An easy, weeknight spin on classic carnitas, these carnitas meatball tacos are juicy with crispy edges. Make them vegetarian and substitute the pork with cooked lentils!
Tacos are hands down, my absolute, favorite thing to eat. Mexican cuisine, in general, is my jam. But there is nothing, in my mind, better than legit carne asada or carnitas, covered in cilantro and onions, from a local Mexican restaurant. Moving from a city with a vibrant Latinx/Hispanic community, it is something I have deeply missed since moving to Canada (sorry Canuks, but I’ve had nothing here that even compares). So when I was planning my blog menu for the month of May and remembered that Cinco de Mayo was soon approaching, I really wanted to make tacos. But…something didn’t feel right.
A Cinco de Mayo parade in Philadelphia, El Carnaval de Puebla, was cancelled this week due to fear within the Latinx/Hispanic community of a raid by ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement). I was about to get all “upbeat cooking” up in here about these carnitas meatball tacos when I heard of this news. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so upbeat anymore. While I was totally excited to share with you a recipe that is an easy variation of one of my favorite tacos, that also has a very simple vegetarian substitution, how could I celebrate Cinco de Mayo when the Latinx/Hispanic community itself doesn’t feel they can celebrate in safety? Like I said, it didn’t feel right.
But what also didn’t feel right was scrapping the photos of these guac covered, cilantro and onion smothered, carnitas meatball tacos and just saying nothing. So I won’t. Instead, I will serve you a taco and say something.
Carnitas Meatball Tacos + a chat
This Cinco de Mayo, I challenge you to make these easy tacos, the pork or the lentil version, scented with orange zest, oregano, cumin and garlic, sit down for dinner, and have a chat about racism with your family.
Make these tacos with friends, with tequila shots too, why not, and research ways you can show support/solidarity/love to hispanic families in the U.S. Make loads of extra guac.
Fill your mouth with these tacos. Then fill your head with information and stories about what is going on in the lives of people in the Latinx/Hispanic-American community right now. Even in your own city. Buy your ingredients from a local hispanic market. Talk to somebody who doesn’t look like you.
These are not easy conversations/things to do. Especially if your own political views veer on the side of tougher U.S. immigration. But sometimes, in the midst of policies and finger pointing, we forget about the humans, mothers, fathers, children and their stories.
I think it’s totally ok to celebrate Cinco de Mayo as a celebration of Latinx/Hispanic culture. It’s ok to make some tacos if you are not Latinx/Hispanic. All I’m suggesting is to do so and be aware. To do so with respect for a culture. For our neighbors.
Now…about these tacos.
I’m so glad you asked. Traditional carnitas are made by slow roasting a pork shoulder in lard, garlic, and spices. I have made my fair share of carnitas. But, damn, it takes a long time. And a lot of work. I found that making meatballs with lean ground pork or cooked lentils, mixed with some of the traditional carnitas flavors, results in a juicy meatball with caramelized edges, similar to carnitas. Do these rival carnitas? Good Lord, no! But it’s a pretty delicious weeknight alternative.
Vegetarian + Pork Tacos? How?
Here at POP KITCHEN, I want the majority of my recipes to have options for vegetarians. Like this one, this one, and this one. Especially for those in families with a variety of diets under the same roof. In this recipe, you can interchangeably substitute the ground pork for cooked lentils, an egg, and 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs. Leave all other aspects of the recipe the same. This way, if you’re cooking for multiple kinds of eaters, there are only a couple extra ingredients you need to buy in order for everyone to eat the same meal. Carnitas meatball tacos for everyone!
Save one for me!
When you make these carnitas meatball tacos, either the pork or the lentil version or both, let me know how it goes! Tell your friends about it. Rate the recipe and share your thoughts and questions in the comments below. Your voice helps develop how POP KITCHEN moves forward, and your recommendation helps POP KITCHEN grow. Use the hashtag #popkitchen when you post photos of recipes you’ve made to your Instagram and tag @pop_kitch. I’ll share my favorite photos on POP KITCHEN’s account. Like POP KITCHEN on Facebook and follow along with all the recipes from other bloggers I love on Pinterest!
Have a story about your family chat? Share it! What did you and your friends do? What did you learn about the people in the Latinx/Hispanic community/racism/immigration?
- ¼ cup red onion, diced small
- 1.5 lbs/.68 kg extra lean ground pork (omit if vegetarian)
- ½ tsp orange zest
- 1 Tbsp orange juice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 cup dried green or brown lentils
- 1 egg
- 2 Tbsp bread crumbs (use GF bread crumbs if gluten free)
- Parchment paper
- Corn tortillas or Boston Lettuce for lettuce wraps
- Diced red onion
- Taqueria salsa (I used La Costeña Ranchero Sauce. Careful, it's spicy1)
- Lime for squeezing over tacos
- 2 avocados
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- zest of one lime
- 2 Tbsp lime juice
- sea salt to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350 F/177 C/4 gas.
- VEGETARIAN: Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add 1 cup dried lentils and let it come back up to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium low so it just simmers. Simmer for 20 minutes. Drain lentils. Using a whisk, mash the lentils in a medium size bowl until they easily form a ball when you squeeze a handful together. Add egg and bread crumbs.
- FOR ALL MEATBALLS: Sauté the onions in 1 tsp of oil and a pinch of salt until soft and translucent. Add the onions to lentils or ground pork. Add all other meatball ingredients (spices, garlic, salt, orange zest and juice). Mix the ingredients together with your hands until well combined. Form the meat or lentils into meatballs about the size of a ping pong ball. Place lentil meatballs on a parchment paper lined, baking sheet and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, turning halfway.
- FOR PORK MEATBALLS: Heat a cast iron skillet or oven safe sauté pan on medium/high heat. And meatballs to the pan (no oil needed) and sear 4 sides of the meatballs until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Place the skillet into the hot oven and roast an extra 10-15 minutes or until the meatballs have reached an internal temperature of 165F/74C.
- TORTILLAS (if using): While your meatballs are cooking, lightly butter each side of your corn tortillas. Cook them in a frying pan under medium heat just until the tortillas gets nice and soft and gets ever so slightly golden brown.
- GUACAMOLE: in a small bowl, mash the avocado, lime zest, lime juice, garlic and salt together with a whisk. I like to use a whisk because it makes a smoother guac and fits better in a bowl than a potato masher.
- ASSEMBLE: Top each tortilla with two meatballs, diced onions, cilantro, salsa, and guac. Squeeze with fresh lime juice and devour.