The hubby told me this morning that October is going to be another Whole30 month for us (a month of following a strict diet that eliminates grains, refined sugar, dairy, legumes and joy). I cried into my homemade Vietnamese coffee, laden with sweetened condensed milk and real cream, solidified my resolve with a slice of pumpernickel toast spread thick with raspberry jam, and said okay. I said okay only because the last time we endured a Whole30, so many good things happened to my body. My skin cleared up. I lost 12 pounds. I slept better at night. I had more energy throughout the day.
I guess there really is something to eating healthier. SIGH.
Anyway, as a harbinger of things to come, today I’m showing you a recipe for paleo carnitas tacos that should dull the pain of avoiding carbs. Taco night is a regular part of our dinner rotation at home, so during our last Whole30, I had to think of a way to continue to have our fiesta without breaking any of Whole30’s sacred rules.
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Enter butter lettuce. I know, I know, butter lettuce isn’t a complete substitute for the fluff, heft and satisfaction that comes with wrapping a warm tortilla around a zesty meat filling, cheese and other accouterments, but it’s not bad, either. Butter lettuce, with its pliable, wide leaves, makes an excellent receptacle for holding substantial weight. I discovered butter lettuce’s ability to serve as a Whole30 “taco shell” completely by accident. During Whole30, I found myself mindlessly filling our cart with greens of all kinds — kale, chard, romaine, cabbage — because GOOD GOD WHAT ELSE COULD WE EAT? The butter lettuce found its way into our house because I was so very tired of eating regular lettuce.
The other issue we encountered with our family taco fiesta were the toppings. Gone was sour cream and loads of shredded cheese. I still made guacamole and salsa, but we found ourselves lacking and wanting more. On weeknights when I was harried, I added chopped cucumbers with cilantro and red onion to give more crunch, and sometimes threw sliced grape tomatoes for extra punch. Thus, my paleo carnitas tacos basically became a hand salad. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.
The beauty of the hand salad, is, of course, its convenience. I prepped our carnitas over the weekend in a low-heated oven (although you could do the same in a slow cooker), and then used the meat during the week and added whatever veggies we happened to have on hand to fill in the gaps in our grumbling bellies. It worked so well that even after Whole30 I still serve our tacos with butter lettuce leaves, just to cut down on the average number of flour tortillas we guzzle over the course of a dinner.
I guess that’s why we’re really doing Whole30 again. In the months since we finished ours, we discovered ourselves slipping back into our old sugar-loving, carb-hoarding habits. I was a ball of conflicting emotions during Whole30, but physically I felt great.
On the other hand, I’m looking at September as my month to go hog-wild on the foods before reining it in for October. Watch this space, folks. Things are going to get weird.
paleo carnitas tacos (whole30, too)
- 1 4- lb boneless pork shoulder (fat trimmed)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil.
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 onion (peeled and sliced)
- salt and pepper
- 4 ripe avocados
- 1/4 cup cilantro (minced)
- 1/2 medium red onion (chopped)
- 2 limes
- 1 cup grape tomatoes
- 1 jalapeno (seeds removed and minced (optional))
- 1 seedless cucumber (roughly chopped)
- 2 heads butter lettuce (rinsed and dried)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees (or pull out your slow cooker).
- Pat pork shoulder dry with paper towels and rub with olive oil. Slice 4 of the 5 cloves garlic and, using a paring knife, make slits all over the pork shoulder. Insert a garlic slice in each of the slits you make. Season with salt and pepper.
- Heat a large heavy ovenproof skillet (or your slow cooker insert, if it’s stovetop safe) over medium-high heat. Add pork shoulder and sear on all sides, 1-2 minutes per side.
- Remove pork shoulder from heat and add chicken broth, bay leaves, cumin, onion and more salt and pepper to the pan. Cover tightly with foil and slide into the oven (or place in slow cooker).
- Roast the pork shoulder for 2 hours, then remove the foil and roast for another hour uncovered until the pork is fork-tender (if using a slow cooker, cook on low for 8 hours).
- Right before the pork shoulder is done cooking, make the guacamole. Mash the avocados in a large bowl, then add cilantro, red onion, the remaining clove of garlic (minced), the juice of 1 lime, jalapeno (if using) and 1/2 cup chopped grape tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Remove pork shoulder from oven/slow cooker and let cool slightly. Place the pork on a cutting board and shred the meat using two forks.
- Separate the leaves of the butter lettuce and place on a platter. Serve the carnitas with 1/2 cup chopped grape tomatoes, cucumber and guacamole.