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Take Along Tacos

Bring the flavors of your favorite taco stand to your next campsite

From the pages of Camping Life Magazine

Mexican meals tend to be fun. So pack up your favorite margarita mix, some fresh ingredients, and choose your campsite wisely since there’s no telling what a little tequila and some top-notch tacos may do. Your fiesta could go all night long. We asked Deborah Schneider, executive chef at SOL Cocina in Newport Beach, California, and author of Amor y Tacos what makes the simple taco such a special food. “The basic combination of protein and a really flavorful salsa lends itself to infinite variations, and always tastes great,” she says. “Plus it's fun to eat with your hands! In Mexico you eat tacos standing up while you watch the cooks, which is a big part of the whole experience for me.” Recreate it at your campground with Schneider’s tips for making terrific tacos.

BLT Chicken Taco

Since bacon is integral to most camping kitchens and BLTs are a summer classic, we thought this creative take on the taco seemed perfect. Schneider says one of the cardinal rules of taco making is “keep it simple! Too many salsas cancel each other out.” Follow her advice and try the combination of a classic pico de gallo and a creamy garlic aioli here.

Makes 12 small tacos

4 large boneless chicken thighs, with skin on
2 tsp olive oil, divided
Kosher salt
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
12 4-inch corn tortillas, warmed
2 strips bacon, cooked crisp and broken up
4 pickled jalapenos, diced
1 cup shredded lettuce
½ cup pico de gallo (recipe follows)

Preheat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Toss the chicken thighs with oil. Cook the thighs until very crisp. Turn and cook until done. If the skin isn’t crisp enough, turn and cook skin-side down for several minutes longer. Sprinkle skin with salt. While the chicken is cooking, crush the garlic with a pinch of salt to a smooth paste and stir into the mayo. Thin the aioli with 1 tsp olive oil. Thinly slice chicken. Place a bit of chicken in a warm tortilla and top it with crumbled bacon, a spoonful of aioli, and jalapenos to taste. Add shredded lettuce and a little pico de gallo.

Carne Asada Taco Vampiro

Whether you call it a “super-taco” like Schneider does or a quesotaco, as it’s known in Mexico, this creation is pure culinary genius. This marriage of a quesadilla and a taco is not the lightest taco around, but it’s one of Schneider’s favorites.

Makes 12 very substantial tacos

At Home:

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp fresh-ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp soy sauce
1 lb well-marbled flap meat or skirt steak

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Cut the meat into six pieces and toss with the marinade. Chill and let marinate for several hours or overnight.

At Camp:

24 fresh corn tortillas
4 oz grated Jack cheese (about 2 cups)
4 serrano chiles, thinly sliced
4 green onion, thinly sliced
Avocado, diced and salted
Pico de Gallo (recipe follows)
Chipotle salsa (recipe follows)
Crumbled cotixa cheese
Cilantro sprigs

Grill the meat over a hot fire until it is done to your liking. Rest the meat for 10 minutes, then dice it and keep it warm under aluminum foil. Heat an ungreased griddle. Spread out 12 corn tortillas and sprinkle the cheese on top. Scatter Serrano chiles and green onions over cheese, cover with a second tortilla. Cook on both sides until cheese is melted. To assemble the tacos, put one tablespoon of avocado on each quesadilla. Layer on two tablespoons of meat and top with a spoonful each of pico de gallo and chipotle salsa. Sprinkle with cotija cheese and top with a sprig or two of cilantro. Roll the taco around the filling and eat over a plate.

Make-at-Home Salsas

Pico de Gallo
Makes 2 ½ cups.

4 large, ripe Roma tomatoes, cored, seeded, and diced small (about 2 cups)
½ cup finely diced white onion
½ medium Serrano chile, minced
½ cup loosely packed roughly chopped cilantro leaves
½ tsp salt
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice

Combine all ingredients. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or lime juice as desired. Keep chilled and use within 24 hours, adjusting seasoning as needed.

Chipotle Salsa
Makes about ½ cup

½ cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp finely chopped chipotles in adobo
1 tsp fresh-squeezed lime juice

Stir together all ingredients. The sauce keeps, chilled, for up to 1 week.

Schneider's Tips For Top-Notch Tacos

*Start fresh. “Everything has to be fresh,” she stresses. “Assemble the tacos at the very last minute—they should go from the pan to your mouth in less than a minute.”

*Get corny. For authenticity, “tacos HAVE to be made with warm corn tortillas,” Schneider says. “Not flour. Corn tortillas are high in fiber and non-fat. Flour tortillas are high in fat and calories, and are made from white flour. Then make sure you warm those tortillas, one at a time, in a hot, dry pan. You'll be amazed what a difference this makes.”

*Veg out. “Tacos are easy to make, taste amazing and for the most part, are surprisingly healthful,” Schneider says. “Mexican is one of the easiest cuisines to go low fat, vegetarian, or vegan with.”

*Let your creative juices flow. “The flavors can be classified as bland/creamy (avocado, cheese), spicy (chiles), acidic (limes), salty, sweet (tomato, onion, fruit) and umami (grilled or roasted or stewed meats, fish, shrimp, tofu),” Schneider explains. “When you think of flavors like that, it’s easy to come up with your own combinations.”

*Healthy how-to. “Traditional Mexican food is very healthful, incorporating loads of vegetables and fruit in salsas,” Schneider says. “Overall, the Mexican diet is low in fat, and real tacos almost never have any cheese or sour cream. So make your tacos with grilled or roasted meats or veggies, and not too much. Make fresh salsas and pile them on. Use corn tortillas, or if you must use flour, buy whole-wheat.”