For me, cooking is always an adventure in inventiveness. I’ve had an earthenware pot hanging around the kitchen just waiting to be used, and this leftover turkey leg recipe idea seemed like the perfect moment to put it into action. Baking in a clay pot such as mine, which comes from Puebla, Mexico, gives the food a more earthy flavor, that in turn, puts those who eat from it more in touch with the land, the soil, the place the grown food comes from. It also looks really good on the table.
Baking in clay means that the pot has to be seasoned properly before use. I soaked mine in water for several hours. Then I dried it carefully and rubbed the entire surface with a sliced onion, as the woman I bought it from instructed me to do. Finally, I rubbed a fine layer of olive oil over the inside. As soon as it was seasoned, my pot was gleaming.
Another rule of clay pot cooking is that you cannot preheat the oven. If you do, the sudden change in temperature can cause the pot to crack, which to me would be tragic. I am quite attached to my little pot with a handle.
To make sure my turkey leg meat was tender, I marinated it in a mixture dark Mexican beer (I used Negra Modelo), spices and 5 hydrated ancho chiles for several hours. I roasted the tomatoes and onions ever so slowly on top of my comal. After putting all the ingredients together and baking them in the clay pot for an hour, I had something that was between a stew and a mole. The meat looked dark and inviting, and didn’t easily give itself away as turkey.
Since the salsa I made had the fire of three habanero chiles blazing through, we decided to use cool thinly sliced cucumbers cut into feather-like shapes to balance the flavors. Topped with homemade guacamole, habanero lime tequila salsa and chopped tomatoes and green onions, these tacos were bursting with so many complimentary flavors that we just had to keep having “one more” in order to describe them. Earthy, smoky, picante, creamy, crunchy, fresh, deep, delicious.
Now, the alcohol in the beer was cooked out, but the tequila in the salsa, a trick I learned from a Cuban friend of mine, is in its pure potency, so if you don’t drink, you should omit it. However, it really adds a unique depth of flavor to the salsa.
2 cooked turkey legs (regular or smoked)
1 dark Mexican beer such as Negra Modelo
5 hydrated (pasilla) ancho chile peppers
1/3 cup water
2 plum tomatoes (or 3 if you want fresh tomato on top of the tacos)
1/2 sweet onion
4 -5 cloves of garlic
2 tsp. Mexican oregano
2 tsp. cumin
1 cinnamon stick
12 organic corn tortillas
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 Persian cucumber
baby spinach or baby greens
salt and pepper to taste
1. Toast 5 ancho (pasilla ancho) chiles, stemmed, seeded and cut open, on a comal or flat skillet over medium high temperature for 40 seconds to 1 minute on each side. Press them down with a spatula as you roast, and be careful not to burn them. Remove them immediately from the heat source if you smell any hint of burning.
2. Rehydrate the chiles by soaking them in hot water for 20-30 minutes.
3. Roast the garlic cloves in their skin, and the onion on the same comal or skillet over medium heat until slightly blackened. Turn them frequently. This process may take 5-7 minutes. Remove the skins from the garlic
4. Once the chiles are rehydrated, add the onions, peeled garlic and 1/3 cup water and puree them in the blender or food processor. Remove the liquid from the processor and pour it through a medium mesh strainer into a bowl.
5. Place the turkey leg meat, bottle of beer and chile puree in a plastic zip bag. Add the oregano and cumin. Let marinate for at least 1 hour or as long as overnight,
6. Slowly roast two Roma or plum tomatoes over low heat on a comal or skillet. Turn them to ensure each side roasts. I forgot about mine so they roasted for a long time, and it only enhanced their flavor, but the flame must be very low.
7. Once the meat has marinated, puree the tomatoes in the blender or food processor and add them to the meat and chile. Shake the bag to mix all the ingredients well. Pour everything into the clay pot (or if you don’t have one, an iron skillet would be the next best thing) and add the cinnamon stick and some salt and pepper.
8. After the pot or skillet is placed in the oven, turn the temperature to 350°. Bake for an hour, or until the sauce has thickened and the meat is tender. There is no need to add anything to thicken the sauce.
9. While the meat is in the oven, slice the cucumber lengthwise as thin as possible. Then cutting on the bias or a slight diagonal across the slices, cut into feather-like pieces. Chop the green onions, cilantro and extra tomato if desired.
10. Once the meat is cooked, remove it from the oven and let it sit while you warm the tortillas on the comal or skillet.
11. Arrange the cucumber slices like a plume of bird feathers extending from the center of a double layer of corn tortillas. Use two tortillas to make each taco. Then layer the meat in the center, some greens, the guacamole on top of that, and finish with the fresh salsa and chopped green onions and cilantro.
12. Place extra guacamole, salsa, and chopped veggies on the table so everyone can help themselves as you enjoy these uniquely delicious tacos.
Note: These tacos will be gluten free if you use a gluten-free beer for the marinade. They are coming out with new gluten-free beers quickly, so there may be one you like.