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Taco recipe: Cochinita meets New Mexico heat

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Chef Marianne Sundquist adds a New Mexico twist to a Yucatán favorite. Photo: Santa Fe New Mexican

From an American newspaper in Santa Fe comes a recipe that blends the flavors of old Yucatán and New Mexico.

“This is a taco recipe that comes from our constant craving for the unequivocal cochinita pibil sandwich and a never-ending love for tacos,” writes Marianne Sundquist in The New Mexican. The spirit of the pibil “travels to another galaxy in the form of tacos, made with New Mexican chile of course.”

Yucatán’s cochinita pibil is a traditional slow-roasted pork dish, smothered in achiote, marinated in sour orange (or in a pinch, grapefruit juice) and garlic.

These can be made vegetarian using beans, cauliflower or potatoes in place of the meat. But for meat-eaters, get pork shoulder — “it just takes more time than a vegetable, ground beef or picking a rotisserie chicken,” said Sundquist.

If using a slow cooker overnight, use dried beans instead of canned.

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 sour orange / 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 another 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 and food business consultant who writes for the Santa Fe New Mexican, from which this story was adapted.

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