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Weekend Recipe: Puffy Tacos

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Puffy Tacos
Photo courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

If you've ever eaten them in San Antonio, or even at Arturo's Puffy Taco in Whittier, then you're familiar with that feeling of biting into a puffy taco -- it's that twinge of guilt one gets for cheating on the mighty L.A. street taco. Now you can eat this guilty pleasure in your own home without feeling judged by your fellow Southalnd compatriots. Have a go with this America's Test Kitchenrecipe, your secret indulgence is safe with us.

Puffy Tacos 
Serves 6 to 8

12 ounces 85 percent lean ground beef
1/2 russet potato (4 ounces), peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
1 onion, chopped fine
1 small green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup water

Taco Shells
2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) masa harina
1 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups warm water
2 quarts vegetable oil
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Chopped tomato
Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Hot sauce

For the picadillo: Combine beef, potato, 1 teaspoon pepper, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in 12-inch nonstick skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until meat and potatoes begin to brown, 6 to 8 minutes, breaking up meat with spoon. Add onion and bell pepper and cook until softened, 4 to 6 minutes. Add garlic and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Stir in water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened slightly, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat, cover, and keep warm.

For the taco shells: Mix masa harina and salt together in medium bowl. Stir in warm water with rubber spatula. Using your hands, knead mixture in bowl until it comes together fully (dough should be soft and tacky, not sticky), about 30 seconds. Cover dough with damp dish towel and let rest for 5 minutes.

Divide dough into 12 equal portions, about 1/4 cup each, then roll each into smooth ball between your hands. Transfer to plate and keep covered with damp dish towel. Cut sides of 1-gallon zipper-lock bag, leaving bottom seam intact.

Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet and line rack with triple layer of paper towels. Add oil to large saucepan until it measures 2 1/2 inches deep and heat over medium-high heat to 375 degrees.

When oil comes to temperature, enclose 1 dough ball at a time in split bag. Using clear pie plate (so you can see size of tortilla), press dough flat into 6-inch circle (about 1/8 inch thick).

Carefully remove tortilla from plastic and drop into hot oil. Fry tortilla until it puffs up, 15 to 20 seconds. Using 2 metal spatulas, carefully flip tortilla. Immediately press down in center of tortilla with 1 spatula to form taco shape, submerging tortilla into oil while doing so. Using second spatula, spread top of tortilla open about 1 1/2 inches. Fry until golden brown, about 60 seconds. Adjust burner, if necessary, to maintain oil temperature between 350 and 375 degrees.

Transfer taco shell to prepared rack and place upside down to drain. Return oil to 375 degrees and repeat with remaining dough balls.

Divide picadillo evenly among taco shells, about 1/4 cup each. Serve immediately, passing lettuce, tomato, cheddar, and hot sauce separately.

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