Serious Entertaining: Taco Night

Serious Entertaining

Seasonal menu planning for the perfect dinner party.


[Photographs: Carrie Vasios]

When I was growing up, I hated taco night. Everyone in my family was given two Old El Paso crunchy taco shells, then we moved in a line down the breakfast bar, adding toppings like sliced, canned black olives, sautéed ground beef, shredded iceberg lettuce, and chopped tomatoes. The taco was topped with some pre-shredded "Mexican mix" cheese and a spritz of taco sauce.

I know what you're thinking. My sister loved taco night too.

What can I say? Crappy tacos are one of those food items that I just don't love, not even in the it's-so-bad-it's-good kind of way. I have always liked the idea of taco night. Who doesn't like tacos and/or a mini-fiesta? I decided that there had to be a way to enjoy this kitschy American tradition in a way that was both tasty and fun. In my opinion, the menu below strikes that balance. And fine, you can bring a bag of Tostitos if you want.

Grilled Chicken Tacos with Pumpkin Seed Sauce

The star of these tacos is the pipián, or pumpkin seed sauce. With a food processor or blender, it's extremely simple to prepare, but the flavor is deep and satisfying. Roasted pumpkin seeds give the sauce its wonderful nutty flavor and tomatillos give it its body. Cilantro, garlic, onion, and jalapeño add a little bite and freshness, making the sauce more complex.

It's not traditional, but I like to use pipián as a sauce for tacos. I load warm corn tortillas with slices of grilled chicken and avocado, then drizzle the taco with pipián and toasted pumpkin seeds. Hearty and out of the ordinary, this is just the recipe to make taco night special again.

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Chili Roasted Pepper Salad


The pumpkin seed tacos on this menu aren't spicy so I serve this salad on the side to give the meal some heat. I coat a combination of red bell peppers, zucchini, poblano peppers, and red onion in a mix of olive oil, ancho chili powder, dried chipotle, salt, and pepper. The vegetables roast in the oven until the red onion is crisp and the peppers have gone soft and just begun to blister. The duo of chilis is key: Ancho chili adds an earthy, smokey heat while the chipotle powder makes your tongue tingle. It's a vibrant vegetable salad that can also work as a filling for a vegetarian taco.

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Cara-Carry Me Away


Cara cara oranges have become a staple in most supermarkets, and for good reason. These hybrid navel oranges have low acid and a sweet grapefruit flavor. In this cocktail, I combine fresh cara cara juice with grapefruit, to play up that ruby fruit flavor, and lime, for extra punch. Citrus is a natural pairing for earthy tequila—the two flavors meld into a balanced cocktail. I top the drink with a bit of soda and, for fun, serve it in tequila or champagne flutes.

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