Happy Taco Day! Celebrate with 3 fiesta-worthy taco tricks

Alex Farnum / Today

Did you know that the taco likely takes its name from a kind of dynamite? So says the book "Planet Taco" (mmmm... imagine a whole planet made of tacos). Celebrate National Taco Day on Oct. 4 by whipping up muy rápido versions with three cheats that can help make any night taco night.

1:  Use leftovers. Shred, slice or chop cooked chicken, pork, beef, veggies and more and throw them in a tortilla with a little salsa and sour cream. Presto: dinner. And anything goes when it comes to fillings — from beans and guac to kimchi and duck — so use your imagination or whatever you have on hand.

Alex Farnum / Today
Off-the-spit pork al pastor taco

2. Get saucy. Make a fast taco topper by mixing together equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream, then stir in chipotle hot sauce or chopped canned chipotles in adobo and a squirt of lime juice. Jamie Oliver goes even simpler by swirling together sour cream or yogurt with some hot sauce for a two-toned topper that somehow seems way fancier than plain sour cream. 

Alex Farnum / Today
Carnitas taco

3: Heat things up. While tortillas can be heated one at a time on a griddle or over a gas flame, chef Rick Bayless has an easy method for heating a dozen tortillas at once in the microwave that keeps the tortillas tender and pliable: Line a microwave-safe dish with a clean, damp kitchen towel, place tortillas in the middle, fold the towel over the tortillas, cover and microwave on 50 percent power for 4 minutes, then let stand. To keep a bunch of tortillas warm for a party, hold them in an insulated container, such as an ice chest, as Bayless advises in his book "Mexico One Plate at a Time." With hot tortillas ready to go, try this super-easy recipe:

Alex Farnum / Today

The Pilgrim's Delight 20-Minute (Max) Taco

This speedy recipe is adapted from "Tacolicious," a cookbook from the owners of a group of popular San Francisco Bay Area restaurants. The original recipe calls for leftover roast turkey, but author/owner Sara Deseran says it would work well with shredded, store-bought rotisserie chicken. 

It's one of the book's many clever and easy ideas for 20-minute (max) tacos del día (others include fried chicken, scrambled eggs, beans and bacon, and leftover Korean barbecue). Think of the recipe as inspiration and add or subtract whatever you like. 

  • Leftover roasted turkey or chicken
  • Refried beans
  • Diced red onions
  • Avocado slices
  • Chopped cilantro
  • Queso fresco
  • Tortillas

Shred turkey or chicken. Season with a bit of salt. Add a swipe of refried beans to a tortilla, top with the turkey, plus onions, avocado slices, and cilantro. Crumble queso fresco on top. 

(Adapted with permission from "Tacolicious" by Sara Deseran, Ten Speed Press 2014. Photographs by Alex Farnum.) 

Sure, you can put anything from Korean BBQ to scrambled eggs in your taco, but sometimes the basics are best. What’s your fave filling?