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The History of the Taco and a Goat Cheese Taco Recipe

The origins of the taco are debated, but there are references of taco-like foods dating back as far as 1520. The reference mentions some sort of party involving Cortes and his men. That’s right, the soft shell or hard shell debate may go back as far as the Aztecs. Sadly, it didn’t last long for the Aztecs because after the illicit taco party, Cortes declared war. All that aside, I’m just grateful the taco somehow prevailed.

The taco then pops up in the 18th century when historians believe it was first actually called the taco. The name is borrowed from what Mexican silver mine workers called the paper used to wrap around gunpowder. Who knew? Then again, I’ve been on the receiving end of some spicy tacos and they certainly offered quite the explosion of flavor!

This brings us to the 20th century. You can kind of consider this the birth-era of the North American taco many of us know. Spurred by an influx of tourism in California in the late 19th century, entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to market their ethnic food to curious visitors. At the time, Mexico was viewed as dangerous, which gave domestic vendors all the opportunity to capitalize on the ability to offer a product that seemed a little risky and exotic without the tourists feeling they were risking their lives.

Over the years, the varying regional flavors of Mexico have been diluted and altered in the US market. The launch of Glen Bell’s Taco Bell in 1962 essentially changed the taco forever. Luckily, there has been resurgence in seeking out what were once traditional ingredients. I’m not sure how I feel about shredded cow head, but I certainly wouldn’t mind a traditional Al Pastor taco from Puebla with its slow-cooked pork and fire-roasted pineapple and onion.

Despite the uncertain history of the beloved taco, I’m fairly certain it is here to stay and with great potential to continue evolving. The great thing about the taco is you can dress it up for the flavor-hungry foodie, or barely dress it at all for that picky friend who only eats meat and cheese.

For me, it’s all about the flavor. Check out this recipe below for a flavor-rich goat cheese chicken taco. It’s certainly not traditional but it will hit the spot. Happy National Taco Day and may your fillings be just as you wish!

Goat Cheese Chicken Tacos

Ingredients:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large (1-pound) boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse-ground salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
  • 1 large jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
  • 2 ounce goat cheese, crumbled
  • Soft taco shells

Directions:

To make the chicken filling: Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a medium ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and chipotle pepper. Then, add to the heated pan and brown on both sides. Transfer skillet to the oven and bake until cooked through -- about 15 minutes. Set aside.

Heat remaining oil in a medium skillet, add the jalapeño, onion, and remaining salt, and cook over medium heat until softened -- about 10 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl. Shred the chicken and add it along with the lime juice, cilantro, and half of the goat cheese to the onions and stir gently to combine. Fill taco shells with 2 teaspoons of filling, top with remaining cheese, and serve immediately.