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These healthy potato tacos are stuffed with mashed potatoes and served with an easy homemade salsa, lettuce, cilantro, cheese, crema and avocado. If you have leftover mashed potatoes, you could use those as well.

EatingWell.com, September 2022

Gallery

Credit: Eric Wolfinger

Recipe Summary

active:
40 mins
total:
50 mins
Servings:
4
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As a young child, I had no idea that my family fit firmly into the lower-income class category. Nearly everyone in our neighborhood seemed the same—of Latin descent, jammed into rows of deteriorating 1950s Los Angeles courtyard apartments. Even my mostly secondhand wardrobe and weekly trips to the corner laundromat in a grocery cart served as no clue. All I knew was that I belonged. And that every night as the sun set—a collective call for dinner echoing out into the streets—I'd join all the other neighborhood kids as we scattered to our homes and found comfort in a hot meal waiting at the table, even if not much more than potatoes.

This core memory floods my mind every time I eat tacos de papa, or potato tacos. They're much what they sound like: corn tortillas stuffed with a mashed potato filling and fried until golden. I've eaten and made them more times than I can count. With my abuela, her spotted hands immune to the scorching heat of the comal as she flipped each tortilla—because she would never warm them in a microwave like I do. With my children, whose playful approach always brings laughter to our kitchen. And at various taquerias throughout my travels in Mexico, where the smell of freshly made tortillas and salsas permeates the air.

It wasn't until some point later in life that I figured out that feeding a family of five on a single income required creativity in the kitchen, and that my parents did the best with what they had and what they learned from their own upbringings. What never crossed my mind, though, was the question of the origins of this particular dish. Fascinated with history, including my own Mexican heritage, I set out to find an answer. Not surprisingly, my journey began with potatoes.

The Spanish first brought the starchy tubers to Europe after discovering them at the onset of their conquest of the Inca Empire in Peru in the 16th century. By that time, the Incans had already been cultivating them for thousands of years. While wild potato plants native to Mexico do exist, the conventional varieties are believed to have been introduced to Mexico by the Spanish not long after they began their rule.

But potatoes weren't the only thing the Spanish brought to Mexico. They imposed their Catholic religion upon the natives—as they did to those in Peru and elsewhere—accompanied by unwavering traditions, like the observance of Lent. The 40-day period leading up to Easter evolved to include abstention from meat on Fridays in recognition of the sacrifices of Jesus Christ. Some historians say that church clergy may have been responsible for this addendum to the observance, arguing that they stood to benefit monetarily from aligning themselves with the agendas of local government and the fish industries. 

These foreign foods and religious beliefs ultimately transformed the native diet, giving birth to recipes that were an amalgam of cultures, while still relying on what was readily accessible. Mexico may be home to nearly 6,000 miles of coastline and hundreds of rivers and lakes, but for those unable to access fish, vegetarian versions of traditional dishes that typically featured some type of animal meat were likely the only option during observances like Lent. Still, they wouldn't be far from what indigenous peoples had already been eating for thousands of years—including maize tortillas stuffed with native plant foods like beans, squash and chiles.

In the end, this was as close to the origins of potato tacos that I could trace. Even after my travels throughout Mexico and picking the minds of my family—on both sides of the border—their exact birthplace remains unknown, to me, at least. But what I do know for certain is that when I'm eating them, I still feel like I belong to something. They hold not only my story, but also centuries of human history.

Potatoes Tacos
Credit: Eric Wolfinger

Ingredients

Ingredient Checklist

Directions

Instructions Checklist
  • Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until a paring knife easily slides through the center, 22 to 25 minutes.

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  • Meanwhile, place tomatoes and serrano (or jalapeño) in a medium saucepan with 4 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer; cook until the tomatoes begin to peel and yield to slight pressure from tongs, 5 to 7 minutes. (You want them to retain some firmness but not become overly soft.)

  • Remove the stem from the chile. Carefully transfer the tomatoes and chile to a blender (reserve the cooking water). Pulse 2 to 3 times. Add oregano and a pinch of salt; pulse until the tomatoes and chile are finely chopped, 2 to 3 more times. (If you prefer a thinner sauce, add the cooking water, 1 tablespoon at a time until it reaches the desired consistency.)

  • Drain the potatoes and carefully remove the skins, if desired. Transfer the potatoes to a medium bowl; add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Coarsely mash, leaving small chunks intact. 

  • Wrap tortillas in damp paper towels and microwave on High for 30 seconds. Keep wrapped and warm until ready to use.

  • Assemble tacos by adding about 1/4 cup of potato mixture to one half of each tortilla, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Fold and seal with 2 to 3 toothpicks.

  • Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering (a small piece of tortilla placed in the hot oil will bubble and float when the oil is ready).

  • Fry half of the tacos, carefully flipping once, until golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining tacos.

  • Carefully remove the toothpicks from the tacos. Serve immediately with the salsa, lettuce, cilantro, cheese, crema (or sour cream) and avocado.

To make ahead

Refrigerate salsa (Steps 2-3) airtight for up to 4 days.

Tip

Cotija cheese is a crumbly, low-moisture Mexican cheese. Look for it in the specialty cheese section of most grocery stores. Mexican crema, or Mexican cream, is similar to sour cream but has a slightly higher fat content, is less sour and has a thinner consistency. Look for it in the dairy section or with other dips in most grocery stores.

Nutrition Facts

2 tacos & 3/4 cup salsa
539 calories; protein 11g; carbohydrates 57g; dietary fiber 9g; sugars 5g; fat 32g; saturated fat 6g; mono fat 16g; poly fat 4g; cholesterol 32mg; vitamin a iu 1055IU; vitamin b3 niacin 2mg; vitamin c 34mg; vitamin d iu 3IU; vitamin e iu 3IU; folate 67mg; vitamin k 32mg; sodium 743mg; calcium 203mg; chromium 1mcg; iron 3mg; magnesium 66mg; phosphorus 310mg; potassium 568mg; zinc 2mg; omega 6 fatty acid 4g; niacin equivalents 3mg; selenium 6mcg.
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