As with so many of the weeknight meals that show up on this site, I’ve been making these Spicy Turkey Tacos for years. They became a part of my repertoire when I started my day job in 2016, and they’ve been in my weekly rotation ever since. They’re easy to make, require less than half an hour start-to-finish, and are a guaranteed crowd pleaser—not an easy feat with teenagers!These are a simple & saucy DIY taco seasoning, ground turkey and tomato paste situation that remind me—for better or worse—of the Old El Paso Tex-Mex taco kits my mom made when we were little. But, you know, a little classier because there’s nothing from a packet.
Now, I want to make it exceedingly clear that I am of Czech and British heritage, two cultures that are not known for their tacos. To my knowledge, Spicy Turkey Tacos (and recipes like them) aren’t particularly authentic to anything. Please correct me if I am wrong; I want to give credit where credit is due. The key to this recipe is the homemade taco seasoning. It’s a simple blend of chipotle chile powder, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, cayenne and salt, and it is responsible for the majority of the flavor here. The recipe below makes enough for about four pounds of meat, meaning that you can make the seasoning once and then throw Spicy Turkey Tacos together in no time with no notice on a future busy weeknight. Score!
Fair warning that these Spicy Turkey Tacos are called “spicy” for a reason—this taco seasoning was has a real kick to it, so if you aren’t a spicy food person, you may want to reduce the chipotle powder by half (2 tablespoons) or switch to something milder. I promise your tacos still be great.To make Spicy Turkey Tacos, begin by browning a pound of ground turkey. Stir in 2 tablespoons each of your taco seasoning and tomato paste until everything is coated. Then add some water and let your taco meat simmer until thickened to your liking. I usually let mine go until the sauce is reduced by half or two-thirds, until it’s thick but still decidedly saucy.As for serving, spoon this Spicy Turkey Taco meat into warmed flour or corn tortillas (or make a taco salad!), and pile on whatever toppings make you happy. I threw cherry tomatoes, diced avocado, romaine lettuce, cilantro, lime, grated cotija and hot sauce on these, but you could go with salsa, guacamole, shredded cheddar, or nothing at all—whatever you like. Next time, I’m going to serve them up with my Pineapple Salsa Fresca for a sweet & spicy finish.
Just living my best pandemic dinner life over here.￼
Spicy Taco Seasoning
makes a heaping 1/2 cup (enough for 4 pounds of meat)
It is easier to add heat than it is to remove it, so be careful. For a milder blend, reduce the chipotle powder to 2 tablespoons or use 1/4 cup of a milder chile or chili powder. I like this blend with ancho chile powder.
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) chipotle chile powder or other chile or chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher or sea salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together all ingredients. Keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one year.
Spicy Turkey Tacos
makes 1 pound of meat (3-4 servings), but can easily be scaled up
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1 pound ground turkey (leanest I’d go is 93%)
2 tablespoons spicy taco seasoning (above)
2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cups water
warmed flour or corn tortillas
For serving (optional):
grated cotija or other cheese
hot sauce (I used Tapatío)
Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add turkey and cook until browned, breaking it up with the edge of a silicone spatula or wooden spoon as you go.
Add taco seasoning and tomato paste; stir to coat. Add water and let come to a simmer. Let liquid reduce by 1/2 to 3/4, stirring occasionally, until sauce texture is to your liking. Add more water as desired.
Serve meat in warmed tortillas with desired toppings.
Leftover taco meat will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.