Tacos Árabes with Cucumber Crema and Chipotle Salsa

Tacos árabes were the original tacos made in Puebla by Middle Eastern immigrants, the meat for these delicious mouthfuls carved from shawarma-style vertical spits. That was before folks morphed the idea into the now-ubiquitous, now-crazy-popular tacos al pastor. Originally introduced by Iraqis and made with lamb, tacos árabes fairly quickly morphed into a more economical pork preparation seasoned with Middle Eastern spices and served—as they still are today—on thick flour tortillas (pan árabe, a version of pita) with a labneh-like jocoque sauce and chipotle salsa. This version of the dish you can still find in Puebla and Mexico City is based on the one we do at Frontera Grill.
Servings: 6


  • 1 1/2- to 2-poundpound boneless pork shoulder roast
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1tablesoon EACH ground coriander, ground cinnamon (preferably Mexican canela) and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 to 3small unpeeled garlic cloves
  • 1cup Greek yogurt
  • Juice of 1/2 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1/4cup cilantro, chopped
  • 2tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for the meat
  • 1medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2large seedless cucumber, peeled and cut into batons
  • 12 flour tortillas
  • 3/4cupSmoky Chipotle Salsa


Using a very sharp knife, slice the pork shoulder 1/4 inch thick.  Lay out the slices on a rimmed baking sheet.


In a small bowl, mix together the salt, coriander, cinnamon, pepper and cumin.  Sprinkle the pork generously on both sides with the spice mixture. (You’ll have extra; store it in a jar at room temperature). Cover and let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes or in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.


Heat a large (10-inch) skillet over medium.  Lay in the garlic and roast, turning occasionally, until blotchy black in spots and soft, about 15 minutes.  Cool, peel, finely chop and mix together with the yogurt, lime and cilantro.


Return the skillet to medium-high heat, add the 2 tablespoons of oil and, when hot, scoop in the onion.  Stir regularly until rightly browned, about 7 minutes.  Add the cucumbers, sprinkle with salt and toss everything together over the heat for 30 seconds or so.  Set aside off the heat.


Heat a grill pan or gas grill to medium or light a charcoal fire and let it burn until the coals are covered with ash and still quite hot.  Spray or brush a light coating of oil over both sides of the pork slices.


Working in batches if necessary, lay the pork on the grill pan or grill in a single layer and cook until richly browned, about 4 minutes per side.  Remove the pork to a cutting board and slice across the grain into ¼-inch pieces.


Reheat the cucumber mixture, add the pork and toss to combine.  Serve with the warm tortillas, yogurt sauce and salsa.


  1. I love Taco Tuesdays! And they would be even better with more info on the Salsa. Eg, what kind of chipotle salsa in this recipe?

    I wished more of the recipes in this series describe the salsa recommendations more completely. I’d be happy if they recommended Frontera brands and/or referenced salsas in Bayless cookbooks.

    Keep ’em coming!

    1. Hi there! Yes, we’ll keep that in mind for future episodes. Thanks for the heads-up!

      For this recipe, Frontera’s chipotle salsa would be a great choice.

  2. Tacos Arabe….out of PORK???? Seriously?You are kidding, right? I love and respect your work…but this is too freakin’ ignorant for words. There is NOTHING “Arabe” about pork.

    I assumed when I saw this week’s email with its title and the reference to shwarma that it would be lamb, goat or even beef. You made the point about OTHER tacos delights routinely made of pork, so this slide into cross cultural influence was the opp to explore these other items.

    Pork appears rarely even in the Christian Arab world and NEVER in the non-Christian Arab world. So this is really a FAIL. I really expect better, way better from you Rick. Very disappointing that this is so totally culturally disconnected as to render it ridiculous.

    This is not just my own rant on this matter: the very same matter came up recently on a rather large food blog and an extraordinary Moroccan food expert who generously shares amazing wealth of things about Moroccan cooking expressed similar amazement at the cultural ignorance it embodies. To be absolutely clear: if you go to Egypt/Morocco/Tunisia/Algeria/Iraq/Saudi Arabia/Lebanon (most) Jordan/ etc. you will not find folks eating pork; the bacon is beef or turkey. It is forbidden food and that runs deeper in the culture than the Islamic restriction on alcohol, which is provided to tourists or imbibed as arak in some countries.

    You have taken enough hits for being a very excellent Mexican food and cultural expert while not being Mexican. As noted, I appreciate your work. So that is why this is so disappointing.

    Here… start your studying here, just for starters: http://moroccanfood.about.com/

    PS: despite the appearance of my name I come from a large, extended Arab/Mediterranean family …


    1. Hi Lina –
      We hear you and you are completely correct! However the origin of these tacos is that Mexican’s took the flavors of the Middle Easterners who were settling in Puebla and used them in their own cuisine – which then became Tacos Arabes with pork. They used the incredible dried spices from The Middle East and the idea of a yogurt sauce and created their own version of a pork taco. We are just emulating what they do in Puebla. I am sure these would be amazing with beef as well!

    2. Hello Lina,

      What Kathy says is correct. In Mexico we took the Middle Eastern and made it our own. You should try Chinese or Japanese in Mexico, it has nothing to do with the real thing. Mexicans have been doing that for ages, and while the cultures from the real thing might want to kill us for doing this it creates great flavours. Mexican cuisine and fusion cuisine are almost the same in many cases.

    3. Linda, al pastor is another Mexican pork dish that has its roots in Arabic cuisine. You really seem to be missing the point here!

    4. Pork is eaten in Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East by Christians. It maybe taboo for Moslems but it was not for us. In fact when I grew up in Lebanon our Moslem butcher would add a bit of pork to the kofta which is a combination of ground beef and pork (for added flavor) along with onions, parsley, cinnamon, allspice, salt and pepper! It may surprise you to know that some of my moslem friends ate pork as well. It is great that this recipe blends flavors from the Arab world. Sorry Lina but your disappointed is misplaced.

    5. Ignorance has spoken lol It’s called tacos Arabes in Mexico as they’ve added their own porky spin on it to make a fusion taco. Read (or better yet go visit Puebla!) before you make dumb comments pls..

    6. Tacos Arabes is made from pork in Mexico. Lamb is not readily available there. The cooking method is the “Arab” part. Why not read about the dish before you leave some insane comment?

    7. I would learn the origins of taco Arabe if I were you, especially the man who invented them, he was a Lebanese man who was rather smart

  3. This recipe sounded interesting, a bit Mediterranean/Mexican fusion so tried it today. Really a great taste profile, its going to be a fun recipe to play around with. I added a little pickled jalapeno to the yogurt for the second batch. Couple of questions; (1) the directions list nutmeg, the ingredient list doesn’t? (2) the cucumber taste makes a big difference, do you use pieces for texture? I was going to try blending them with the yogurt today, more tzatziki style.

    Great Recipes…..really help spark ideas

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