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The Hand Off: Spiced Pork Tacos with Salsa and Sweet Corn

2010 July 22

by Sarah A. Maine

I was nervous about making this dish – never having made tacos before I wasn’t sure how they would come out.  I was most nervous about roasting and shredding the meat but I was also concerned about the other elements, I badly wanted this dish to live up to the delectable tacos I had at Tortilleria Nixtamal by capturing a blend of smoky meat and fresh cilantro without either being too overwhelming.

In order to help me do this I carried over the tomatoes and onions from Brianna’s Goat Cheese & Pesto Pizza topping, merging them with cilantro and tomatillos for a bright and tangy salsa.  The Union Square Greenmarket has begun to bulge at the seams with beautiful tomatoes, so I picked up a stunning box of heirlooms from the Eckerton Hill Farm stand.  I had never used tomatillos before so I was timid and only bought three small ones from Oak Grove Plantation.  After I tasted them I wished I had bought a bucketful – they are my new favorite food!  I also bought corn – it is sweet corn season here in the northeast and it doesn’t last long so one must take every possible opportunity to eat it.  Several weeks ago a chef gave a cooking demonstration at the Sunnyside Greenmarket, sautéing fresh corn with garlic scapes and fresh herbs.  The kernels were warm, sweet, and juicy with a hint of smoke from the pan, corn cooked this way would be a perfect counterpoint for my salsa.  My other big farmer’s market purchase was cheese – an aged Alpine from Hawthorne Valley Farm, the pork loin and organic spices were from Whole Foods.

I knew that the marinade for the meat would be key to creating the balance of flavors I was looking for.  Poring over my selection of cookbooks a taco recipe in Eating Local by Janet Fletcher (pg 278) caught my eye.  I made adjustments to the marinade for the quantity of meat I had and for ingredients that I did not have – the highlights would be fresh peppercorns, cinnamon, cumin, and cloves.

Spiced Pork Tacos With Salsa And Sweet Corn

Prep time: 1 hour

Cook time: 1 hour (or more depending on size of pork)

Total time: 2 hours (or more depending on size of pork)

Yield: 3 to 4 servings


  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin (or 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
  • 3 small tomatillos
  • 6 small heirloom tomatoes (or about 3 medium tomatoes)
  • 4 small spring onions (or 1 yellow onion)
  • A healthy handful of cilantro
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 ears of sweet corn
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
  • 10 small tortillas (6-inch rounds)
  • 1 pound pork loin
  • 1/2 cup grated cheese

Cooking Directions

  1. Grind together all the dry ingredients for the marinade using a mortar and pestle or (if you are lucky enough to have one) a spice grinder. When all the elements are broken down, it doesn’t have to be a superfine powder – just enough to let the flavors out, add the garlic and mash everything together into a paste. Mix in the lemon juice and grape seed oil to complete the marinade.
  2. Place the whole pork loin and the marinade in a large Ziploc bag, mush it around to make sure the meat is completely covered, and place it in the fridge. As usual it is best make the marinade as far ahead of time as you can – the more time your meat can spend in the marinade the better. 12 hours is ideal but 2 hours of marination will work fine.
  3. Chop the tomatoes, tomatillos, onions and cilantro and mix them all together in a bowl. Add salt to taste, just enough to bring out the brightness in the flavor of the tomatoes. Serve it fresh or keep it in the fridge if you make it the day before. About an hour before serving take the salsa out of the fridge to allow it to reach room temperature.
  4. Husk the corn and slice the kernels off the cob, don’t worry about the small pieces of corn silk that are mixed in.
  5. Sauté the corn in grape seed oil for 5-6 minutes. Sweet corn needs very little cooking, when you smell the aroma of the corn it is done! Place in a bowl ready for serving.
  6. Place the pork loin and the marinade on a sheet of tinfoil and wrap it loosely to keep in all the juices while roasting. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, place the meat in the oven and reduce the temperature immediately to 325 degrees. Cook for 15 minutes in the tinfoil tent, then uncover and cook for the remainder of cooking time. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes.
  7. While the pork is resting lightly toast your tortillas in a very lightly oiled pan, about 30 seconds a side, keep them covered in a stack to hold their warmth. Grate some cheese and place it in a bowl.
  8. After the pork has rested, shred it using two forks, mixing in all the juices from cooking and put it in a serving bowl.
  9. Place all the elements on the table and assemble away!

It is important when cooking pork to make sure it is cooked all the way through.  The Joy of Cooking always errs on the side of extreme caution so I followed their directions for cooking my pork (pg 477 in the 1997 Edition).  If you have a meat thermometer by all means use it to get your pork well done, delicious and juicy!  In lieu of pork you can use chicken, beef, tofu or grilled vegetables – anything you want really.  It is easy to make the salsa out of grilled tomatoes and onions, or to adapt it by adding different kinds of peppers.  If you end up with left over salsa, corn, and pork just put them in a bowl and eat it as a salad.  In an effort to keep this recipe as local as possible I didn’t use any avocados but they are one of my favorite things – perhaps an avocado tomatillo salsa is in my future…  One of the things I liked best about this recipe was watching how others assembled their tacos at the table – the food version of “Choose Your Own Adventure” – food fun for everyone!