Tomatillo Lamb Tacos with Salsa Fresca

As I mention in these pages (endlessly! relentlessly!), we spent a few years living out our dreams in Southern Mexico. And I draw on our experiences there quite a bit, when it comes to conceiving of new recipes for this site. But for once, I am not basing this recipe on anything I ever ate during our time there.

Tomatillo Lamb Tacos

For a country that can work such culinary magic with inexpensive, slow-cooked cuts of meat, I have not had a lot of experience with the region’s techniques for cooking lamb. I imagine that this dish would pass muster in the roadside taquerias South of the Border, however, thanks to its simple, balanced preparation.

Tomatillo Lamb Tacos

The tartness of the tomatillos considerably brightens the strong, Earthy flavors of the lamb, slow-simmered until it shreds and falls apart, with plenty of heat brought in at the last second from the ancho chiles, the sliced jalapeno, and the fresh flavors of the serrano peppers in the Salsa Fresca. It’s a completely balanced meal, folded neatly in the palm of your hand.

Tomatillo Lamb Tacos

Don’t bother with expensive cuts of lamb, here; since we’re going to be cooking it for a while, you can do just fine with lamb stew meat, which you can buy in smaller quantities for less money. We’ll use the food processor for the sauce that the lamb is simmered in, but please chop the ingredients for the Salsa Mexicana by hand. I think you end up with a better result when you try and match a rustic meal with an equally rustic preparation, and avoid using appliances to do jobs that a sharp knife and some patience can do much better. If you try and use a food processor for your salsa, you’ll likely end up with a mushy, sour mess. Where applicable, try to DWYIKMAWD (Do What Your Imaginary Kindly Mexican Abuela Would Do), in salsa making as in life.

Tomatillo Lamb Tacos with Salsa Fresca
Serves 4
Don't worry about using expensive cuts of lamb for this dish; you'll do just fine with cheaper "stew meat" packages from your local butcher or grocery store.
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622 calories
26 g
237 g
22 g
79 g
7 g
590 g
725 g
10 g
0 g
12 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
Amount Per Serving
Calories 622
Calories from Fat 200
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 22g
Saturated Fat 7g
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 3g
Monounsaturated Fat 9g
Cholesterol 237mg
Sodium 725mg
Total Carbohydrates 26g
Dietary Fiber 8g
Sugars 10g
Protein 79g
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
For the Tomatillo Lamb Tacos
  1. 2 whole dried ancho chiles
  2. 6 tomatillos, peeled and quartered
  3. 1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
  4. 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  5. 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  6. 1 chicken bullion cube
  7. 1/2 cup water (reserved from soaking the anchos, see note below)
  8. Salt and pepper to taste
  9. 2 pounds lamb stew meat
  10. 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  11. 1/2 red cabbage, thinly sliced
  12. Corn tortillas, for serving
For the Salsa Fresca
  1. 2-3 ripe tomatoes, stemmed, cored, and seeded
  2. 5 fresh serrano chiles, stemmed
  3. A dozen or so large sprigs of cilantro
  4. 1 large garlic clove, peeled and very finely chopped
  5. 1/2 medium white onion
  6. Juice from 1/2 a fresh lime
  7. 3/4 teaspoon salt
For the Tomatillo Lamb Tacos
  1. In a small saucepan, cover dried ancho chiles with water. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat and set aside (leaving the liquid in the pot) until chiles soften, about ten minutes.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, add tomatillos, onion, cumin, oregano, and a bouillon cube. Using tongs, carefully remove stems from ancho chiles, and add to food processor, along with 1/2 cup of the water the anchos were steeping in. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Pulse in 1-second bursts until well combined, but not pureed.
  3. In a deep frying pan or small saucepan over medium heat, quickly brown lamb in vegetable oil, about 5-6 minutes. Add sauce from food processor and cook on low heat, covered, until lamb is fork-tender, about 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Serve on corn tortillas with a squeeze of lime, Mexican crema, sliced jalapeno, and fresh Salsa Fresca.
For the Salsa Fresca
  1. Finely dice tomatoes and serrano chiles. To dial down the heat (and make the finished salsa a little more polished-looking,) you can remove the seeds from the serranos and the tomatoes. Or don’t bother. It’s up to you. Scoop the chopped tomato and chile into a bowl. Roughly chop cilantro, including stems, and add to bowl. Mince garlic, and add to bowl. Finely chop onion, and add to bowl. Squeeze lime juice over the whole shebiggle, sprinkle with salt, and toss to combine. Allow a half hour in the refrigerator for flavors to combine before serving.
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Malcolm Bedell

Malcolm loves Mexico, speaks fluent taqueria Spanish, and totally has Mexican friends. Author of both "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," and food blog From Away, his writing and photography credits include Serious Eats, Down East Magazine, The LA Weekly, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and more. His seasonal food truck, "'Wich, Please," was named "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015 by Eater, and he finds trying to write this in the third person to be muy chistoso.

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