Slaws, Sauces, and Extras for Tacos

Gluten-free fish tacos with a spicy cabbage slaw.

Last week, we talked about all sorts of taco fillings. But, as every taco connoisseur knows, it’s not just the filling, it’s the sauces and extras that punch up the flavor of tacos. Different types of fillings call for different types of sauces.

Oh, yes, you can still enjoy the traditional shredded lettuce and grated cheddar cheese taco. I’m not going to judge. Except, okay, to say shredded cabbage in a light sauce is so much better. The cabbage has better body, in my (never humble) opinion. If you do use lettuce, consider tossing it in a light vinaigrette.

Salsa — Spanish for sauce — comes in many shapes and forms. Generally made from raw ingredients, the way to make the perfect salsa is limited to your imagination. Traditional ingredients include tomatoes, tomatillos, chiles of all types, garlic, onion, lime juice. Or, if you read between the lines, very gluten-free friendly.

Read on for a variety of salsas and other toppings for tacos.

  • Avocados: According to an ad I saw, avocados don’t have a “season” — they are a year-round taste explosion! That is certainly the case where I live. I love avocados diced, with just a touch of salt to enhance the flavor.
  • Guacamole: Guacamole is an avocado sauce. You simply mash your avocados with salt, cumin (a good amount here!), a bit of pepper, some onion, some lime or lemon juice, and some jalapeno if you want heat. Add cilantro if you like it. Try not to polish off the guacamole before the tacos are done!
  • Avocado Sauce: I like this for mixing into shredded cabbage for fish tacos. It’s a great way to use a very ripe — so soft that dicing won’t be possible — avocado. Plus, the pretty pale green color looks great drizzled over a taco or even a salad.
  • Cheese: The older get, the less cheese I want on my tacos. I think this is called maturity. I’ve come to appreciate the flavors of the fillings, and the saltiness of cheese tends to overpower them. Still, I like a crumbly Mexican cotija — just a sprinkling does the trick. Cheddar and Jack cheeses are readily available pre-shredded, if you are looking to save time, and they melt very well.
  • Chile Sauce: There are many, many kinds of chile sauce. I like a red sauce with a bit of heat. Others, like the Tapatio you see in restaurants, pack a decent bit of heat. Still others are so hot you will see double (my local Mexican place has a habanero sauce that I simultaneously crave and want to commit myself for eating in great quantities). I advise doing some taste testing to see what makes your mouth happy!
  • Lettuce Wrap Tacos: I wasn’t sure where to put this because, well, a lettuce wrap does not a traditional taco make. But it’s a great gluten-free option that has the bonus of being light and fresh. Butter lettuce is my favorite for wrapping ingredients, though I admit I love the crunch, cool flavor of Iceberg in the summer. It’s just a bit…messier. As long as have a napkin handy, though, no worries.
  • Salsa: Salsa is a very personal issue for people. Generally, if you’re in a restaurant, you’ll be served a pico de gallo or salsa fresca. This is a mix of diced tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, cilantro (optional), and lime juice. It’s simple. It’s effective. But it’s not my favorite salsa…
  • Tomatillo Salsa: I love this tangy salsa. Green, diced tomatillos, which are not related to tomatoes, mix with a bit of jalapeno, some cilantro, a bit of onion, and some salt. It’s particularly good on pork tacos or mixed with chicken for tacos.
  • Corn Salsa: I’ll be honest, this the reason I eat at Chipotle. Okay, not the only reason, but I love their corn salsa. It’s pretty easy to imitate at home. Using leftover grilled corn on the cob (or frozen, just blanched), mix the kernels with a bit of jalapeno, minced cilantro, some diced onions, lime juice (about two teaspoons), some salt, some pepper.
  • Mango Salsa: I’d file this one under non-traditional, but tasty. Here’s a recipe from the Gluten Free Homemaker. Dice the mango, and pepper small for tacos. Pineapple or papaya are also great substitutes.
  • Slaw with Chipotle Sauce: This is my go-to sauce for fish tacos. It’s a simple mix of cabbage, cilantro, Greek yogurt, and a chipotle chile in adobo sauce. Add a drizzle of honey and some lime juice, and it’s perfect for summer cook-outs!

Tip of the Week

If you’ve never worked with tomatillos before, they may surprise you. Most tomatillos have husks, which are a bit sticky as you remove them. Then the tomatillos should be cooked before adding to a salsa. My favorite way is husk them, then cut them in half, and place cut-side down on a baking sheet. Roast at 450 degrees, or until the skins start to caramelize. Allow to cool, then add to your favorite salsa recipe. The roasting adds a lot of flavor to this tangy vegetable.

Menu of the Week

Since tacos were the theme last week, I thought I’d give you a break while still featuring a great use of salsa. I love to make enchiladas during the week, particularly these chicken enchiladas or my turkey enchiladas, both of which make excellent use of leftovers. The filling can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish (when corn is in season, I add some to the mix!)

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