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
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!
Tacos and 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 Lengua for Lengua Tacos
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 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.
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!
Making Roasted Tomatillo and Hatch Green Chile Salsa
The salsa is a little time-consuming, but it makes enough for more than one meal. Charring the salsa ingredients definitely boosts the flavor and "kicks it up a notch."
I still have some of the 30 pounds of fresh Hatch chile that I was able to freeze last September shortly after we moved to McAllen. They're already roasted, so I did not include them on my roasting pan. I do include a medium onion, peeled and quartered, and a bulb of garlic cut in half crosswise. Everything gets drizzled with a bit of olive oil, and roasted in a 450 degree oven until nicely charred.
Slip the skins off the chiles and garlic, and cilantro to the processor bowl. Process until combined. Add salt and pepper, pulse, check, and adjust if necessary. Choose your chiles according to your heat preference. If you're concerned about the salsa being too hot, add them one at a time, and taste it as you go...
Choose tomatillos that are firm, smooth, and bright green. Move the husk aside and take a peek. The tomatillos are a little more acidic than tomatoes, and bring a bit of tang to this salsa. Our beloved Hatch green chile is my preferred chile for this recipe, but you can substitute poblanos, Anaheims, even jalapeños. Be sure to roast them with the tomatillos, garlic, and onion, then peel the charred skins and remove stems and seeds before chopping. You'll find the recipe and a video at Roasted Tomatillo and Hatch Green Chile Salsa.
Tips and Substitutions
- I prefer to make my salsa but you can substitute a good commercial salsa like Frontera Gourmet Tomatillo Salsa.
- 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!
- 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.
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Finishing Your Lengua Tacos
While the salsa ingredients are roasting, caramelize the onions, prep the cilantro and cheese, and crisp the diced lengua. I picked up hot tortillas de maiz (corn) at the local tortilleria on my way home, and didn't even bother to warm them. When I do warm them, I prefer a hot, dry skillet (comal); use your preferred method.
Stuff the tortillas with a spoonful of the lengua, a bit of caramelized onion, a generous amount of the delicious salsa verde, crumbled cheese, and cilantro. My husband was the one that exclaimed "you hit this one out of the park!" I think that means Lengua Tacos With Salsa Verde and Caramelized Onions are a homerun. 🙂
Wine or Beer Pairing?
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...
- 5 to 6 tomatillos, about a pound
- 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
- 1 bulb garlic, cut in half crosswise
- olive oil to drizzle
- 4 Hatch green chiles*
- chicken or vegetable stock to thin
- 1 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed
- 1 teaspoon salt/pepper to taste
- A drizzle of olive oil
- 2 large onions, sliced thin
- 3 cups boiled tongue, lengua, small dice*
- 1 tablespoon refined coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt +/-
- 1 dozen fresh corn tortillas, softened*
- prepared diced lengua
- prepared caramelized onions
- salsa verde
- crumbled cotija or queso fresco*
- cilantro, stems removed
- radishes, thinly sliced
- lime wedges, optional
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees (425 convection roast). Arrange tomatillos, quartered onion, garlic halves, and green chiles (if not already roasted) in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil.
- Place in the oven, and roast until nicely charred, about 30 minutes. Turn them halfway through.
- Add the whole roasted tomatillos and onions to the bowl of a food processor. Squeeze the soft garlic from their papery skins.Remove the stems, blackened skin, and seeds from the Hatch (or other green chile) if present. Add the garlic, green chile,cilantro, salt, and a few grinds pepper to the processor bowl. Pulse a few times until well combined but not pureed.
- Taste and season if necessary. If salsa consistency is too thick, add a little stock to thin it as desired.
- Set aside until service. Salsa will keep several days in the refrigerator.
- 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.
- When the roasting vegetables come out of the oven, the onions should be nicely caramelized. Add to a small oven proof prep bowl. Pop in the oven until ready to keep warm.
- 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
- 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!
Having spent 22 years in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Hatch chile is always my preference. However, you can substitute poblano, anaheim, serrano, jalapeno. You can also substitute frozen diced or whole roasted chile. Use about 1 cup, and add to the processor bowl with the tomatillos. Make sure they're roasted, seeded, and peeled first!
I like small pieces in my tacos. I diced the lengua in 1/4" to 1/2" dice. It's easier to eat and to keep the tacos from falling apart in a fresh tortilla. I like to heat tortillas on a hot skillet (comal). This can be tedious if you're cooking for more than 2 people. You can put them in the microwave in a tortilla warmer or wrap them in foil and warm them in the oven. For more on keeping tortillas warm see this link.
The leftover salsa verde will keep for several days in the refrigerator, but I'll bet it won't last that long! This recipe assumes you have already cooked tongue. For more on preparing tongue using a pressure-cooker (or other method), see Provencal Beef Tongue Sandwiches.
Macronutrients (approximation from MyFitnessPal.com): 520 calories; 24 g protein; 40 g carbohydrates; 30 g fat. I hesitated to even include as there are too many variables. I used 3 corn tortillas, 4 ounces of lengua, 1/4th of an avocado, 1/2 ounce cotija, 3 tablespoons salsa verde and caramelized onion. This at least gets you in the "ballpark," and Google wants the calories 😉
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 520