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With the advent of a new school year, I feel the anticipation of cooler weather coming on.  In my family, that means it’s about time to pull out the Taco Soup recipe.  It’s basically just good old chili with a little taco flair, but the toppings make it a family favorite in cooler weather.  It’s kind of festive–I almost expect them to ask if we can eat in the family room and have a movie night together when I tell the kids there’s taco soup for dinner.


NANCY’S TACO SOUP (the original recipe credited to my mom’s dear friend, Nancy Anderson)

  • 1/2 lb. ground beef
  • 1/2 c. onion, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp. taco spice
  • 1 can Italian style tomatoes (or stewed tomatoes) blended
  • 1 can small red beans
  • 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 2 cups water
Brown the hamburger and onions.  Add the rest of the ingredients and heat to boiling.  Serve topped with grated cheese, sour cream, Fritos, avocados, and sliced black olives.
As I said, what makes it really delicious is all the toppings.  Don’t even try to substitute another corn chip.  It just would not be right without Fritos (Scoops are my favorite.)
I do admit to making a few substitutions in the recipe–enough, in fact, that you might hardly recognize it, but I bet you’re going to love it.  I would rather store 20 lbs. of dried beans than find room to stock and rotate cans on my shelves (not to mention the budget advantage of dry beans.)  And for dishes that just need onion flavor, where hiding their presence is advantageous, anyway, I always use dehydrated onion flakes.  (I reserve crying over “real” onions for dishes like stir fry or fajitas when you actually want them to crunch.)
Several years ago I discovered that beef flavored or taco flavored TVP can save me the trouble of running to the store for ground beef, and the difference isn’t even detectable to a few finicky eaters I know.  I buy them from the food storage aisle of my local grocery store or from Honeyville Foods, where I also discovered the magic of tomato powder.
So, on to the recipe revisions!
Using a slow cooker means you don’t have to soak dry beans overnight, but you do need to start cooking them first thing in the morning.
I sort and rinse about 2 1/2 cups of any combination of small red, black, or pinto beans and set them to cook in the slow cooker with water rising at least 2 1/2 to 3 inches above the level of the beans.  Go ahead and leave them while you go to work or school for the day.
It is very important that your beans are fully tender before the addition of the other ingredients, which will prevent them from continuing to soften.
Once the beans are done and about an hour before you want to eat, add several large, fresh puréed tomatoes or 2/3 cup *tomato powder.
Depending on how much water was absorbed by the beans and how thick you like your soup, you may want to remove some of the water before adding fresh puréed tomatoes, and add water if you’re using tomato powder.  Brown your ground beef and onions together and add them along with the taco seasoning to the beans.  Alternately, place about 1/3 cup of TVP, about 3 Tbsp. dried onion flakes and taco seasoning to taste directly into the cooker.  If you use taco flavored TVP you’ll want to consider cutting back on the amount of seasoning.
Commercially canned tomato products tend to be a bit more acidic than homegrown, so I always add about 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and my own secret ingredient–about a tablespoon of sugar–and salt to taste.
Replace the lid and allow to heat throughout, then serve as above with grated cheddar, sour cream, Fritos, avocados, and black olives.
Taco Soup may even be better the next day.  This recipe will feed my family of four tonight and for lunch tomorrow.
*A note about tomato powder:  A bumper crop of tomatoes in your garden can leave you with a lot of work to do.  If you choose to bottle them “stewed,” or make salsa, chili sauce or catsup, you have to schedule a large block of time precisely when your tomatoes are ripe.  Dehydrating sliced tomatoes (1/2 to 3/4 inches thick)  is much less time and labor intensive, and I have found it to be more economical, as well.  They can be done in spare moments here or there each day over the harvest season, and stored in any airtight container until you’re ready to use them.  They don’t require any special jars or equipment, other than a way to dehydrate them (click here for several options.)   Once dehydrated, I have puréed them with water in the blender and also made my own “tomato powder” by blending them dry–either method is quick and convenient to use in recipes calling for tomato sauce or paste.  Snap your tomato sliced “chips” into smaller pieces and blend them in quick bursts if you want to reconstitute them with a little more of a chunky texture.