August 28, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Let's Talk Food: Potato tacos, and what are your twists on tacos?

After reading about a restaurant having potato tacos, my friend and coworker Dawn started brainstorming, researching recipes and plotting modifications to come up with these beauties. What are you doing with tacos? (Dawn Needham / The Detroit News)

Often, the Detroit News employee kitchen is where people on deadline dash in to toss something in the microwave, sometimes not to return until the meal’s cold. But occasionally, people who have a minute to prepare or clean up from a meal share great tips and ideas.

That’s how I bonded with one of my favorite foodie co-workers, Dawn; we kept running into each other in the kitchen, usually making or dressing salads, and we’d talk about what we were eating (or, sometimes, what we wished we were eating).

A passionate advocate of eating local, seasonal and organic ingredients, Dawn loves to get creative in her food ideas and preparation. So after she read about a restaurant having potato tacos, she started brainstorming, researching recipes and plotting modifications.

Isn’t that how it goes for a foodie? At one point, I got so enamored with the idea of lemon and blueberries working well together that I printed more related recipes off the Internet than I’ll ever have time to make.

Creative taco fillings is another idea easy to get obsessed about. Dawn said swiss chard-caramelized onion is a favorite; another is a grilled or pan-sauteed fish taco that she serves with a homemade orange-habanero hot sauce. (Gotta know about the sauce, right? She puts a quart or so of fresh OJ in a saucepan and throws in a habanero pepper that’s been poked with a knife several times. She simmers that until it’s reduced by about half — or however thick you want it — then discards the pepper. The resulting sauce, she says, is a really nice balance of sweet and spicy.)

Potatoes, Dawn says, are “quite different as a taco filling.”

“I’ve had really good potato flautas, but those are deep-fried so definitely not what I’m whipping up at home,” she says. “There’s also a version that calls for simmering the potatoes in water, then draining/drying/cubing them and sauteing in a skillet with onion, but roasting was easier and it gives nice crispy bits.”

So far, she has put her brainstorming into play twice; both versions are below. In true foodie form, she explains the method rather than how much she used of each ingredient, leaving room for you to play up flavors you like and down those you don’t. They sound great, and made me wonder what other creative or unusual taco ideas might be out there.

Dawn's Potato Tacos: Round 1

Dawn said she used a mix of “fabulous” seasonal, fresh potatoes from the Ann Arbor Farmers Market: a golden carola potato and a red medium waxy potato (any small red potato would do — but nothing too mealy, so not a russet). She cubed and roasted the taters with olive oil, onion, jalapeno and cumin and Penzey’s Black & Red Spice (a mix of Tellicherry black pepper and hot cayenne red pepper).

When they were nicely roasted, she scooped them into a softened corn tortilla with some sliced radish, a big handful of cilantro, some queso fresco and a homemade roasted tomato salsa. Leftovers, she says, were good on their own but would have made a delicious salad.

Another time, she says, she might toss in mushrooms and/or some nice greens, like spinach or swiss chard, “but just a bit because I really want the potato-y flavor to dominate.”

Dawn's Potato Tacos: Round 2

Dawn says she liked this second try a little better than the first. Modifications include the addition of onions (don’t those always take potatoes up a notch?) and roasted poblano peppers, subbing in a spicier tomatillo-chipotle salsa for the roasted tomato one and playing with lime crema (2 percent Greek yogurt with some lime juice stirred in) for a topping alternative.

She roasted cubed potatoes and onions with olive oil, salt, pepper and a healthy amount of ground cumin (425 for 20ish minutes — “until I liked their crispiness”). She mixed that with roasted poblano peppers and loaded it onto steamed corn tortillas with the homemade tomatillo salsa, sliced radish and cilantro.

She says they’re good plain but better with one of two accompaniments: queso fresco or the aforementioned lime crema. Using both at once is overkill, she says; she gives the edge to a little bit of cheese. Without either, of course, they’re vegan and still delicious.

Potato tacos are an “easy, yummy summer supper,” she says.

“I’ve been thinking about additions (sauteed greens, corn, beans) but there’s something to be said for simplicity,” she explained, adding, again, that she wants the potato flavor to really come through.

I have a feeling Dawn’s not done playing yet; after reading about the little packets of habanero packets that come with my favorite salsa in a previous Let’s Talk Food on hard-to-find ingredients, she was thinking about habanero powder on potato tacos. I can’t wait to hear about it in the Detroit News kitchen next time our meal times line up.

Have you experimented with unusual tacos? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below the recipe. You need a Facebook account to add comments, but they’re free and easy to sign up for, which is how I managed to have one for years and ignore it except for this sort of thing. I’ll be keeping an eye out the next few days to respond to any great comments or questions you post. You can also follow me on Twitter @reentiz. Join the discussion!