FOOD FUN: Valentine Tacos
If you can find Ortega’s Red Bell Pepper Taco Shells*, you can make Valentine Tacos (photo #1).
Or, arrange conventional tacos in a heart shape (photo #2).
In either case, top Valentine tortillas with your favorite red garnishes, such as:
While many people enjoy tacos with a soft tortilla shell, for others the crunch of a hard shell is part of the taco experience.
The hard shells are simply a soft tortilla folded into a taco shape, then fried until golden and hardened. (The hard, pre-fried corn tortilla shell is not authentic, but created in the U.S.A. See the history below.
Tortillas, a flatbread, have been a staple in Mexico for thousands of years. They were eaten plain as well as a to hold cooked foods.
The oldest-known tortillas date back to approximately 10,000 B.C.E., made of the local staple food, corn.†
Many thousands of years later, in 1519, Hernán Cortés and his Spanish troops arrived in the Aztec empire (modern-day Mexico) and noted that the locals ate “flat corn bread.”
The Aztec name for the flatbread is tlaxcalli (tlox-cah-YEE); the Mexicans used the name tortilla, “little cake.”
The original tortilla was made from nixtamalized‡ maize/corn flour. However, today’s tortillas are commonly made from less nutritious, less flavorful wheat flour. Wheat is easier to work with.
While maize/corn tortillas have a heartier texture, flavor and better nutrition, the gluten in wheat flour tortillas enables them to be made larger and thinner without breaking.
By the same token, corn tortillas they can be gluten free, depending on the manufacturer (Mission tortillas are gluten free).
SUrprisingly, the Aztecs did not invent the taco; nor did anyone else, until it was created as a convenience food in the 18th century.
According to Professor Jeffrey M. Pilcher, author of Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food, tacos are not an ancient food.
Rather, as he discusses in an article in Smithsonian Magazine, Mexican silver miners in the 1700s likely invented the taco as a hand-held convenience food.
This new approach to tortillas was followed by taco carts and taquerías in working-class neighborhoods.
As the taco spread throughout Mexico, each region added its own touches: different meats, spices, salsas, garnishes.
Mexican Americans in the Southwest reinvented the tacos in their neighborhoods. As late as the 1960s, tacos were virtually unknown outside Mexico and the American Southwest.
But in 1962, California businessman Glen Bell founded Taco Bell as a drive-up with a few outdoor tables. It grew into a mass-marketing powerhouse, serving an Anglo version with a hard shell at quick-service restaurants nationwide.
This hard, pre-fried corn tortilla shell (photo #4) is not authentic. Like the burrito, a larger wheat flour tortilla, it was born in the U.S.A.
Authentic or not, within 50 years the United States had shipped hard taco shells worldwide, from Australia to Mongolia—redefining the taco in the eyes of millions, if not billions.
And Taco Tuesday?
This American event was begun in in 1982 as a successful promotion by Taco John’s. It encouraged people to go out for tacos on Tuesday nights, and offered specials like $1 fish tacos.
*They are available on Amazon, but the one reviewer noted that though they tasted good, many arrived broken.
†The original varieties of corn, hybridized by the Aztecs, were far more nutritious than today’s corn, which has been bred over the years for yield rather than nutrition.
‡Nixtamalization is a process that prepares the maize/corn, in which the grain is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, and hulled.
‡‡Bell was the owner of hot dog and burger stands in southern California. In 1954, he added tacos to the menu, and based on demand, opened three Taco Tias in the San Bernardino area. He eventually sold them and opened four El Tacos with a partner in the Long Beach area. In 1962, he sold the El Tacos to his partner and opened his first Taco Bell. It grew to 868 restaurants and was sold to PepsiCo in 1978 [more].