If you have been stationed in Okinawa, then you are well aware of the foodie phenomenon called taco rice, a culinary culture clash of a dish with American, Mexican, and Japanese influences. Here, we share a no-fail recipe for easy taco rice that you can whip up at home using everyday ingredients you probably already have in your fridge!
Origins of Taco Rice
While the origins of taco rice are a little fuzzy (Chef Matsuzo Gibo is credited with creating it in 1984, although some suggest it’s been around since the 1960s), few can argue its presence at the top of most must-try lists. Consisting of layers of rice, seasoned ground beef, cheese, lettuce, and tomato, it’s said that taco rice was created to appeal to the American military members stationed on the island and their affinity for Mexican food. By adding traditional taco ingredients to a bed of rice, the dish not only got a Japanese twist, but portion sizes became a lot more substantial, allowing hungry customers to fill up on a budget.
New Spin on a Local Staple
Many military families leave the island and immediately crave all the specialty dishes that made Okinawa uniquely home for those few short years. While we love ramen and yakisoba (and don’t even get us started on the deliciousness that is Arashi’s garlic-fried rice), taco rice has become a go-to staple in our meal planning rotation. Not only do picky kids love this dish, it also comes together quickly and is great for leftovers! Our version is a take on traditional taco rice, with a bit of culinary flair from an avocado crema. This cream sauce elevates the dish to chef-worthy status, adding a cooling effect that contrasts the subtle heat from the taco seasoning. Prepare the crema one day in advance and keep it chilled until ready to serve, and you’ll make your day-of prep a breeze!
Okinawan Taco Rice with Avocado Crema
35 minutes total prep time, 25 mins active prep time
For the rice:
1 1/2 cups white medium-grain rice
3 cups water
For the beef:
2 tbsp olive oil
2/3 lb ground beef
3/4 tbsp chili powder
1 1/8 tsp cumin
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
3/8 tsp oregano
3/8 tsp garlic powder
3/8 tsp onion powder
For the cream sauce:
1 avocado, diced
1/4 cup plain yogurt
4-6 tbsp milk
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/3 cup shredded Mexican cheese
Prepare the rice. In a small pot over high heat, bring 3 cups water to a boil. Stir in rice, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed. Remove the rice from heat and let it stand for 10 mins longer.
Meanwhile, add the diced avocado, yogurt, 4 tbsp of the milk, 1 tbsp olive oil, lime juice, minced garlic, and 1/4 tsp salt into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Add additional milk as needed in order to reach a creamy, pourable consistency.
In a skillet over medium heat, add 2 tbsp olive oil, ground beef, chili powder, cumin, 3/4 tsp salt, 3/4 tsp pepper, paprika, oregano, garlic powder, and onion powder. Stir to combine, and cook for 5-7 mins or until the beef is cooked through.
Serve the beef on top of the rice along with cheese, shredded lettuce, and cherry tomatoes. Drizzle with avocado cream sauce as desired.
- We like a medium-grain rice for this dish. You can substitute a smaller grain sushi rice, if preferred, following the rice to water ratio on the packaging. Long grain rice is an acceptable option, it just does not stick together as well as desired for taco rice.
- If you have a taco seasoning that you love, feel free to substitute it for the beef seasoning listed above!
Dropping off a meal for another family? Check out Meal Train Ideas That Aren’t Lasagna for some out-of-the-box options!
Photo Credit: Christina Carter