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Top chefs offer up fresh takes on taco night

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Top chefs offer up fresh takes on taco night

When salsa overtook ketchup as America’s favorite condiment in the 1990s, you had to know that “taco night” wasn’t far behind.

Simple, satisfying and inexpensive, hard or soft tacos filled with meat, cheese and a what-have-you of veggies have become a staple for busy families. Sales of taco shells, seasonings and other products have grown steadily over the last decade, said Juv Marchisio, senior marketing manager for B&G Foods, which owns the Ortega brand. Research suggests that about half of all Americans indulge in tacos at home.

And why not? Tacos offer communal family dining at its best: There’s no arguing or whining when everyone can make one however they like it.

But the way many Americans approach tacos at home — ground beef, pre-shredded “Mexican” cheese, and that ubiquitous kit with shells and a flavor packet — could use a revamp.

Sure, you can change it up with whole-wheat tacos. You can sneak black beans into the ground beef. You could even go the way of the spaghetti taco popularized by the tween TV show, “iCarly.”

But for advice on really taking your tacos to the next level, we turned to some innovative chefs and cookbook authors. Here are some of their most delicious and creative suggestions, no recipes needed.

Persian-inspired tacos

Toss shredded chicken in a sauce of pomegranate molasses, lime juice and honey. Stuff the meat into a taco shell (or wrap it in a flour tortilla or even Middle Eastern flatbread) and top with yogurt, fresh basil, mint, scallions, tomato, cucumber and plenty of sumac.

“This is a classic combination of Persian ingredients,” Louisa Shafia, author of “The New Persian Kitchen,” wrote in an email. “Crushed purple sumac berries are tart and salty and a must have for conjuring the authentic flavor of Middle Eastern cuisine.” To go vegetarian, Shafia suggests substituting roasted eggplant for the chicken.

Steak house tacos

Season a flat-iron steak with salt and pepper, then sear it on the grill, suggests Washington, D.C. chef Spike Mendelsohn, who plans to open a steak frites restaurant called Bearnaise this summer. Wrap thin slices of the steak and pickled red onions inside a soft corn taco and serve with warm bearnaise sauce for dipping. “I love the idea of eating a steak without sharpening my knives,” Mendelsohn said via email.

Indian-inspired tacos, two ways

Spices like cumin, coriander and chilies are natural allies in both Mexican and Indian cuisine, says Ali Loukzada, chef at New York’s Cafe Serai. So what could be more obvious than a chicken tikka taco drizzled with mint chutney? A palm’s worth of shredded cabbage or radish adds crunch.

“When you’re adapting Indian flavors to a Mexican dish, the original ingredients and tastes are still present,” Loukzada said via email. “It’s more of an Indian tweak.”

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