Build-Your-Own Taco Fiesta

Despite the fact that we spend the majority of our days cooking for others, Laura, Kristina, Rian and I typically head straight into our own kitchens the moment we walk through our front doors at the end of the day. Nourishing ourselves is the ultimate form of self-care, and nourishing our friends is how we show our love. So, when Kristina’s 25th birthday rolled around last month, we knew a dinner party in her honor was in order.

While I’m sure the idea of a “dinner party” conjures up images of carefully set dining tables and anxieties of perfectly timed meals, that’s not usually how we entertain at home. On our own time, we aim to maximize our guests’ enjoyment while minimizing the amount of work it takes to create a wow-factor. Nine times out of ten, the path to this is a BYO (i.e. build-your-own) meal.

When in comes to BYO, tacos are the gold standard. A spread of charred corn tortillas, spiced meat, fish or poultry, stewed beans, a roasted veg or two, and an array of raw toppings like fresh herbs, sliced avocado and shredded cheese never, and I mean never, disappoints. Tacos satisfy meat eaters, vegetarians, vegans, picky eaters, gluten-abstainers, kids, adults, those who aren’t that hungry, those who are starved…you get the idea.

And for hosts, they’re a dream. You can begin your prep a day or two in advance by fitting small tasks into your schedule like shaving radishes and picking herbs while your morning coffee is brewing. If your smart about it, by the time the party rolls around, you only have a few finishing touches before you pour yourself a drink.

There are endless variations on tacos, from seasonal veggies to wholesome proteins. Staples are charred corn tortillas, an abundance of herbs (especially mint, cilantro and scallions), toasted pepitas, lime wedges, and a sprinkle of chili powder, cumin and/or granulated garlic on whatever’s going in the oven if you’re keeping the theme tex-mex.

A few of our go-to toppings:

  • Non-vegetarian proteins
    • Braised chicken thighs with chili-garlic-cumin broth (try this recipe)
    • Pork carnitas with chili powder and cumin (see below)
    • Mild white fish like cod, mahi mahi or halibut roasted or pan fried with chili powder, cumin, coriander, paprika and granulated garlic (try this recipe)
    • Pulled store-bought rotisserie chicken (easy!)
    • Seared and thinly sliced skirt steak marinated with lime/orange juice, fresh garlic, and olive oil if there’s time
    • Pan-fried shrimp finished with lime and lemon zest and juice, fresh cilantro and minced jalapenos (try this recipe)
  • Legumes (vegan proteins)
    • Black beans
    • Pinto beans
    • Lentils
  • Vegetables
    • Sliced cherry tomatoes or salsa fresca (try this recipe)
    • Thinly sliced radish
    • Thinly sliced cucumber
    • Avocado (or guac)
    • Roasted sweet potatoes
    • Roasted or grilled eggplant
    • Roasted or grilled zucchini
    • Roasted or grilled poblanos or other peppers
    • Roasted cauliflower
    • Roasted broccoli
    • Roasted brussels sprouts
    • Roasted winter squash
    • Roasted red onion
    • Roasted or grilled asparagus
  • Dairy/cheeses
    • Whole or 2% Greek yogurt
    • Crumbled feta
    • Crumbled cojita or queso fresca
    • Shredded cheddar or monterey jack
    • Crumbled goat cheese

For Kristina’s BYO taco party, we catered the fixings to the guest of honor. We prepared some of her favorite seasonal ingredients: sweet potatoes, cauliflower and red onion roasted with cumin and chili powder, homemade salsa fresca, avocado, tortilla chips, whole milk Greek yogurt, and Boston lettuce shells to please our carb-averse friends. For the meat lovers in the room, we got a hunk of pork butt for juicy pork carnitas to pair with seared pineapple.

Here are the steps we took to create this tasty centerpiece to Kristina’s 25th birthday dinner party:

Note those slippers:)

Cut the meat in about 2’ chunks (not precisely, it’s being pulled later).

Season with a good amount of salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, cumin seeds and minced garlic to coat each piece.

In batches, brown the meat on each side in a large pot coated with oil of choice.

Add all the meat back to the pot along with roughly chopped white onion.

Put it in the oven for at least 3 hours at 325 degrees until the pork falls apart.

And Voilà! Serve it right out of the oven just as your friends are arriving. They’ll be so impressed by the overwhelmingly delicious aroma and the presentation straight from the pot!

HBD KRISTINA!! We Love you!! xo Charlotte