Also known as Tacos de Acelgas (o Espinacas) con Cebolla Caramelizada, Queso Fresco y Chile Rojo
As a kid, I would never have expected to someday be taking an enthusiastic bite of braised greens and caramelized onions wrapped in a warm tortilla, all doctored up with spicy red chile sauce and crumbled fresh cheese. Braised greens alone were beyond my purview. In a soft taco, they were unthinkable, my understanding of tacos being those crisp-shell repositories for ground beef, iceberg lettuce, yellow cheese and mild-mild salsa. But when I got to Toluca in my twenties, in the highlands of central Mexico, I discovered a fresh-baked blue corn tortilla rolled around the almost meaty texture of their local greens (quelites), crunchy caramelized onions, bitey salsa and salty local cheese. Now I can’t seem to get beyond these utterly captivating and delicious portraits of perfect health.
A 12-ounce bunch of Swiss chard (or collard, mustard or beet greens), thick lower stems cut off OR 10 ounces of cleaned spinach, lamb’s quarters or amaranth greens (about 6 loosely packed cups)
1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil, olive oil, fresh rendered lard or bacon drippings
1 large white or red onion, sliced ¼ inch thick
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped or crushed through a garlic press
About 1 teaspoon chile flakes
½ cup chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
12 warm corn tortillas, store bought or homemade
About ¾ cup Smoky Chipotle Salsa or Guajillo Chile Salsa – or bottled salsa or hot sauce, for serving
1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled Mexican queso fresco or other fresh cheese like feta or goat cheese, for serving
Cut the chard crosswise in ½-inch slices (small spinach, lamb’s quarters and amaranth leaves can be left whole). In a very large (12-inch) skillet, heat the oil (or its stand-in) over medium-high. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until browned but still crunchy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chile flakes, stir for a few seconds until aromatic, then add the broth or water, ½ teaspoon salt and the greens. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan (if you don’t have a lid, a cookie sheet works well) and cook until the greens are almost tender, anywhere from 2 minutes for tender spinach and amaranth greens to 7 or 8 minutes for thick collard greens—Swiss chard needs about 5 minutes.
Uncover the pan, raise the temperature to medium-high and cook, stirring continually, until the mixture is nearly dry. Taste and season with additional salt if you think necessary.
Serve with warm tortillas, salsa and crumbled cheese for making soft tacos.
A Couple of Riffs on Braised Greens Tacos. To make a heartier meal, I like to add some shredded leftover grilled, roasted or poached chicken or steak to the greens during the final few minutes of cooking. Flaked tuna or hot-smoked salmon is a nice add-in, though I have to admit I’m also partial to cubes of the smoked firm tofu they sell at our natural foods grocery store.