The other day I decided to throw a Friday night dinner party, because very little in life is better than a dinner party on a Friday night in August. The breeze feels extra breezy. The cocktails are especially strong. City life has slowed to the pace of molasses. Why go out? Nothing’s happening! Stay in and drink rosé with your friends!
That was my thinking recently when I impulse-texted a couple of people and invited them over for a mini-dinner party in a few days time. They responded quickly to accept; instantly I realized the plan had a major flaw. My week was very busy. I had absolutely no time to shop—much less cook an elaborate dinner for six. Usually when I entertain, I prefer to slave in the kitchen for hours over some incredibly stressful nine-part meal, because I love praise, and people often feel obligated to praise someone who has prepared a dish that appears complex (even if it turns out to be a flop). But that would not be possible on this occasion. My options were limited. So I started brainstorming decadent, party-appropriate dishes that only take 15 minutes to make.
“Duh,” I thought. “Tacos!”
When I was growing up, taco night was a real event at my house. There were bowls and bowls and bowls of toppings, all set out on a long table in the dining room, ready to be stuffed into hard-shell tortillas. So many choices, all of them fun! Decisions are usually so agonizing for me. I have been known to spend entire therapy sessions discussing whether or not to attend a single party. I can never decide on a restaurant, even when I’m only ordering takeout. But when it comes to selecting taco fixings, I feel only joy. There is no limit on how many tacos one person may eat, which means the topping permutations are endless. One vegetarian taco. One chicken taco, heavy on the cheese. One taco with pinto beans, one with black beans, one with refried. All beans! All cheese! There are no bad decisions!!! Go wild!
Heart pumping with the thrill of my new agenda, I set about planning the menu. I decided on chicken, which I would plop into the slow-cooker before work Friday morning and shred upon my return that night. Then things got really exciting. Pickled onions. Tomatillo salsa. Regular salsa! Three types of beans! Queso fresco, of course, and a bit of cheddar, just for fun. Yellow rice, and shredded lettuce, and radishes, and guacamole, and… As I dreamed up a Game of Thrones-worthy feast, I imagined a million tiny bowls, all filled with colorful, delicious, and deeply impressive toppings. I felt proud of myself already.
Usually, this is the part of the story where something really disastrous happens—say, I set the kitchen on fire, or I forget to turn the slow-cooker on, or I have a mental breakdown in the middle of chopping the onions. As I hustled home after work that night, I idly considered what catastrophe I might bring upon myself. But none arrived. The only bump in the road was when I realized the avocados I had purchased via a last-minute FreshDirect order were not even remotely ripe. Meaning no guac. I apologized profusely to my friends, who insisted we didn’t need it. I assumed they were lying, politely trying to preserve my dignity, but then I sat down and ate, and I realized they were telling the truth: It was an amazing feast, no guac necessary—and it came together in less than two hours (unless you count the eight hours the chicken was simmering in the slow cooker, which you should not). I mean, yes, dinner was served a little late. But it was Friday night! No one was stressed, not even me.
TINY BOWL TACO FEAST
Slow-Cooked Chicken (see recipe) – Put the chicken in a cute little bowl.
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa (see recipe) – Put the salsa in a cute little bowl.
Heirloom Tomato Salsa (see recipe) – Put this salsa in a cute little bowl also.
Quick-Pickled Red Onions (see recipe) – Put the onions in a cute little bowl.
1 15.5 oz. Can of black beans – Heat the beans, along with the bean liquid over the stove for a few minutes, until hot. Put the beans in a cute little bowl.
Cooked yellow rice – Get the packaged kind and follow the directions on the back of the box!! I used Goya and you know what? It was great. Toss the rice into a cute little bowl!
1 lb queso fresco – Crumble it with your hands straight into the little bowl.
1/2 lb cheddar cheese – Shred it with a box shredder, into a tiny bowl!
1 Bunch of radishes – Cut in half the long way and then thinly slice. Into the bowl!
1/2 Head of iceberg lettuce – (sorry haters! no kale for these tacos) Thinly chop and put it in a bowl!
Soft Corn Tortillas, warmed
By now you should have about a hundred tiny, beautiful bowls decorating your dinner table. The feast is red and green and yellow and pink and, okay fine, several shades of brown, too. But doesn’t it make you feel so happy? Don’t you feel like you have accomplished the work of 1,000 19th-century mules? Well, guess what. You did not. It was easy. Throw some soft corn tortillas onto a dish—a plate this time—and let your guests have at it.
3 lbs chicken thighs
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. pepper
2 tsp. chile powder
Combine ingredients the slow-cooker and cook on low for 8 hours. When you’re ready, drain the juices and remove the chicken from the pot. Remove the bones (but don’t throw them away; save them for stock!), shred the chicken with two forks, and return the meat to the pot. Add salt and pepper to taste. Heat on warm until you’re ready to serve.
roasted Tomatillo Salsa
(Recipe adapted from Rick Bayless)
8 oz. tomatillos, husked
1 jalapeño, stemmed and seeded
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
1 small white onion, chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt
Set the broiler to high and roast the tomatillos, jalapeño, and garlic until juicy, brown and blistering. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes, then throw them in the blender and puree. Transfer to a bowl, and mix in the onion, cilantro, and salt. Put the salsa in a cute little bowl.
heirloom Tomato Salsa
2 Large heirloom tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup cilantro, plus more to taste
1/2 jalapeño, seeded and diced
1/4 white onion, diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Combine the tomatoes, cilantro, jalapeño, onion, salt, and pepper. Stir. Squeeze lime juice on top. Stir again. Put the salsa in a cute little bowl.
quick-pickled red Onions
1 red onion
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
Stir the sugar, salt, and vinegar together until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Dice the red onion. Put the onions in a mason jar and then pour the vinegar mixture over it. Let sit for at least 1/2 hour, then drain. Put the onions in a cute little bowl.