Every time I pull up to my parent’s (mom’s?) house, I wish that my dad was going to be inside. I sit in the car for a moment and try to understand my feelings. Memories quickly flash in my mind of my dad in his usual places: on the love seat watching Bonanza, in the back switching over laundry, or maybe he’s not in the house at all, but is out for a walk and I’ll go inside knowing I’ll hear the familiar jingle of his keys soon. But the most painful place to picture him is in the kitchen, getting stuff ready for tacos. I can picture him so clearly in that kitchen: chopping onions, lettuce, grating cheese and asking me how many tortillas I want that it makes me feel confused. How could he not be in there somewhere?
I’m sure my dad was making some form of these for my entire life but I don’t really have memories of eating them until I was in high school. I probably thought they were gross before that. (fool!) In high school, Kara and I would eat them while sitting on the floor of my room. Taco Bell hot sauce was a must back then. Then there was college when I had communications class with Laura, Kara and poop-headed ex-boyfriend of Kara’s and we would eat these before class and I’d spend the whole night feeling self-conscious because I smelled like tacos. But I kept eating them week after week because they are worth the potential embarrassment. And there were countless times Hannah and Kate were there too. My dad always taking tortillas orders and always assuring that he would make extra just in case. Everyone LOVED these tacos. But why? They are just bean tacos and there’s no fancy surprise ingredients. The beans are just from a can. It’s hard to explain why they are so good but they just are.
From a analytic flavor standpoint what really “makes” these tacos is the lettuce mixture or soggy salad as I have recently found out it has an actual name. I never heard my dad say the words soggy salad, but my sister told me my grandma used to make tacos like this when my dad was growing up. I don’t know where I’ve been and how I didn’t know that. I like the name though. So soggy salad is just thinly sliced onions + shredded iceberg lettuce seasoned with vinegar, oil, garlic powder, onion powder and s + p. It’s flavor is distinct and adds a welcome freshness amongst the hearty bean trio (kidney, black + pinto).
All flavor analysis aside: they are just darn good.
I can’t say this recipe is exactly the proportions my dad used because he never wrote them down and I never watched closely enough to try to write it down for myself. When he got sick I was tempted to watch and ask more questions but didn’t for fear of it seeming like I was doing it because he was going to die. So I didn’t.
We’ve had a few taco nights this last year and have done a pretty good job at replicating. They are never quite the same and they probably never will be. But they are the same enough for me to feel close to my dad for a minute and to feel a similar feeling of confusion over his absence.
It sounds weird to say I channel my dad when I make them but it’s the best word I can use to describe how it feels. I didn’t know how much I knew about my dad till he was gone. The way his hands looked when he was chopping onions and grating cheese. Exactly the way he stood over the stove while flipping tortillas. Exactly the way his face looked when he asked me how many tortillas I wanted. How much he added to the house just by being in that kitchen and not even saying a word.
So when I make them, I get little pictures of these things and it feels kinda like he’s helping me make them right even though I never did sit down and take notes.
Oh and even though these are really more of a burrito when you use a flour tortilla, we just call them tacos. Period.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 yellow or white onion (thinly slice 1/4 the onion, small dice the remaining)
- 2 heaping tablespoons pre-diced garlic*
- 1 can kidney beans
- 1 can black beans
- 1 can pinto beans
- 1/2 head iceberg lettuce
- 1/4 cup olive or avocado oil
- 2 tbsp white vinegar
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 2 medium tomatoes, diced
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- sour cream
- hot sauce(s)
- Flour and/or corn tortillas
- Butter or cooking spray
*In all other situations I really dislike the pre-diced garlic stuff you get in a jar but this is what my dad used and really have no interest in trying these with real garlic.
I recommend grating your cheese, chopping tomatoes and slicing/dicing the onions first. Place toppings in small, mismatching bowls if you wanna be true to dad’s tacos. Place an array of hot sauces on the counter next to all the toppings. Now get started…
- Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and onion, saute until onion is translucent.
- While the onion + garlic is cooking, drain beans. Add to saucepan. Cover and cook for approximately 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir occasionally.
- Meanwhile, thinly slice lettuce and add to a bowl with the thinly sliced onion. Add oil, vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder, salt & pepper. Mix to combine and set aside.
- Cook the tortillas! This is how we do it: Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, add a dab of butter or cooking spray and place tortilla/s in pan and cook for approximately two minutes on each side. You are looking for nice little golden brown spots and a very pliable texture. Stack on a plate and cover with a lid.
- Top your tortillas with beans and all the fixings. Make sure you have a napkin or two handy. You will need it!
- I’ve gotten my taco down to a science: first slather sour cream for even distribution, beans (enough to make it full and juice drippingly good, but not so crazy that you can’t close it), next cheese (hope it gets a little melty), soggy salad, scatter tomatoes, then a few shakes of hot sauce, if you have avocado, now is the time. Mm I seriously want a taco now.