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I was tempted to title this post “Lamb Surprise” because, once again, I am not quite sure how to label what I made. But I didn’t, because I want people to read it! Let’s call them lamb tacos, based on my arbitrary Labeling Rules from the mushroom taco post. (Please feel free to help/correct me at any time.) Let’s also talk about how wonderful they are: rich, saucy and spicy, tempered with creamy avocado and baby greens. So good, the ultimate comfort food.

R and I eat lamb more than any other meat, with the possible exception of pork. This time two years ago, I had never eaten lamb before (to my knowledge); my Dad doesn’t care for the taste, so Mom never bought or cooked it. I first got some from Rain Shadow Meats during the time I wasn’t eating any beef, knowing it was from a local, organic farm and figuring I owed R a treat. (I never told him to stop or prevented him from eating beef, but I also didn’t buy or cook it…) Those first lamb burgers were a revelation. We still eat meat only once or twice a week, at the most, but both like almost anything made with lamb: it stands up to my favorite strong spices, goes equally well with sweet and savory flavors, braises beautifully, works well in a stew and makes a killer burger, as I mentioned. When I go to Rain Shadow, I usually buy some ground lamb to put in the freezer, and that is what I was working with to make this dinner.

So, back to the naming trouble. The problem is that these end up somewhere between a taco, Sloppy Joe and meat sauce, missing ingredients that would define it as any one thing or another. But… who cares? If it tastes delicious, nobody is paying attention to the name, right? And, trust me, these are really tasty. They are easy to make, the spice level is easy to control to your liking and they are crowd-friendly (as long as you don’t call them “lamb surprise”). You don’t have to use beer, though it is such a delicious flavor with the chilis and meat; I got the idea from William, who uses hard cider to deglaze the pan when he makes chili, and I am pretty pleased with myself for using his inspired idea (an homage to it, anyway) in this dish. Of course, if you aren’t a fan of lamb, you could make them with ground beef or turkey and I bet they would be great. On the other hand, if you’re unsure about lamb, this is a great way to give it a try! If When you make them, if you have a better suggestion for what to call them, please share with the class.

Lamb Tacos (makes 6-10)

  • 12 oz. ground lamb
  • 1/2 Spanish onion, chopped
  • 1/2 c. red ale (Silver City Ridgetop Red is my favorite, but anything similar would work, including a good brown ale)
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 c. tomato sauce
  • 1 chipotle in adobo, chopped, plus 1 T. sauce*
  • salt & pepper
  • 6-10 tortillas (I used flour, but I think corn would be great, too)
  • baby arugula, spring mix or baby spinach
  • the sharpest white cheddar cheese you can find
  • diced avocado

In a skillet, brown the ground lamb, breaking it apart with a fork as you go. Remove it from the pan and drain off the excess fat, reserving a scant tablespoon in the skillet; add the onions and cook for 5 mins. or so, until they are softened and translucent, just starting to brown. Return the lamb to the pan and add the beer, allowing it to cook over medium-high heat for a minute or so to infuse the flavor and burn off some of the alcohol. Add the chili powder, tomato sauce, chopped chipotle and its sauce and stir to combine; reduce the heat to medium and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 mins., until the sauce has reduced by about half. At this point, taste and add salt & pepper to season, then decide whether to continue to reduce the sauce, if it is still too soupy for your liking. If it is too dry, you can add more beer or tomato sauce (just a bit at a time!), remembering that you should cook the sauce for at least 5 mins. after each addition, until you are happy.

While the filling cooks, warm your tortillas and prepare the other ingredients. To assemble, put a small handful of greens as a base on each tortilla, top with a scoop of filling and finish with 1 T. or so of crumbled or grated cheese and a bit of diced avocado. Yum.

*If you are unfamiliar with chipotles in adobo, this link is incredibly helpful to understand what you’re working with. They are unmatched in the flavor they bring to this dish, giving it a smoky heat that I love. But they can be hot. If you don’t like much spice, you might try 1/2 tsp. or so of the sauce the whole chipotles are packed in and work your way up to using the whole chilis. Yes, 1/2 tsp. may be enough for this whole dish; you will should get the subtleties of the flavor without pain. R & I like a fair amount of spice, and one whole chipotle plus 1 T. of sauce is delicious, but spicy, I won’t lie. Tread lightly! Too much chipotle in adobo can destroy a dish, but just enough makes a meal extra-special.

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