Streets of East L.A.


Chances are, if you send someone out for tacos in L.A., you never will get your food.  Sure, the initial purchase will be made, but something will happen between then and when the meal is supposed to arrive.  Too much temptation.  Those aromas intoxicate, causing one to lose all other thoughts.

It’s likely the buyer won’t even make it twenty steps from the taqueria.  A few blissful moments later, and the food will be gone.  Be prepared for the excuses.  “Yeah, the entire state must’ve run out of tacos” or, “Some guy just grabbed the tacos and ran off with them.  It was the darnedest thing.”

Today’s tacos come equipped with all sorts of allurements. There’s the main filling itself, pork stewed for hours with tomatoes, orange concentrate and spices. until it’s so tender it melts into shreds.  Couple that with pickled red onions and you have a wonderful combination of savory, sweet and tangy.  Splash on some habanero salsa and the heat climbs appreciably, adding a definite complexity.  This combination of ingredients was featured in the June/July 2016 Cook’s Country, and follows the magazine’s visit to East L.A.

In addition are a couple toppings not in the original recipe but which should have been.   Fresh cilantro imparts a cool freshness that simultaneously tames and accentuates the salsa‘s flame.  Plus, the bright green shades make an attractive color contrast.  Also present is crushed pineapple, which pairs magnificently with pork in tacos al pastor.  It works really well in this preparation too.

All the ingredients combine beautifully, so well, in fact, they seem destined for each other.  Just don’t send anyone out for them; you have to make these yourself.

*****

Citrus-Braised Pork Tacos

For the pork:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped finely (*1)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (*2)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  •  1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 1 and 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 5 bay leaves
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
  • 3-pound boneless pork butt, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes

For the pickled onions:

  • 1 red onion, halved and sliced thinly (*3)
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the habanero salsa:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tomato, cored and chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion (*4)
  • 1/2 habanero chile, stemmed
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed (*5)
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

Start with the pork.  Remove all but the lowest rack from the oven, and pre-heat it to 300°.  Place stockpot over a medium flame and add the oil.  When it shimmers, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s light brown, about four minutes.

Add the garlic, cumin, oregano, allspice and cinnamon and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for another 45 seconds.  Stir in the orange juice concentrate, the Worcestershire sauce, the bay leaves, salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the vinegar, scraping up the browned bits.

Add the pork and bring to a boil.  Transfer stockpot to the oven and cook uncovered for two hours, stirring halfway through.

Meanwhile, make the pickled onions.  Place the onion in a medium bowl.  Pour the vinegar, sugar and salt into a small saucepan and place it over a medium-high flame, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves.  Pour this over the onion and cover loosely.  Set aside.

Next, move on to the salsa.  Combine in a small saucepan all the salsa ingredients save the vinegar and lime juice.  Place saucepan over a medium-high flame and bring to a boil.  Continue boiling for ten minutes.  Remove from flame and let cool for five minutes.

Transfer contents to a blender and add the vinegar and lime juice.  Pulse until smooth, about two minutes.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Transfer stockpot to the stovetop and fish out and discard the bay leaves.  Using a potato masher, break apart the pork; this likely will be fairly easy to do.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, the reduce flame to medium-low and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about five minutes.

Turn off the flame and stir in the remaining tablespoon of vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with toasted tortillas, and top with the onions, salsa and other condiments of your choice.

NOTES:

1 – I read “onion,” though apparently I interpreted it to mean, “two medium shallots.”  Wonderful dyslexia!

2 –  Use Mexican oregano if you can find it, as it’s more flavorful than is the “standard” variety.

3 – Remember this moment well, as it’s the one time I don’t substitute for the onion!  The red onion is too colorful, too vibrant, to replace.

4 – …and, just like that, I’m back.  A small shallot would work better here.

5 – Don’t worry about making a neat chop of things, as all the veggies are destined to liquify in the blender.

70 thoughts on “Streets of East L.A.

  1. I would gladly deliver said feast to the first homeless person sighted! No thief would have time to swipe it … But take away Keith, how are you?

    I do like veg tacos with beans and all sorts of treats 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my. Thank you, Kate!

      Speaking of veg, how about grape tomatoes, salsa and bean sprouts? Oh, and let’s not forget the ultimate add-on, avocados! By themselves, or with a variety of riders. Plus, avocados are substantive enough to take on light grill marks (and, hence, lots and lots of flavor).

      Great idea, Kate! Thanks to your inspiration, I’ll pick p some avocadoes when I’m at the market tomorrow. Much obliged!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There’s much wisdom in your meals, Kate! Have you ever tried growing an avocado from seed?

        Were it not for our winters, I’d be tempted to try cultivating one myself. If for no reason other than getting my hands on avocado leaves, which are impossible to find in areas without a significant Mexican-American population.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. yes I’ve definitely tried it and got a sturdy shoot but … those trees are quite big before they bear fruit and I had no garden to plant it in 😦 Being nomadic my gardening is done in pots …

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Ah, that makes sense, Kate. Once avocados get going, the trees quickly outgrow our ability to move them.

        Still, my inner romantic was hoping….

        Nonetheless, Kate, thanks for inspiring an evening’s pleasant reverie.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. The world’s a brighter place for it, Kate, As you know, most trees thrive on sunshine, meaning the sapling just loved you looking after it.

        When I got into a tree-growing mind-frame myself, with the maple seed, I was fortunate to have my parents’ yard for a destination. Thus, the young tree was a good anniversary gift for them, and now I have the pleasure of looking up at a 35-foot (10-meter) specimen when I visit.

        And that’s after just 15 years. In case you’re not familiar with them, sugar maples grow quickly. Not surprising Canada put a leaf right on its flag.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Yes Kate, and while my tree grew, your mind did.

        How about this? I’ll send you a whirlybird (our colloquialism for a maple seed’s fluttering as it falls from the tree). Within a year you’ll have leaves. By two, it’ll be nearly as tall as you. Before the decade is out, well, you’d better write to Vermont for a bucket and sap-tapping instruction, because I think you’re about to start Australia’s maple syrup industry.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Oh, I do remember now, Kate, maples require a long freeze and a subsequent thaw for the sap (syrup) to flow

        There is something charmingly poetic about syrup-making, a process that still requires some handiwork, and cannot be automated entirely.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Yep. Kate, I’m trying to get into the Guinness Book for the world’s tallest stack of pancakes. It’s come close so often, only to teeter and collapse just before the judges can make a measurement.

        All those flapjacks take lots and lots of syrup. I cleared out the market shelves months ago, and now I tap my own.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Seriously, Kate I wish I had the knowledge to produce syrup. How awesome would that be, to draw a supply (miniscule thought it would be) from a tree I planted?

        Until such time as I learn the skills, though, I’ll leave it to the professionals!

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Turns out, some bloke from Australia had me beat by half a dozen griddle cakes.

        Back to the drawing board. How do I make the syrup stickier, thus giving the stack more staying power? Time for some delicious experimenting!

        Liked by 1 person

      10. Sorry, Kate, but the kangaroos got there first.

        Because of their…springiness, the were able to draw down the stack before the new champion finished making sure the Guinness people spelled his name correctly.

        Like

    1. Thanks a bunch, Jenn!

      That’s the thing about tacos – they’re so versatile, they can (and do) include all manner of ingredients. Just about whatever your tastes, you’ll find a taco that pairs exquisitely with them. Plus, to be sure, two or tree varieties you haven’t imagined yet, but will be indispensable once you do discover them.

      As for pork, it’s not really my favorite either. However, as this was the first time I tried the recipe I didn’t want to mess with the original. That accomplished, though, the next time, chicken it is!

      Or how about turkey? That’s a good New World (or, specifically, Mesoamerican) bird,. and I think I remember reading once the Aztecs were making some variety of turkey tacos long before there even was a Mexico. Even if they weren’t, the idea’s too tempting to ignore now!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, Jenn, and it was.

        I am a man of my word, after all. I had a bit of turkey pulled from the bird late last week, as well as corn tortillas and a mango bought at the market yesterday, so guess what dinner was. A delicious inevitability, given the conversations this latest post inspired.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Very good, Rachel, thanks for asking. And yours?

      Speaking of Thanksgiving, with all the leftover turkey, wouldn’t some of it make spectacular tacos? Corn tortilla, lightly toasted. Maybe a shot or two of tomatillo salsa…

      Oh, and diced mangos would be nice. Very nice, actually.

      This idea started when I was responding to another commenter, and it continues here. Now I’m a man obsessed. See the passions you inspire, Rachel?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was alright. I wasn’t exactly in top form, myself; but hey, nobody decided to start a political argument and bring carving knives into it, so I’d say it was a grand success.

        That would be an excellent use of the leftover turkey! I hope you enjoy. 🙂 We kind of ate all of ours already… But on a somewhat related note, my sister and I (admittedly, it was mostly my sister — she’s the one not culinarily doomed) made a stock from the turkey bones. So, that’ll be interesting to use…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Nice show, Rachel. You chose a particularly clever way of describing the political civil-war-that-wasn’t.

        Both in large family gatherings and in the office, when someone becomes carelessly outspoken, it presents a choice between arguing and seething. Neither is particularly satisfying.

        Much more satisfying is reading of what you and your sister did with the “carcass.” If you recall, when we first discussed homemade stock, you didn’t think you had a clue. Now look at you!

        Do you intend to use it to make turkey soup, or have you frozen it to have on hand for…whatever inspires you in the months to come?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Heh, thanks. Say, which are you most likely to do, Felix? Argue or seethe? Or, simply avoid like the plague?

        I admit, it was simpler than I expected. Though I would still be extremely uncomfortable if someone kidnapped me, threw me in a kitchen, and told me to make a stock or die. And not just because of the kidnapping bit.

        Frozen. I like having the option of occasionally, er, “inspiring” my sister to experiment in such a way as gives me something to eat for lunch. Really, she’s the foodie in the making. I’m just the backseat driver.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Time was, Rachel, I would spoil for a fight, but now I get my fill turning on the television. Even among those with whom I agree (usually), 24/7 controversy quickly becomes tiresome. Soon, I find excuses to change the subject.

        Make Stock or Die? Wasn’t that your dilemma the first few days aboard the Wendigo? Fortunately, Rosy soon discovered your ability to conjure lyricism from a blank page outstripped even your skill at making soup from bones, and his became the first pirate ship to sail with a Poet Laureate.

        Although…I hear you’re secretly scheming to get Rosy to dragoon you again, just so you can show him you do know how to make stock too.

        As for you and your sister’s culinary enterprise, I’d encourage it. Leave a container of stock on the counter to thaw, a note alongside, imploring, “(Sister’s Name), help me fulfill my destiny! Love, Broth.”

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Ha! Not secret enough to hide from you, it seems. Though actually, I was going to get him to snatch you up as well. He can be our ride from five star hotel to five star hotel while we “search” for a certain rum thief. And anyway, I can’t very well be the ship’s Poet Laureate AND the cook. No, no; if someone must be Master Chef, it must fall to you.

        Though with my sister getting encouraging letters from her victim– er, ingredients, you may well be on the road to having a competitor!

        Liked by 1 person

      6. There are no “competitors,” Rachel, just the latest member of our jolly company seeking culinary paradise. “The Best ??? I Ever Tried.”

        In fact, Rachel, you’re going to join our ranks. You see, your sister and I have a pact…

        What, do you think I just stumbled upon your site? No, no, all of this was planned. You see, your sister figured it’d take two people to draw you to the kitchen, and she was right. Worth the effort, though.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. No doubt, Rachel.

        Point is, our brains give us dreams. Unfortunately, nightmares are dreams too.

        Much as the shadows freak me out and, at times, they prevent me from falling easily into slumber, they’re a small price to pay for the good dreams. A moment or two of unease, versus a lifetime of reverie? Yes, Ma’am! Sign me up!

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Good point. Fair trade, I’d say. Though for me, “nightmare” is really rather relative. I wouldn’t say I have “nightmares,” exactly… Just some very odd dreams.
        Though, then again, the one with the evil aliens and the sawblade probably counted as a nightmare…

        Liked by 1 person

      9. True, Rachel, true.

        Most of my “nightmares” have been odd and stressful, rather than being disturbing. My brain’s standby bad dream, endured at least twice a year, is an undergrad class in which the final exam accounts for something like 95% of the grade. Unfortunately, the prof changed the location where the test was being held, but he didn’t tell me. Consequently, I spend the entire dream searching campus frantically for the exam location. As mentioned, I get that one at least twice a year.

        As for monster-scary (i.e., the real nightmares), I really don’t have many of those. The closest came about ten years ago, in which a ghost was chasing me through an abandoned building.

        Meanwhile, Rachel, the two you describe definitely qualify as nightmares in my book. In fact, let’s not talk about the alien one, OK? Our tone usually is light and casual, but in this case, I’m absolutely serious – aliens really…freak me out.

        Speaking of freak-outs, did you ever have a night terror? A really vivid nightmare, during which you’d swear you were conscious. Then you do wake up…screaming. I’ve never had one, fortunately, but I understand children in particular are vulnerable to them.

        Liked by 1 person

      10. Interesting. I never get recurring dreams… Just some recurring themes. Losing my temper, cameos by my childhood friends, stuff like that. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a night terror before either, at least not to my memory; and that sounds like something even someone with my memory might remember.

        Liked by 1 person

      11. Well, Rachel, celebrate your ignorance, as I do mine. From what I’ve heard, night terrors are pretty traumatic, especially for children.

        In a way, the “worst” dreams of all are those of ethereal beauty. They become nightmares, though, when one wakes and realizes they just were dreams. Still, I’ve learned to channel that frustration into useful action, and to appreciate the mind’s splendid aesthetics. From that, creativity often arises.

        Liked by 1 person

      12. Dreams, right? Whether they unfold in our slumber, or if they inspire us to while away the waking hours, they lead to all sorts of useful and beneficial changes.

        Sure, most living creatures dream, but we’re the only species to do anything about them.

        Dreams – they’re why we’re not having this conversation in a cave, and why we developed language to refine our thoughts, rather than relying on a series of grunts, noises and odd gestures.

        Although, spending time in rush-hour Manhattan shows some of us have…reverted.

        Liked by 1 person

      13. Oh, nothing painted on a cave wall, Rachel. Nor any rules, really.

        English is a seething bundle of eccentricities which its speakers have no choice but to memorize, case-by-case. Think of how we conjugate the infinitive “to be.” I am, you are, she is…

        Huh? What the…? Do any of these verbs sound anything like “to be?” The language from which William Shakespeare and Jane Austen coaxed lyricism notwithstanding, maybe guttural noises would serve us better.

        Kind of like the tableaux Rosy paints with “arrr!”

        Arrrr?

        Liked by 1 person

      14. Wait, Rachel – how does Rosy know my alias? You told him, didn’t you?

        I shared that with you in confidence!

        Great, you probably blabbed about the last remaining cask of Rosy’s Reserve Rum too.

        Or, err, you would have, had I admitted specifically to pilfering it. Your Honor, let the record show I made no such stipulation. It must’ve been, like, some other Felix.

        Liked by 1 person

      15. OK Rachel, I trust you. After all, if Rosy were savvy, he would’ve had me walking that plank within the hour.

        I mean, he’s barely literate, and as such, he certainly lacks the sophistication required to plan a cool, nuanced revenge.

        If he knew, or…suspected, something about the rum, it would’ve been, “Say ‘Hello’ to me old mate, Davy Jones!”

        Such passes for wit when Rosy’s a-sail…

        He’s standing right behind me, isn’t he? No matter. By the time I finish typing and scroll up, he still will be lip-syncing “Rachel,” trying to figure what word I typed.

        Liked by 1 person

      16. Lol! Though really, I ought to caution not to underestimate anyone who can have you shot, drowned, or marooned, I can’t help but concur. Especially since, in the event a certain cask were found, it would no doubt have to be “sampled” to ensure its authenticity. By the time it was necessary for Rosy to declare a punishment, he would be barely able to string two coherent thoughts together, much less two words. You might even be able to escape while his crew try and figure out what “ti im upsa daun n fee im ta tha sarks” means.

        Liked by 1 person

      17. Ha – that’s an excellent idea, Rachel! A notion I’d be wise to keep it in mind. That is, I would if I were the one who had spirited away Rosy’s…er…spirits. Which I’m not admitting!

        You definitely know Rosy, in predicting he’d sample what’s in the cask before proceeding. “My luscious elixir, what has he done to ye? Don’t worry baby, your Cap’n is here!” To be punctuated soon enough with ever-more-common “Hic”s. Eventually retreating into the dribble you describe.

        What, exactly, are Rosy’s instructions? Best I can make out, it’s something about itemized deductions and onions. No, make them shallots.

        Plus, imagine Rosy’s embarrassment to learn that, as his intoxication rises, so too does his natural speaking voice, which he had taken years to conceal. Namely, California Surfer, a la early, Bill-and-Ted-era Keanu Reeves. “Whoa! Dude, those are some bodacious waves.”

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Much appreciated, Angela!

      You’re in California, aren’t you? Which means, the temptation may have started here, but it will continue on the streets where you are. Mere words and images on your screen. but aromas, sizzles and tastes when you step outside.

      See, this article didn’t just tempt you, it doomed you. How much longer until tacos become irresistible? Five…Four…Three…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha!
        Yes, southern Ca. I have a favorite taqueria in Huntington Beach, I go to whenever I am out there. It is all you have described in your post. And then there is their secret hot sauce!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh, the memories those sentences stir, Angela! Being served cuisine from people who’ve been immersed in the culture their whole lives, and only a hundred miles or so from Mexico itself, sublime!

        I was but a wee lad when we lived there, but would you believe we resided in…Huntington Beach?

        I’ve lived in the Northeast long since, and I just glanced outside at the six inches of snow that fell today. Beautiful, but the morning commute is sure to be dicey.

        Like

      3. No way!!! What a small world?
        Well, safe to say that snow is a very rare thing in southern California, except on mountain tops in the winter. And the winters here are obviously very mild as you well may know. Enjoy the snow! can’t wait for your snowy recipes 🙂 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Thanks much, Angela!

        We usually don’t pay attention to such things as children, but in the years since I’ve seen pictures taken from the foothills on relatively smog-free winter days showing the snow-capped San Gabriels towering over L.A. and Pasadena.

        Once, even, I came across a photo of a stream meandering through a forest-lined, snow-blanketed meadow. Gorgeous. Switzerland? No. Angeles National Forest, in the heart of L.A. County, just a few miles from the city limits.

        Magical, actually. A sense of wonder I hope finds its way into recipes you see.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Good choices, JoAnn, and the substitution of poblano salsa intrigues me. I can’t say I’ve tried it before (or maybe I have, but was unaware of it), but I do love poblanos. That, and your suggestion, brings on a search for recipes!

      By the way, this may not make a difference, but the habanero salsa wasn’t as radioactive as experience might have suggested. Because of my history to date with habaneros, I was quite guarded in my expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh that’s good… yes, habaneros can be scary. I once did a taste test of a lot of different peppers… both raw and then cooked. Habaneros definitely gave me a jolt. Your recipe only calls for a half so maybe that why it’s not too crazy hot. In my experience habaneros are pretty small.

        I love poblanos too. As a result of my foodie experiment I discovered I like those and sweet red peppers the best.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hmmm, JoAnn. Taste tests? Was this a “Pepsi Challenge” sort of marketing enterprise, or was it instead a teacher’s/professor’s classroom lesson? Or was it an experiment to satisfy your own culinary curiosity?

        As far as civilized peppers go, have you even tried cubanelles? They’re mild like bells, but with a little more character. Closer to poblanos, actually.

        Years ago, when this blog was but a sprout, it offered a chilled summer soup – mainly cream, pureed cubanelles and cashews. Amidst August’s swelter, beautifully refreshing!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. That sounds like a delicious soup! If poblanos are not available sometime I do opt for cubenelles.

        I love food… but I’m also kind of a nerd… hence, foodie experiments merely for my own amusement. Actually I wanted to see if it was really true that if you remove the seeds and membranes and then wash the oil away it renders the pepper powerless… that is mild. So far it’s worked on every pepper I’ve ever tried it on. I also know from experience that the oil really can hurt your hands and the hotter the pepper the more it hurts. I tend to learn things the hard way sometimes… I guess we all do to a certain extent. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Oh, exactly, JoAnn! I wear contacts, and that’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

        “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.”

        As for the rinsing trick, that’s one I’ll have to try, as I don’t particularly care for off-the-charts Scoville readings. To be able to register something other than intense burning certainly is promising. Thanks for the tip!

        Liked by 1 person

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