As a lifelong North Dakotan, I have a built-in soft spot when it comes to beef. Whether it’s hamburgers, meatballs or a big, juicy steak, beef has always reigned supreme for me when it comes to cooking and eating meat.

In fact, for years I eschewed any suggestion that a burger could be made with any meat other than ground beef. Thankfully, as I’ve matured, I’ve come to see the wisdom in having a diet filled with a variety of lean proteins, and much to my surprise ground turkey has emerged in recent years as a real contender when it comes to meaty comfort foods.

Some of my favorite recipes from the past seven years of this column feature ground turkey, like our Southwestern Turkey Burger and Hearty Turkey Bow Tie Pasta. This week’s new recipe showcases ground turkey in a savory Turkey Taco Meat Mix that is so good and juicy, you won’t even think to ask, “Where’s the beef?”

Sarah's Turkey Taco Meat Mix is a savory blend of ground turkey, spices and liquids for a juicy and flavorful low-fat protein alternative. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Sarah's Turkey Taco Meat Mix is a savory blend of ground turkey, spices and liquids for a juicy and flavorful low-fat protein alternative. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Ground turkey is a leaner protein than most ground beef, especially if you use ground turkey breast, which has the least amount of fat. Because of its low fat content, ground turkey can often be dry when it’s cooked, so the trick is to know how to build the lost moisture back into the dish. For this recipe, a variety of ingredients are used for this purpose, including yellow onion, chicken stock or water, canola oil, tomato paste and a touch of sour cream.

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Several ingredients are included to make this turkey taco meat as flavorful as possible. The mix begins with a blend of chopped onion, garlic and jalapeno, which are sauteed over medium heat before the turkey is added. I cook the turkey with these ingredients until it is cooked and fully opaque — if using all turkey breast, it will appear almost bright white when it is ready.

Ground turkey breast is sauteed with onions, jalapeno and garlic until fully cooked and opaque. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Ground turkey breast is sauteed with onions, jalapeno and garlic until fully cooked and opaque. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Next, I add a blend of spices for that signature taco flavor, including chili powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper and dried oregano. I cook the spices with the turkey for about a minute, making sure that the crumbles are evenly coated before adding the liquids. The measurements for the spices in this recipe will result in a mildly spicy taco meat mix and can be adjusted up or down according to your taste.

Once the turkey and spices are combined, chicken stock, tomato paste and cider vinegar are stirred in and the meat is left to simmer over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. For the best flavor, I always use chicken, or even beef, stock in lieu of water in my taco meat mixes.

A medley of spices are added to the cooked turkey to give the meat that signature taco flavor. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
A medley of spices are added to the cooked turkey to give the meat that signature taco flavor. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Sour cream is a wonderful component in ground meat dishes, especially spicy specialties, and I add an optional tablespoon or so just at the end of the cooking process. Not only does the sour cream moisten up the turkey meat mix, but it also brings a rich and creamy tang that may temper any spices that turn out a bit hotter than expected.

Once the taco meat is ready, you can enjoy it however you like — on hard or soft tortilla shells, over nachos or even in a salad. This Turkey Taco Meat Mix is easy to make, full of flavor and a delicious, healthy twist to a classic comfort food.

Enjoy a healthy taco alternative featuring Sarah's Turkey Taco Meat Mix. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Enjoy a healthy taco alternative featuring Sarah's Turkey Taco Meat Mix. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Sarah’s Turkey Taco Meat Mix

Serves: 2 to 4

PRINT: Click here for a printer-friendly version of the recipe

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons canola oil

½ cup yellow onion, small diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ jalapeno, seeded and minced (about 2 teaspoons), or ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 pound ground turkey

1 ½ teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (add more for spicier mixture)

½ teaspoon dried oregano

1 cup chicken stock or water (or combination of both); may also use beef broth/stock

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 to 2 tablespoons sour cream (optional)

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and jalapeno and continue cooking over medium heat for 1 minute, stirring often.

Add the ground turkey and cook until the meat is cooked through and opaque, about 4 to 5 minutes. Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to break up the meat into small pieces. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper and oregano until combined and cook for 1 minute. Taste and adjust spice as desired, using more cayenne and chili powder for extra heat.

Add the chicken stock, tomato paste and vinegar and stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently until the liquid becomes thick and clings to the meat, about 8 to 10 minutes. If the mixture isn’t as thick as you’d like it after 8 minutes, stir in the sour cream until well combined, then then add the seasonings, taste and adjust as desired.

Serve immediately with your favorite taco trimmings.

To store: Store the turkey taco mix in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 2 months.

Recipe Time Capsule:

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.