Whether it's an ingredient that traveled to a new land, or an old-world recipe reinvented with local ingredients, food has been evolving for as long as humans have roamed the Earth. It's been a way for newcomers to assimilate and to cross cultural gaps. It's also how some of the most delicious dishes were born. Whether you're talking about Kimchi, Ramen, or Macaroni and Cheese, many of today's hottest foods were born from a migration of people and ingredients around the world.
Our guest blogger this week, Vijay Nathan is the Editor and “Chief Nosher” at NoshOn.It, a daily email featuring a hand-picked recipe and expert cooking tips to inspire you to get in your kitchen and cook. Drawing inspiration from his background and childhood, he's created a mouthwatering lamb taco that melds the Tex-Mex of his youth with the flavors of his South Asian roots. Read on for Vijay's Tacos and sign up for NoshOn.It's newletter for a daily dose of culinary inspiration.
Hello No Recipes readers! In many ways, writing this guest post is a bit surreal for me. When I started reading food blogs years ago, No Recipes was one of the first sites that I stumbled upon and, 5 years later, I find myself coming back day after day so this is a true honor. Marc and I share a passion for exploring boldly flavored foods from cultures around the world. We also share a mutual appreciation for digging deep into the roots of traditional ethnic recipes and treating them with respect - staying true to authentic ingredients and techniques whenever possible and simply elevating a recipe to perfection.
Which is why today I’m rebelling in full force and unapologetically sharing a recipe mash-up that’s only partially authentic. We all have to break out of the box at some point, right? I present to you: Lamb Vindaloo Tacos with Cucumber Raita. Trust me, it works.
Growing up in a South Asian household in Houston, Texas, I was heavily influenced by both Indian and Tex-Mex food, which to this day are what I crave the most. They might seem different at first glance, but even at thousands of miles apart, the cuisines and ingredients of these cultures share curious similarities - cumin, coriander, dried chiles, onions, and garlic. Flatbreads to wrap around and dip into slowly simmered gravies. Rich deep flavors contrasted with something bright and sharp. When thinking about what recipe I wanted to share with you, I knew I wanted it to be a blend of these two cultures that mean so much to me. And so, Indian tacos were born.
The core of this recipe was inspired by one of my favorite Indian restaurant dishes - Vindaloo. A Goan curry typically made with pork, vindaloo consists of meat marinated overnight in a fiery blend of spices, sugar, and vinegar, giving it a uniquely sweet-sour-spicy flavor. Instead of using pork, I used lamb (which is often seen in restaurants) because I think the dark, lightly gamey meat is a better contrast to the rest of the ingredients. Also, I admittedly tested this recipe several times and ultimately settled on lamb shanks as the cut of choice because it’s so forgiving and shreds easily.
The lamb is marinated for several hours in a loose spice paste that includes dried Mexican chilies, vinegar, coconut milk (for sweetness), and a host of spices. You simply brown the lamb and simmer it in the reserved marinade until it falls apart. While vindaloo would typically be served with rice or an Indian flatbread, I Tex-Mex-ified it by putting it in a taco. To accompany the rich filling, I like to serve thinly sliced onions that have been soaked in lemon juice for a tangy bite and a cooling cucumber raita. It may seem like a lot of ingredients, but the technique is actually quite simple. And traditional...sort of.
The result is a dish with layers of flavors that seem to go on forever. The vinegar in the marinade lends a unique acidity to the braised meat that’s laced with warm and savory spices. The “pickled” onions cuts through the fat of the lamb and the raita serves as a fire extinguisher to your palate. These turned out pretty darn well, if I should say so myself. I hope you’ll give them a shot and let me know what you think. And, be sure to come on over to NoshOn.It and say hello. Thanks again to Marc for having me!
- First, make the marinade for the lamb. In a bowl, combine the vinegar, dried chilies, cinnamon stick, cloves, and cardamom. Allow to soak for 20 minutes to soften the chilies. Pour into a blender and add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, black peppercorns, garlic, ginger, coconut milk, and salt. Puree for 2-3 minutes until completely smooth, adding extra vinegar to get a paste that’s not too thick. Pour the marinade over the lamb, rub, and marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 4 hours.
- Make the raita: In a bowl, combine the yogurt, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the cucumber. Stir thoroughly and refrigerate until ready for serving. The raita can be made up to 2 days in advance.
- Make the “pickled” onions: In a bowl, combine the thinly sliced onions, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours until the onions are slightly softened and lose some of their bite.
- When the lamb has finished marinating, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- On the stove, heat a large deep, oven-proof pan over medium-high heat. Add the 2 tbsp of vegetable oil and heat until shimmering. Brush off any excess marinade from the lamb shanks, saving anything that remains.
- Add the lamb shanks to the hot oil and brown for 4-5 minutes on either side until deeply caramelized. Remove to a plate.
- To the remaining oil in the pot, add the diced onions and saute until golden brown, 4-5 minutes, adding more oil if needed.
- Add the reserved marinade to the pot along with 2 cups of water. Add the coriander powder. Bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan to lift up all of the bits.
- Add the reserved lamb shanks and any juices they have released. Add enough extra water to the pot so that it comes ¾ of the way up the sides of the shanks.
- Cover with a tight-fitting (oven-proof) lid or 2 layers of foil. Place on the middle rack in the oven and cook for 2 hours, turning the shanks over once in the middle. By the end, the meat should be falling off the bone.
- Remove the shanks from the pot and, once cool enough to handle, shred the meat away from the bone. Discard the bones (or reserve for stock).
- Place the pot with the braising liquid back on the stove and bring to a simmer. Reduce until it has the consistency of a thick stew. Add the shredded lamb meat to the liquid and add the garam masala powder and additional tablespoon of vinegar. Stir to combine and simmer for 3-4 minutes.
- To serve, heat corn tortillas on a griddle until lightly charred. Fill each tortilla with the braised lamb and top with the raita, onions, and chopped cilantro.