With recently having a large family gathering, we were blessed with a house full of children ranging from ages 0.5 to 18 — a grand total of 25 of them! While it was nice to have so many younger ones around, it brought on the realization that kids today are even pickier of eaters than than just 10 years ago. While they did very well in cleaning their plates when it came to the ‘fancier’ dishes such as “Yankee Pot Roast” and “Lasagna,” most of the kids could have passed over these dishes and gone straight to Taco Bell if they had the chance.
Given their almost addicted love for Taco bell and all of their menu items slathered in ground beef taco meat, we decided that we would just cook up our own sort of knock-off Taco Bell ground beef recipe and keep it in a warmer for them to make nachos, tacos, burritos and even “Crunchwrap Supremes.” What we ended up with was a delicious ground beef taco recipe that was healthier, that even the adults loved, and that the kids couldn’t get enough of.
Try this recipe out if you have a bunch of picky eaters, a house full of vacationing kids, or just want to have a “Taco Bell” creation night with your own kids — it is a guaranteed winner.
***Note: This recipe will yield about a half of a soup pots worth of the taco meat, and enough for about 6-8, but you can always half it for 3-4 people or increase the ingredients for larger parties. The meat will hold in the refrigerator to be reheated for up to 3 days, and can actually be frozen and stored for longer (though the quality diminishes the longer it is frozen).
- 2 lbs of Ground Beef (80/20)
- 1-2 large Yellow Onions
- 3-4 large Stalks of Celery
- 2-3 Large Red Bell Peppers
- 3-4 Large Roma Tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons of Worcestershire Sauce
- Good Olive Oil (We used Merula Spanish Olive Oil)
- 2 tablespoons of Onion Powder
- 2 tablespoons of Fresh Chopped Garlic
- 1 teaspoon of Garlic Powder
- 2 tablespoons of Ground Chili Powder
- 1 tablespoon of Ground Cumin
- 3 tablespoons of Tomato Paste
- 2 large Bay Leaves
- Cholula Hot Sauce
- 2 teaspoons of Red Wine Vinegar
- 1 tablespoon of Dry Sweet Basil Flakes
- 1 Can of Beef Stock
- Salt and Pepper
Preparing the taco meat is extremely easy and there is nearly no way that you can mess it up, so don’t worry about your skill level with cooking — just let it simmer. Also, this recipe will have small chunks of vegetables in the ground beef taco meat, when finished. If you have extra-picky eaters that are thrown off by the chunks of vegetables (as they are ground into powder for the Taco Bell recipe), simply take the vegetables and puree them in the food processor… The vegetables will be much smaller, and you can hide them in the sauce for the pickier children and eaters.
Prepare The Vegetables
Take your onions, celery, red bell peppers, tomatoes and celery stalks and finely chop them into quarter inch pieces. Set the tomatoes aside by themselves — as we will add them later in the cooking process, but feel free to let the onions, celery and red bell peppers co-mingle in the same bowl.
Brown Your Ground Beef
In a large soup pot — the size you would use to boil spaghetti or cook a stew — drizzle your olive oil into the bottom of the pot so there is a nice thin coating of oil covering the bottom. Over medium heat, add your two pounds of ground beef and begin to let it brown.
Note: We browned all of the 2 lbs of ground beef all at once, but feel free to do it in 2 batches if you want it to brown more quickly.
Once the ground beef is completely browned, use a slotted spoon to drain the fat and water from the ground beef and move it to another bowl to hold while we saute the vegetables. Dispose of most of the excess water and fat that has dripped out, leaving only a tablespoon or so in the pot.
Saute Your Vegetables
Add another slight drizzle of olive oil to the bottom of your pot and and your diced onions, bell peppers and celery. Remember not to add the tomatoes just yet, we don’t want them to breakdown with the rest of the vegetables at this time. Stir the vegetables while cooking, letting them soak up the little bit of fat in the pan and the flavor from the olive oil.
When the Vegetables have sweated out their flavor — and the onions are becoming translucent — add your fresh chopped garlic and stir to let that mix with the vegetables. After the garlic has been added, only cook for another minute or so — as we do not want to burn or overcook the garlic, but simply let the raw flavor blend with the rest of the veggies.
Add The Ground Beef Back to the Mix
Next, simply add the browned ground beef back to the mix and stir to bring everything together. You can turn the heat down to low at this point, as the rest of the recipe really just requires a long simmer.
Adding Spices, Building Flavors, and Creating a Self-thickening Sauce
This is where the recipe goes from being the start of “sloppy joes” to taking on that true ground beef taco meat flavor that you will recognize. Add all of the rest of the ingredients into the pot.The diced tomatoes that we set aside will break down a little, but still remain in tact enough to have a slight solidity to them. The tomato puree will build the thickness you need for the sauce later when you let the mean stand.
The Worcestershire sauce is really the secret ingredient and will merge the sweet flavors with the savory… without this there will be a slight absence of flavor between the sweet, salty and savory flavors — that absence is your mind wondering where the Torula Yeast (similar to MSG powder) has gone in the taco meat you are used to… Interesting, isn’t it? 🙂
The Chili Powder is self explanatory, and the cumin will add that familiar taco meat flavor. The bay leaves are another secret ingredient that will add extra meatiness flavor to the finished product, while the red wine vinegar helps to break down the meat and vegetables while cooking into a perfectly blended flavor.
Note*** The Cholula is where all (if any) of the spice is going to come from. The Chili powder is relatively mild, so if you want your taco meat to have a little bite to it, add 1-3 dashes of Cholula Hot Sauce in with the mix. It is a fairly large recipe, so it will blend with the rest of the ingredients and will not be too strong.
When you add your can of beef broth to everything else, it should be enough to cover all of the ingredients 3/4 of the way and allow everything to now cook evenly. You can always add more water if you’d like — throughout the cooking process — but this will let your sauce be a little thicker at the end.
You’re Almost Done!
All of the hard work is done, now you just have to let the taco meat simmer. The sauce really needs at least an hour over medium to low heat — while stirring occasionally — to come together, but letting it simmer for 3-4 hours just releases more flavor. In a rush, you can go with the minimum 1 hour, but you will not have the complexity of flavors built up. Before serving, let the taco meat stand on warm or in a warmer or crock pot for 10 minutes and the tomato puree will work its magic, thickening the sauce for you.
Congratulations, your ground beef taco meat is ready to be enjoyed. Like we said, the taco meat can be saved in the refrigerator for up to 3 days to be reheated, or you can freeze leftovers for re-heating much later. The most important part now is to remember to put out a bunch of taco toppings such as shredded cheese, sour cream, guacamole, hard taco shells, flour tortillas, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes and all of your other favorite taco accompaniments.
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