This is a taco recipe that comes from our constant craving for the unequivocal cochinita pibil sandwich and a never-ending love for tacos. Cochinita pibil is a traditional slow-roasted pork dish from the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. Its genius lies in the marinade highs and lows; earthy achiote paste or annatto seed, bright orange and/or grapefruit juice, and rich and roasted flavors from roasted garlic. This taco recipe takes into account the spirit of the pibil and travels to another galaxy in the form of tacos, made with New Mexican chile of course.

These can be made vegetarian using beans, cauliflower or potatoes in place of the meat. The last time I made these I used elk, but any meat you have a hankering for will work. Pork shoulder is wonderful; it just takes more time than a vegetable, ground beef or picking a rotisserie chicken.

This would be a fabulous dish to put in the slow cooker overnight. If you cook it this way, you could easily use dried beans instead of canned. This “taco” filling is just as tasty over nachos, in burritos, over rice and, yes, even salad.

Chile Tacos

Makes: 6-8 servings; total time: 1-3 hours, depending on the protein used

For the chile paste:

8 dried red chiles, stemmed and seeded

8 garlic cloves, peels left on

½ teaspoon black peppercorn

½ teaspoon whole cloves

2 teaspoons whole coriander

1 teaspoon whole cumin

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 grapefruit, juiced

½ cup water

Salt and pepper, to taste

For the tacos:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 pounds meat (beef chuck, brisket, ground beef, chicken, bison or elk)

1 large onion, diced

2 green bell peppers, diced

1 can (14.5 ounces) cooked beans or 1 cup dried chicos

1 can (14.5 ounce) diced fire-roasted tomatoes

2 cups broth (veggie, chicken or beef)

For serving (optional):

tortillas

Scallion, sliced

Jalapeños, sliced

Greek yogurt or sour cream

Avocados

Cilantro leaves

Lime wedges

Cheddar cheese, shredded

Make the chile paste: Bring a medium saucepan of water to a simmer. While you’re waiting for the water to heat, in a separate cast iron or other heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, sear the red chiles, pressing them in the pan until they are softened and aromatic, but not too much that they burn. Turn them and gently cook on the other side, then transfer them to the simmering saucepan of water. Turn off the heat and let them sit for 15-30 minutes, then strain them and reserve. Add the garlic cloves to the hot cast iron pan (with their peels still on) and brown them on all sides, before removing them and peeling them once they are cool enough to handle. The cast iron skillet will be empty but still hot. Add the peppercorn, cloves, coriander and cumin to the pan and gently cook until fragrant. Transfer these spices to a dry blender and blend until it forms a powder. Add the chiles, peeled garlic cloves, maple syrup, grapefruit juice and water. Blend until smooth and reserve.

To make the tacos: Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Season the meat with salt and pepper and sear on all sides, working in batches as necessary as to not overcrowd the pan. Reserve the cooked meat in a bowl and reduce the heat to medium.

Add to the hot pot the onion and green bell peppers and cook for around 10 minutes. Add the beans, can of tomatoes, broth and prepared chile paste and return the cooked meat to the pot. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours, depending on the type of meat used. Ground beef or already-cooked meat will take around 30 minutes, while tougher cuts like brisket, stew meat or pork shoulder could take up to 3 hours to tenderize. Once the meat is fully cooked, serve with tortillas and your favorite taco toppings. Enjoy!

Marianne Sundquist is a chef, food business consultant and shares recipes on Instagram @chefmariannesundquist. She co-founded Stokli in 2020, an online general store with a mission to champion local growers and makers of dry goods. Visit stokli.com and email her at marianne@stokli.com.

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