The first Lebanese immigrant came to the United States in 1854, with the first major wave bringing 100,000 of them between the late 1800s and 1920. Another wave between the years 1948 and 1985 brought another 60,000, and cities all over the U.S. are home to Lebanese communities both large and small.
But America was not the only country that saw a wave of Lebanese immigrants in the early parts of the 1900s. Our neighbors to the south in Mexico also saw roughly 100,000 Lebanese people immigrate to their country. It is hard to measure the greatest impact of immigrant culture on their new homes, but the fusion of local and immigrant cuisine might be the easiest to recognize.
Tacos al pastor are a stunning example of this.
Lebanese immigrants to Mexico brought with them the tradition of cooking meat, usually lamb, on a vertical spit. This is how Lebanese shawarma became Mexican tacos al pastor. Instead of the traditional lamb, pork was used, and new seasonings such as achiote paste and chipotles changed the dish completely.
Traditionally tacos al pastor are still cooked on a vertical rotating spit and shaved off as the outside cooks; this allows the heat from the fire below to build a new layer of the crispy, fatty bits of texture that make al pastor so delicious. To enhance the texture, some chefs toss the meat on a griddle cooktop before being placed in a soft taco shell and served.
So the next time you go out for dinner, or cook a family favorite dish at home, I hope you will take the time to think about the immigrants who have brought their cultures and cuisines with them around the world… because our dinner plates wouldn’t be the same without them.
On this episode of Cooking With Fire, Tacos Al Pastor:
- 4 lbs Boston butt pork shoulder, sliced thin
- 1 whole pineapple
- 1 red onion, minced
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 3 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 20 small tortillas
For the marinade:
- 14 oz achiote paste
- 1 (12 oz) can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (chiles and sauce)
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Combine the marinade ingredients in a mixing bowl. Combine the marinade and pork in a zip top bag or plastic container. Rub the marinade into the meat, making sure that there is marinade on all surfaces. Marinate in the refrigerator for an hour.
- Preheat your grill to 400ºF, set up with a rotisserie. Slice the top and bottom off of the pineapple. Stand the pineapple upright. Slice off all of the prickly skin from the sides. Slice off the top and bottom 1/4 of the pineapple in discs. Set aside, then core and dice the middle portion.
- Remove the meat from the marinade, wiping off excess marinade. Combine the salt, paprika, red pepper flakes and cumin. Season the pork with the seasoning mixture. Thread the pineapple bottom onto the rotisserie spit rod and secure with the prongs. Then thread the slices of marinated pork onto the rod. Once all of the pork is threaded on, place the top of the trimmed pineapple on the end to cap it off, secured with the prongs.
- Place the spit rod in place on the rotisserie in the grill. Cook until the outside layer is cooked and lightly charred. Slice off the thin outside layer of the pork, catching it in a bowl or tray under the spit rod. Continue cooking and slicing off the outside layer as it cooks. Hold the pork in a warm place.
- Serve the pork wrapped in warm tortillas, with diced pineapple and red onions.