I'm not a huge meat eater and, I confess, I have never cooked a steak. While my aversion to red meat benefits my heart and the planet, it occasionally leaves me low on iron. And when I’m low on iron, a flat 30-minute jog seems like running a hilly 10K race in a tank of molasses.
Looking for a scientific explanation for my occasional iron deficiency, I emailed Robert Kunz, the vice-president of science and technology at First Endurance, a sports supplement maker and one of our sponsors.
He told me that my iron problem is not unique among endurance athletes. “Hard training greatly increases the demand for iron,” he replied. “As a component of the protein hemoglobin, iron carries oxygen from the lungs to the working muscles.” Kunz recommends his company’s multivitamin with iron, which I take, plus lean red meat and iron-rich leafy greens like spinach and my favorite, kale.
I asked Melissa, our recipe maven, for a creative way to up my red meat intake, and she suggested bison tacos. She filched the idea from her Houston-based mother-in-law who developed the dish because she loves Tex-Mex, but hates how leaden it makes her feel.
Ground bison was easy to find. I thought I’d have to hit the Whole Foods, but found it at the Stop & Shop. Still, it’s pricier than ground beef: $9 to $10 per pound as opposed to $6 to $7 (for grass-fed beef). But it’s worth it. Ground bison is leaner than ground beef. These tacos aren’t greasy. Even the three I downed one night didn’t sit heavily.
The crunchy, salty hard shells are a refreshing departure and surprisingly, not nutritionally evil. We eat lots of soft whole grain or corn tortillas for staples like turkey wraps and cheddar and apple quesadillas, so the textural change to hard shells was fun. We found whole grain blue and yellow corn tortillas, free of partially hydrogenated oils, at both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
The heavily spiced meat contrasted nicely against the bland shells. But even the organic seasoning mix we found tasted slightly powdery. We think we can do better. So stay tuned for an Athlete Food taco spice mix.
One night I forgot to buy the seasoning, so I browned the bison with lots of salt and pepper, then stirred in a cup of salsa and cooked it for another few minutes. It might not pass in Houston, but it satisfied this New Yorker.
Melissa tells us that Texans keep the taco toppings to a minimum, so shells don’t fall apart. But we like to pile on the vegetables and herbs and soak our tacos with lime. When our tacos shatter, we just add even more toppings, and toss up a big taco salad using our three-ingredient Cabbage and Pumpkin Seed Salad as a base. We'll post this recipe next week.
Do ahead: Prepare the meat up to three days ahead. (It actually tastes better after a day or two.) Mash the avocado with the lime juice up to a day ahead.
Crispy Bison Tacos with Avocado and Purple Cabbage
Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 8 to 10 tacos
1 pound ground bison
1 packet non-spicy taco seasoning (sometimes called “Southwest” style)
1 ripe avocado
1 package blue or yellow corn taco shells
1/4 head purple cabbage, thinly sliced
¾ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup sharp cheddar, grated
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1/3 cup raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds
Hot sauce (we like Cholula)
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Cook the bison and seasoning according to the directions on the back of the seasoning packet. Bison cooks faster than beef, so if the directions say to cook ground beef for 8 to 10 minutes before adding the seasoning, cook the bison until it’s no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
Juice 1 of the limes and cut the rest into wedges. Mash the avocado with 1 tablespoon of the lime juice, using a fork.
Set the shells upside down on a baking sheet (like little tents) and bake until warm, 2 to 3 minutes.
To fill the tacos, spoon 2 tablespoons of the seasoned meat into a shell. Top with a teaspoon or two of avocado and a few cabbage shreds. Sprinkle on the tomatoes, cheddar, cilantro, and pumpkin seeds. Finish with a squeeze of lime and drizzle of hot sauce.