Friday, August 21, 2015

7. Spicy Lamb Tacos with Cucumber-Mint Pico de Gallo and Ricotta-Yogurt Sauce


My husband really wanted me to call these "Tacos from Morocco".  I just couldn't bring myself to do it!  A lot of the flavors in this recipe were inspired by some North African/Mediterranean taste combinations, but I'm pretty sure that nothing like this is actually served in Morocco.  I decided to go with the more conventional and obvious title.

This was a fun Friday night recipe.  It came together a lot more quickly than some of my other taco creations!  At first glance, it looks like a "regular" taco:  ground meat, lettuce, and . . . what is that?  Sour cream?  No.  Of course not!  Greek yogurt and whole milk ricotta.  That's right.  These tacos are sneaky-unusual.  In a good way!  Here's the recipe:

Spicy Lamb Tacos with Cucumber-Mint Pico de Gallo and Ricotta-Yogurt Sauce

Serves 4 (about 8 generous tacos)


For the ricotta-yogurt sauce:

½ cup Greek yogurt
½ cup whole milk ricotta
¼ tsp. salt
A big pinch of cayenne pepper

For the cucumber-mint pico de gallo:

1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
1 Fresno pepper or other small red chile (more or less; taste for heat), finely chopped
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
A few splashes of red wine vinegar
½ tsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Yes, there's a St. Lupulin extra pale ale in this picture.  It's not part of the recipe.  You could add it, I guess, but I wouldn't recommend it.  Just keep it on the side.  For the cook.  ;)  
For the lamb filling:

1 tbsp. olive oil
½ cup chopped red onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. dried oregano
A pinch of ground cloves
1 lb. ground lamb
1 tsp. salt
14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Multi-grain corn and wheat tortillas (about 8)

A few large leaves of green leaf lettuce, thinly sliced

Smoked hot paprika for garnish

1.  In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the ricotta-yogurt sauce.  Set aside.  I would keep it at room temperature.  It won't take long to make the rest.

2.  In another small bowl, combine the ingredients for the cucumber-mint pico de gallo.  (Before you add your chile peppers, taste them!  Mine were hotter than I expected.  I was going to add two and I decided to add only one after I checked them.)  Taste and adjust the seasonings.  Set aside.

3.  Make the lamb filling:  In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic, cinnamon, oregano, and cloves.  Cook and stir for about one minute, or until fragrant.  Add the lamb and salt.  Cook and stir, breaking up the lamb into small pieces, for about 10 minutes or until the lamb is fully cooked.  Add the tomatoes, lower the heat, and cook for about 5 minutes, until the tomato is heated through and most of the excess juice has evaporated.  Season to taste with pepper.  Adjust any other seasonings as needed.  Keep warm.

4.  Heat the tortillas:  I heated my tortillas in a dry skillet over medium-high heat for a minute or so on each side, just like I have done in the past with corn or flour tortillas.  Since this is basically the last step, you don't really need to keep them warm.  Just stack them on a plate or sheet of foil until it's time to assemble the tacos!

5.  Assemble the tacos:  For each taco, place a tortilla on a plate.  Spoon a small amount of the lamb filling in the center of the taco.  Top with some of the lettuce.  Finish with a spoonful or two of the pico de gallo and a healthy drizzle of the ricotta-yogurt sauce.  Garnish to taste with the hot paprika.  Enjoy!

You'll notice that the photo above is missing the smoked paprika garnish.  I have to give Steve credit for that one.  We started to eat these (without the paprika) and agreed that, while they were very good, they could use an extra kick.  We tried crushed red pepper first.  That was OK.  It worked.  Then he mentioned paprika, and I remembered the Spanish smoked hot paprika in the spice cabinet.  That was the ticket!  I suppose you could add it to the lamb mixture, but it worked really well as a garnish because it was easy to control the extra heat and spice.  The hot paprika really took these over the top!  It is kind of a "weird" ingredient, but I wouldn't skip it.  It's great on a lot of things!  If you don't have any, here's a link to get some from Amazon!  You can get some in two days!

The only other issue I had with this recipe (and it wasn't really an issue) was a small amount of extra grease that accumulated in the pan with the lamb filling.  I decided it was not a thing I was going to worry about, and it didn't bother us a bit.  It was pretty easy to spoon the lamb out of the pan without it.  However, if that sort of thing is not what you want, you could always brown the lamb in a separate pan, drain it, and then add it to the onion and spice mixture, continuing the recipe as written from that point.  It would work just fine that way, too.  :)

This was a delicious recipe!  We both highly recommend it.  If you want to use it as the centerpiece of a totally inauthentic "Morocco Date Night", I won't tell.  Make these, crack open a bottle of better-than-mediocre red wine, and watch Casablanca.  It'll be a good time!

Please comment:  What do you think of the idea?  Did you try them?  How did they turn out?  What would you do differently?  Did you actually watch Casablanca?  Ha ha.  Until next time . . . Thanks for reading!

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