We cook more lamb now probably because of the influence of Nashville’s growing Persian community. Lamb is definitely not a popular Southern protein (not enough Catholics here, traditionally) so we usually just make it for ourselves. But, a lunch trip to the international corridors of Nolensville Road or Charlotte Pike, followed by stop at Costco, and lamb will make it to the dinner table.
These lamb tacos served with Mindy’s fabulous Cumin Cucumber Slaw and a side of our twist on Loretta Lynn’s tater log skillet potatoes borrow from plenty of cultures and pull together nicely. The tacos start with some super easy, hands-free indoor barbecue in a slow cooker. And if “barbecue” is too much of a stretch for you, then how about “low and slow-cooked, smoky, moist, pull-apart meat?”
A crowd of lamb shanks (4 or 5) in a 6 -7 quart slow cooker will fall apart into a beautiful dish of moist, shreddable rich lamb, much like pulled pork shoulder, in about 5 hours on high. You can sear them first in a hot pan, but we skip this step as meat cooked in a slow cooker without liquids or sauces develops plenty of crust, believe it or not (see photo below). Season all sides with Kosher salt, place shanks in the cooker and add 4 tablespoons of all-natural liquid smoke over the meat. A quarter cup is NOT too much. Use Colgin, Wright’s, Figaro, Stubbs, or Reese liquid smoke, whatever you like. We tend to use Colgin because it’s on always on the shelf, from Whole Foods to Walmart. Or, we order quart bottles of Wright’s from Amazon. Liquid smoke works best when cooked over time with fatty meats — the fat does a great job of absorbing the smoke and distributing it throughout the meat.
We’ve been on an indoor barbecue journey for a while now but even after all our experimenting we usually stick to the same basic method–tough cut of meat, seasoning, liquid smoke, and time. We don’t add other liquids or sauces to the crock pot, and we go light on seasonings. Cuts like pork shoulder, beef chuck roast and brisket, lamb shanks and shoulders, even chicken, all contain enough moisture and fat to provide plenty of tenderizing liquid. Add a sauce when it’s time to serve; you don’t need to cook the meat in the sauce.
When you go light on seasonings during the cooking phase you can change up the flavor profile of the leftover meat for the next meal. Some of your simple pulled pork shoulder can be sauced for barbecue now and the rest doctored up with cumin and chile powder for tacos later. All the more reason to cook the big cut and turn it into new meals in a day or two.
- 1 medium cucumber
- 1/2 head cabbage
- 1 small onion, finely chopped or 1/3 up sliced green onion
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
- Juice of half a lemon or lime
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- Salt and black pepper
- Peel the cucumber and shred it on a grater. Place in a colandar. Sprinkle with salt and allow to drain while you prepare the rest of the slaw.
- Cut the cabbage into fine shreds. You should have about 4 cups.
- Combine the cabbage, yogurt, lemon juice, and cumin seeds in a medium bowl. Stir in the drained cucumber. Taste and add salt and pepper as you like.
- Try adding some chopped tomato and cilantro to the slaw. Add more Greek yogurt if you like an extra creamy slaw. Serve with smoky pulled lamb tacos.