Taco rice! Sounds like a weird combination, right? Well it is a super Okinawan dish, influenced by the unique relationship the American military has had with Okinawa. It is a perennial favorite here on Okinawa with locals, expats and tourists alike. Although it is a kind of fast food here, it is still kind of healthy. The keys to delicious taco rice are the meat sauce and the dense, moist Japanese rice.

I spent over a year in Okinawa before I tried taco rice. BLASPHEMY!

After eating it, I immediately became obsessed and ate it a few times this summer. However, I grew tired of buying it at the supermarket premade and wondered if I could make it better at home myself…without the prepackaged spice kits they sell. So, I tried.

This is the best recipe I found, based on one from America’s Test Kitchen. Good taco rice meat has to be saucy enough to soak into the rice, and meaty enough to be satisfying. I think this recipe fits the bill.

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Okinawan Taco Rice Meat

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder (I used a mix of ancho and cayenne pepper)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 cup smooth canned tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce or sake (Okinawan taco rice meat typically uses soy or sake here, but cider vinegar works just fine.)
  • 1 teaspoon light brown sugar


Directions:

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, spices, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant about thirty seconds. Stir in the beef and pork and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until no longer pink, about five minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, broth, soy/sake/vinegar, and sugar until thickened, about 10 minutes. Be sure to leave the meat a little moist, not crumbly and dry. Season with salt to taste.

The filling can be fully prepared, cooled, covered tightly, and refrigerated for up to three days. Reheat over medium-low heat, adding additional water to adjust the consistency.

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Make your rice (dense, Japanese rice hopefully), and cover with the taco meat. Then the toppings! The classics are fresh crisp shredded lettuce, plump juicy fresh tomatoes and yellow cheddar cheese, with some salsa or hot sauce for good measure.

Personally, I scatter shredded lettuce, diced fresh tomatoes, avocado, pickled jalapenos and spoon salsa fresh or jarred over top, along with a thick yogurt or sour cream. Sprinkle with grated cheese…and you are done. It is seriously one of the most satisfying dishes you might have.

Some variations on the theme might include rolling the meat up in maki sushi rolls or using it as a nacho topping. God, is it good.

{originally published on my other blog, Eating Okinawa}