Lengua Tacos With Salsa Verde and Caramelized Onions? Yea or nay? An ultra fresh corn tortilla (tortilla de maiz) is stuffed with crispy diced and seasoned beef tongue (lengua), caramelized onions, salsa verde made with roasted tomatillos, Hatch green chile, onions, and garlic, crumbled fresh cheese and cilantro. Delicioso!
I think you can have moderate success by copying something else, but if you really want to knock it out of the park, you have to do something different and take chances.~~ Lee Ann Womack
👩🏻🍳 Tamara Talks - Recipe Inspiration
Since moving to Texas' Rio Grande Valley last summer, I've felt challenged and compelled to develop healthy recipes using the abundance of Mexican and American Southwest ingredients found here. I really do feel Mexican food has gotten a "bum rap" as less-than-healthy food.
More often than not, our experiences with Mexican food in the U.S. are with fatty meats, melting cheese, and lots and lots of fried stuff. 😯 It doesn't hurt to eat cheese and meat enchiladas occasionally, but I wouldn't make a habit of it! The cuisine has so much more to offer!
I have written this recipe to include my Roasted Tomatillo and Hatch Green Chile Salsa. I do realize not everyone has time to make a cooked salsa. Keep in mind there are many excellent salsa verdes out there. Read the label, and look for a combination of tomatillos and green chile, or use your favorite!
🌮 Unusual Tacos!
McAllen's regional favorite dish seems to be tacos, and given the portability and versatility of this street food, it is easy to see why they are so popular. Most people are familiar with the tacos I grew up on - a fried tortilla filled with seasoned ground meat, shredded lettuce and cheese, chopped tomatoes, and salsa. To my knowledge, this isn't a very Mexican taco, yet they seem to be common on restaurant menus across the United States.
Tacos can actually range from slow-cooked meats (carnitas) to griddled steak (carne asada) to fish and seafood (Fried Oyster Tacos With Citrus Salsa) to fusion (Korean Street Tacos With Green Onion Kimchi and Indian Street Tacos with Grilled Shrimp Tacos) to bug-stuffed tacos (chapulines). Lengua Tacos With Salsa Verde and Caramelized Onions may seem somewhat pedestrian compared to that last one. 😂?
🐄 Preparing the Lengua
These delicious tacos came together rather quickly due to the fact that I cooked 2 beef tongues last week. I posted a lovely (in my opinion) recipe for Provençal Beef Tongue Sandwiches last week. Both of them weighed close to 3 pounds, and they're boneless.
My strategy was to make the sandwiches with long, thin sliced tongue, and then use the remaining pieces in tacos and a stew of some sort. Thus, this is recipe 2 of the 3 that I hope to eventually post. Once the boneless tongue is boiled and diced, it gets seared in a little coconut oil on high heat until crispy on the edges, and seasoned with Mexican oregano, ground cumin, and garlic.
If you prefer to cook the lengua/tongue on the stove, see How to Cook and Peel Beef Tongue Correctly. My preference is to use my Instant Pot. My Provencal Tongue Sandwiches recipe includes instructions. The Instant Pot saves about an hour in cooking time. Of course, you're in business if you've cooked your tongue beforehand, and have some ready to thaw in your freezer!
📋 Ingredients You'll Need
Here is a quick look at the ingredients in the recipe – it’s handy to use at the grocery store or as a summary of what you need. Skip to the recipe for quantities.
The salsa is a little time-consuming, but it makes enough for more than one meal. If I have time (and the ingredients!) I make my homemade salsa verde. Charring the salsa ingredients definitely boosts the flavor and "kicks it up a notch." The recipe makes about 3 to 4 cups, and stores in the refrigerator for several days (if it lasts that long!). It also freezes very well. I typically freeze it in one cup portions in zip bags.
- A drizzle of olive oil
- 2 large onions, sliced thin
- sugar and sea salt
- 3 cups boiled tongue, lengua, small dice (see Preparing Lengua for Tacos above)
- 1 tablespoon refined coconut oil or vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon salt +/-
- 1 dozen fresh corn tortillas, softened (see Tips)
- prepared diced lengua
- prepared caramelized onions
- salsa verde
- crumbled cotija or queso fresco (see Tips)
- cilantro, stems removed
- radishes, thinly sliced
- avocado, thinly sliced
- lime wedges, optional
There isn't a good shortcut to cooking the lengua. Keep in mind, though, the lengua freezes well, and you've got it done for more than one meal!
You may or may not have time to make your salsa. If you're boiling the lengua, this is a good time to make the salsa verde.
My work flow if starting from scratch: Get the lengua/tongue cooking. Get the salsa prepped and roasting. The caramelized onions take about 30 minutes to intensify their flavor. If you're super organized, you can prep the garnishes. Lastly, cook the lengua, and assemble.
- Caramelize the onions - As soon as the salsa vegetables go in the oven, start the onions. Drizzle a couple of teaspoons of olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Saute until the onions begin to brown. Reduce heat to medium (if you're stirring occasionally). Stir with a wooden spoon occasionally. You want slow caramelization, not browning.
- Prep the toppings - Slice the avocado (required LOL), crumble or grate the cotija, slice the limes and radishes. Use only the leaves of the cilantro.
- Sauté the lengua - Heat coconut oil on medium-high to high heat. You want some vigorous sizzling action. Add the diced tongue. Stir-fry until the edges begin to brown. Add the spices and season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking until much of the tongue has crispy edges. Remove from heat, and keep warm.
- Assemble the tacos - Soften/warm your tortillas by your preferred method. See notes. To each tortilla, add a spoonful of lengua, a bit of caramelized onion, salsa verde, crumbled cheese, cilantro, and sliced radish. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing if desired. Dig in!
- IMPORTANT NOTE: This recipe (and cooking time) starts with pre-boiled tongue!
- Do I have to make homemade salsa verde? I prefer to make my salsa but you can substitute a good commercial salsa like Frontera Gourmet Tomatillo Salsa.
- Do I have to use lengua? If you just can't stomach the lengua, try thin-sliced steak or chicken. One of my favorite taco ingredients is my Instant Pot Mexican Pulled Pork - another great option!
- What other cheese can I use? I love the tang of cotija, but you can substitute feta, queso fresco, asadero, etc.
- Vary the toppings to your preference: Radishes, cabbage, fresh cilantro sprigs, lime wedges, avocado, etc.
- How should I heat the tortillas? If I'm cooking for 2 (as is typical), I heat them on a griddle and put them in a warmer. If I have a big group, I put them in the warmer with a damp paper towel, and microwave them. For more, see How to Reheat Tortillas and Keep Them Warm.
🍺 Pairing Suggestions
Pairing wine with Mexican food is still something of an enigma. We had a somewhat soft merlot with our tacos, and I would say it was just "okay." I would stay away from anything with high alcohol and heavy tannins. Your best bet would be a dry or off-dry fruit forward wine with a bit of acidity. See this article for more information on pairing wines with tacos.
Sparkling wines can be an excellent choice with Mexican food. Do you prefer a craft beer? I would suggest a West Coast IPA with the tacos. The citrus hops pair well with the salsa verde and cilantro, and the bitterness cuts the rich tongue.
What are your experiences with tacos? Do you love to try new ones, or are you more inclined to stick with a tried-and-true taco? Inquiring minds want to know... 😉 For more on tacos: Serious Eats Guide to Taco Styles...