Authentic Mexican

I’m always a little leery when a sign at a food establishment says "authentic." But after dining at El Metate Authentic Mexican Restaurant (the old Pizza Hut building) in Crookston the other day, I’ve changed my mind.

I visited there with my wife, mother and sister-in-law and was not disappointed. My first clue that we were in for something special was that all of the workers in El Metate were Hispanic.

After sampling some tasty salsa that had a distinct cilantro flavor, we browsed the menu that listed a couple of dozen lunch specials, numerous dinners and desserts. Lynn, my brother Kevin’s wife, ordered quesadillas, while Therese and Mom decided on enchildadas with rice and beans. I had the taco salad.

While I can’t speak for the others, who by the way said they immensely enjoyed their food, my taco salad was superb. It was the best I’ve ever eaten.

I opted for chicken (chunks not ground meat) instead of beef in my salad, which was served in a freshly baked bowl and topped with large dollops of sour cream, shredded cheese and avocado. The sauce that the meat was cooked in was delicious.

I would highly recommend the restaurant. The servers were prompt and courteous, and the premises were neat and clean.

If you can’t make it right away, here are a couple of taco salad recipes that might tide you over.

Avocado Taco Salad
1 pound ground beef or ground turkey
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon garlic salt
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 head green leafy lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 head red lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 12-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 6-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 2¼-ounce can sliced black olives, drained
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
2 ripe fresh California avocados, peeled, seeded, cubed
1 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese
1 cup crushed corn tortilla chips
¾ cup prepared Catalina salad dressing
Brown ground beef or turkey in a skillet over medium heat. Add cumin, garlic salt, salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the meat is no longer pink, then drain. Set aside to cool.
In a large salad bowl, combine lettuce, meat, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, olives, green onions, tomatoes, cilantro and avocados. Gently mix together all ingredients and sprinkle cheese over the top.
Just before serving, toss the salad mixture with chips and salad dressing.
Yield: Serves 4 as a main course.
Approximate nutritionalal analysis per serving: 560 calories, 58 percent of calories from fat, 9.1 grams protein, 51.8 grams carbohydrates, 36 grams fat (7.8 grams aturated), 75 milligrams cholesterol, 1,001 milligrams sodium, 3.7 grams fiber.

Taco Pasta Bowl
½ pound ground round
1 15½-ounce can chili beans (do not drain)
1 10-ounce can no-salt added diced tomatoes
2 ounces chopped green chilies
1 10-ounce can enchilada sauce
2 teaspoons chili powder
¾ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon garlic powder
3 cups cooked pasta shells
1 cup shredded Colby-Jack cheese
½ cup reduced-fat shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Cook ground round in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring to crumble; drain. Stir in chili beans, tomatoes, green chilies, enchilada sauce, chili powder, cumin and garlic powder. Simmer 3 to 5 minutes. Add pasta to mixture and heat 3 minutes. Stir in cheese until melted and well blended. Serve in bowls.
Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 357 calories, 35 percent of calories from fat, 14 grams fat (6 grams saturated), 44 milligrams cholesterol, 38 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams protein, 480 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber.