweeter? and milder? and I like them raw?” My late mother-in-law: “Whatever, I’ve just never known anyone who would spend so much extra money just to get the pretty colors! *merry derisive laughter*” Me, in my head: “AND YOU STILL DON’T, AS I’VE JUST EXPLAINED”). And I was thinking about how I should eat those peoppers before they went bad. And that is when it occurred to me that they might, MIGHT, considering how much I like them, be adequately crunchy and yummy to be sometimes used instead of tortilla chips.
I was nervous to try it, but did it anyway for lunch one day. I heated up leftover ground-turkey-with-black-beans-and-taco-seasoning with some salsa. I added cheddar cheese on top. I cut up the orange pepper. I used a segment of pepper to scoop up some meat and took a tentative bite, and….YUM. Very, very yum. A different meal than with tortilla chips, but wonderful in its own different way.
It was so good, I wanted to eat it three meals a day for awhile.
I feel odd even saying this, but I left out the cheese the next time I made it. Normally I think of taco meat as REQUIRING cheese—but something about the sweetness of the pepper made the cheese taste a little weird and out of place to me. I know, I know, but it did. If you try it, put cheese on the first bite and see if you agree. I ended up scraping it to one side.
Second attempt, with the yellow pepper and no cheese this time
(this is with chickpeas)
So, to sum up. Before: taco meat/seasoning, cheese, salsa, tortilla chip scoops. After: taco meat/seasoning (SPICY seasoning), beans, salsa, bell pepper scoops. Very different meals, but BOTH YUMMY. Success!