The notion of the do-it-yourself taco bar has many mothers, going back to those cheap feed-the-kids kits that include seasoning mix, taco shells and sauce.
But it was the “Roll Your Own” section of the 1997 cookbook “License to Grill” by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby that won me over to the idea that a taco bar could be creative fun for tailgating or a cocktail party.
Schlesinger and Willoughby built their bar around marinated meat and seafood grilled on skewers and served with an abundance of mix-and-match garnishes.
Right now, food trucks are a major taco delivery system — part of a scene that’s as much social as culinary, and revels in cross-cultural experimentation with favors from around the world.
Inspired by all that, we’ve taken to making taco fillings and salsas that borrow spicy, sweet and savory ingredients from Mexican, Korean, Indian and Southern cooking traditions. Laying them out buffet-style with some sides let’s you feed a crowd, while your guests mingle and make a plate.
Set up the bar with the fillings and salsas, baskets of warm corn and flour tortillas wrapped in kitchen towels, and platters of crispy lettuce and cabbage leaves.
Include an array of garnishes such as lime wedges, pickled onion, sliced jalapeño, scallion and radish, chopped cilantro, sour cream and crumbled Mexican cheese, plus guacamole, chips and several kinds of hot sauce.
And let the party begin.
Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Spicy Coconut Ginger Salsa
Hands on: 10 minutes Total time: 50 minutes Serves: 8.
Indian flavors are combined in this vegan-friendly taco. The sweet potatoes and black beans also make a nice side.
4 large sweet potatoes, medium dice
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 Vidalia onion, small dice
4 tablespoons Tandoori paste
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/2 cups cooked or canned black beans
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Toss the diced sweet potatoes in 1 tablespoon of oil and salt. Place on a baking sheet and roast in the oven until soft and lightly browned, approximately 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, saute the garlic and onions with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil until translucent, approximately 3 minutes. Add the tandoori paste and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the coconut milk. Then fold in the black beans and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Fold in the roasted sweet potatoes and keep warm until ready to serve.
Per serving: 251 calories (percent of calories from fat, 51), 5 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fiber, 15 grams fat (6 grams saturated), 1 milligram cholesterol, 503 milligrams sodium.
Spicy Coconut Ginger Salsa
1 jalapeno, stemmed and seeded
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
1 cup grated sweetened coconut flakes
1 bunch cilantro, large stems removed
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the jalapeno and ginger until smooth. Add the coconut and cilantro and pulse until roughly chopped and combined.
Per serving: 35 calories (percent of calories from fat, 77), trace protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 3 grams fat (2 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 3 milligrams sodium.
Georgia Shrimp Adobo Tacos with Roasted Corn, Tomato and Vidalia Onion Salsa
Hands on: 30 minutes Total time: 2 hours, including one hour for marinating the shrimp Serves: 8.
Georgia shrimp, sweet corn and Vidalia onions make for a Southern twist to a Baja classic taco.
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup tequila
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons oregano, preferably Mexican
3 1/2 ounces canned chilies in adobo sauce
1 pound peeled and de-veined Georgia shrimp, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces
In the bowl of a food processor, combine garlic, tequila, brown sugar, oregano, and the can of chilis and sauce and process until smooth.
In a medium bowl, combine the cut shrimp with the adobo mixture. Transfer to the refrigerator to marinate for one hour.
Preheat the broiler.
Line a baking sheet with tin foil and spread the shrimp and sauce evenly. Broil for approximately 5 minutes, stirring once until shrimp are opaque and have some charred spots.
Per serving, filling only: 101 calories (percent of calories from fat, 12), 12 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram fat (trace saturated fat), 86 milligrams cholesterol, 87 milligrams sodium.
Roasted Corn, Tomato and Onion Salsa
1 cup corn kernels, either fresh or frozen, Silver Queen preferred
1 Vidalia onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup chopped cilantro salt, to taste for serving
Preheat oven to 350.
In a medium bowl, combine corn, onion and cherry tomatoes with cumin salt and canola oil. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, or until corn is browned.
Transfer to a serving bowl and combine with the lime juice, cilantro and salt to taste.
Per serving: 58 calories (percent of calories from fat, 33), 2 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 2 grams fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 276 milligrams sodium.
Pork Tacos al Pastor with Peach Salsa
Hands on: 30 minutes Total time: 1 hour plus at least 2 hours or overnight for marinating the pork Serves: 8.
Substitute any stone fruit for the peaches in this twist on the traditional pineapple-based Al Pastor taco.
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons chipotle chili powder
2 teaspoons oregano, preferably Mexican
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 peaches or nectarines, peeled, pitted and chopped
1 2-pound pork tenderloin, cubed
4 peaches or nectarines, peeled, pitted and cut into quarters
In the bowl of a food processor, combine canola oil, salt, garlic, cumin, chili powder, oregano, orange juice, white vinegar and the chopped peaches. Puree and transfer to a Ziploc bag, along with the pork, and marinate 2 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to broil.
Remove the pork from the marinade and place on a baking sheet along with the 4 quartered peaches. Broil for 5 minutes, turning once. Remove from oven and keep warm until ready to serve.
Per serving, filling only: 245 calories (percent of calories from fat, 41), 25 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 11 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 74 milligrams cholesterol, 343 milligrams sodium.
4 broiled peaches (See Pork Tacos Al Pastor recipe) roughly chopped
1 red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely minced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro juice of 1 lime
In a medium bowl, combine chopped peaches, red onion, jalapeno, cilantro and lime juice.
Per serving: 36 calories (percent of calories from fat, 3), 1 gram protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 3 milligrams sodium.
Korean Barbeque Beef Tacos with Kimchee Sesame Salsa
Hands on: 30 minutes Total time: 45 minutes Serves: 8.
This food truck favorite is brightened with a quick Kimchee slaw salsa that can be made even hotter by serving chili flakes on the side.
2 tablespoons sugar
1 scallion, white part only, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sake
2 tablespoons honey
1 pound ground beef, cooked and drained
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, minced scallions, garlic, soy sauce, sake, honey and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until warmed through. Add cooked ground beef and keep warm until ready to serve.
Per serving, filling only: 208 calories (percent of calories from fat, 56), 11 grams protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 12 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 43 milligrams cholesterol, 1,069 milligrams sodium.
Kimchee Sesame Salsa
1 head Napa cabbage, shredded
2 carrots, shredded
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/8 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons chili flakes
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.
Per serving: 92 calories (percent of calories from fat, 79), 1 gram protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 8 grams fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 825 milligrams sodium.