Taco night is one of the easiest, quickest, and simplest dinner ideas out there. Pull some meat off of a rotisserie chicken, quickly brown some ground beef, or chop up the leftovers from last night’s roasted veggie dish. Warm some tortillas, grab a jar of salsa and some cheese, and dinner is solved!
With me and my husband both working from home while simultaneously wrangling our increasingly energetic 1-year-old, incredibly easy recipes are the name of our game. At the end of the day, we want—no, we deserve!—something delicious, but we are exhausted! We’ve found ourselves leaning heavily on lots of taco night menus and simple pastas.
But this past week, we knew we had to shake things up. We wanted something healthy-ish, but packed with flavor. Easy, but also a little special.
Enter: crunchy baked tacos, full of spiced chicken meat, hot sauce (we love Cholula in our house!), cilantro, and cheese. Rather than simply rolling the fillings into a tortilla and calling it a night, we bake the filled tacos in the oven until crunchy and melty-delicious. They’re a bit like a quesadilla-meets-taco hybrid, but still a healthier option thanks to the lean chicken meat and a light hand with the cheese.
But the best part? They require almost zero chopping to make, which in my book, is a very huge win, especially at the end of a busy day. Sometimes I just want to be able to dump and stir, without dicing five garlic cloves and 50 shallots first!
Breaking It Down
The taco meat itself takes all of 15 minutes to cook, with zero prep time. If you need an even faster, easier dinner, just make the taco meat and throw it in some tortillas with salsa and whatever other toppings you can dig out of the fridge. If you have about 15 more minutes to spare, though, make these baked tacos.
While the taco meat cools, char your tortillas directly over your gas burner, to give them a little charred flavor and warm them so they become pliable. Then, tuck the meat and cheese into the tortillas, lightly coat them with oil, and bake until crispy.
Once they come out of the oven, everyone can pile their tacos with the toppings of their choosing: sour cream, avocado, pico de gallo, more hot sauce—a choose-your-own adventure kind of deal.
I make these tacos a full meal by serving them with a super tangy, delicious mango and red cabbage slaw. I make the slaw first so that it can marinate and get tender and flavorful while I prep the tacos.
I love red cabbage, but sometimes it can be a little too tough, so I massage it with salt to break it down and tenderize it before adding in the mango, cilantro, olive oil, and apple cider vinegar. The slaw is tangy from the vinegar, with pops of tropical sweetness from the mango, providing the perfect contrast to the meaty, cheesy tacos.
I happily enjoyed two tacos and a big serving of slaw, while my husband George scarfed down four tacos and a tiny serving of slaw. If you have a family of big eaters, cauliflower rice and beans would be the perfect addition to make this an even heartier meal.
You’ll never want to have a normal taco night again—bake ’em all!
Baked Chicken Tacos With Mango Slaw
For the mango and purple cabbage slaw:
- 1 small head purple cabbage, core and tough ribs removed, shredded as thinly as possible
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large mango, diced
- 1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
For the tacos:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound ground chicken, turkey, or lean ground beef
- 1/4 cup chicken stock (or water, in a pinch)
- 2 to 4 tablespoons Mexican hot sauce, such as Cholula (depending on desired level of spiciness)
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
- 12 (8-inch) corn, flour, or grain-free tortillas (I used Siete Foods cassava flour tortillas)
- 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (you want the kind of mozzarella that comes in a block like Cheddar, not the fresh kind that often comes in a ball shape, packed in water)
- 100 percent oil cooking spray, or olive oil
- Optional toppings: salsa, guacamole, avocado slices, more hot sauce, sour cream, sliced radishes
First things first: Make your slaw! It needs to marinate while we make the tacos.
Toss the cabbage into a large bowl and sprinkle it with salt. Now, get in there with both hands and vigorously massage it for about a minute, until it starts to release some moisture and feels soft, or at least loses a bit of its stiffness. Add in the rest of the ingredients and toss to combine. Place in the refrigerator until you’re ready to eat. The slaw can be made up to 24 hours in advance, but if you do make it that far ahead, don’t add in the cilantro until just before serving.
Now, on to the tacos.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the ground chicken and sauté for 4–5 minutes, breaking it up with a wooden spoon or spatula into the smallest crumbles that you can.
Reduce heat to medium. Add the chicken stock, hot sauce, lime juice, tomato paste, salt, garlic powder, and chicken stock and stir to combine. Simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, 8–10 minutes.
Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the cilantro. Allow the mixture to cool while you heat up your tortillas.
Heat up and lightly char each tortilla over the open flame of your stove by placing it directly on the gas burner, over low heat, for about 15 seconds per side. You want to get a bit of char on both sides. If you don’t have a gas burner, wrap all of the tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave for 10–15 seconds, until pliable. We need to be able to fold them in half without tearing them.
Place six tortillas onto each baking sheet. They can be slightly overlapping. Cover each tortilla with a thin layer of cheese. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of chicken taco meat onto one half of each tortilla, then fold it in half over the meat. Spray both sides of the taco with cooking spray, or rub with olive oil.
Bake for 5 minutes, then flip and bake for 5 more minutes. They should be lightly crispy, but won’t take on a ton of color in the oven.
While the tacos are baking, prep your toppings, like chopping up some radishes or tomatoes, smashing some avocados, etc.
Serve tacos immediately with slaw and desired toppings.
To make these kid-friendly, leave out the Cholula, and instead use your favorite mild taco seasoning. Or, just use whatever spices you know your kids are into—a little garlic powder, oregano, and chili powder would be delicious!
If you’re only feeding two people, only make six tacos. These won’t keep well in the refrigerator. You can either make more the next day, or use the meat to make regular tacos, taco bowls, a taco salad, etc.
Purple cabbage: Any cabbage works—I also love Napa cabbage here! Or, just make it a normal salad and use whatever greens you have. Kale would be fab.
Mango: Pineapple or strawberries.
Apple cider vinegar: Lime or lemon juice.
Ground chicken: Shredded chicken, ground turkey, ground pork, or a very lean ground beef.
Chicken stock: Any stock or broth works. In a pinch, use water.
Cholula: I’m a Cholula person, but use whatever hot sauce you keep in the house. Even an Asian hot sauce like sambal, gochujang, or sriracha would be great. No hot sauce? Add 1 tablespoon chili powder, a pinch of cayenne, and a couple tablespoons of water.
Garlic powder: 2 fresh garlic cloves, minced.
Tomato paste: Add 1/4 cup of tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, or tomato salsa. You’ll just have to cook the chicken for longer for it to absorb the excess liquid.
Cilantro: Omit if you don’t have any.
Tortillas: You can also just use hard shell tortillas from the get-go! Or, ditch the tortillas and make this a grain bowl or taco salad.
Mozzarella: Cheddar or Mexican cheese are great subs, but any melty cheese works.
Caroline Chambers is a recipe developer, food writer, and author of “Just Married: A Cookbook for Newlyweds.” She currently lives in Carmel Valley, Calif., with her husband, George, and son, Mattis. Follow her on Instagram for cooking tips and snippets from her life in Northern California. @carochambers