I've seen lettuce leaves used as a taco shell swap. A romaine leaf is shaped kind of like a taco shell and it provides some crunch, but I can't imagine serving that to people. "I made tacos!! *hands you a lettuce leaf*". I feel like that would lead to disappointment. So, instead I took the same flavors and made them into meatballs. This way, I think it feels more intentional to be shell-less.
For the longest time I HATED making meatballs. Really, I hate making anything with lots of tiny little pain-in-the-ass components that need to be shaped individually. However, I got a great tip from Cook's Illustrated: use a cookie scoop to shape the meatballs. Now it takes me just a couple minutes to whip up a whole batch.
I don't like adding binder to meatballs, as I think it makes them tough and dry. All it does is make them easier to shape. So these are a little soft, but I prefer them being just meat without any fillers. If you chill the meat mixture for an hour or more it should firm it up a bit for easier shaping. If you want to add a binder, try 1/3 cup of almond meal, or a snack-sized bag of crunched-up plantain chips (easiest do do this in a food processor).
For the tomato sauce, I used a recipe that I got from Rick Bayless' chipotle shrimp recipe from Mexican Everyday. It is so unbelievably flavorful, you'd never guess how simple it is: just a can of tomatoes pureed with chipotles and some sauteed garlic. Additionally, I've seen a lot of "pasta" recipes that use an avocado sauce, presumably instead of a cream sauce, such as this, this, and this, so I thought it'd be nice to top it with guacamole. It also provided a nice foil to the heat from the chipotles. However, you could use any taco fixins that you like.
These were so, so, so good. A definite keeper.
GREEN CHILE CHICKEN TACO MEATBALLS WITH CHIPOTLE SAUCE
Makes about 24 meatballs
- 1 lb ground chicken (or ground meat of choice)
- 1 can (4 oz) diced green chiles
- 1/2 cup diced onion
- 2 Tbs minced fresh cilantro
- 1 Tbs taco seasoning (you can use a pre-made blend such as Penzeys Arizona Dreaming, or make your own. I like this recipe for homemade.)
- 1 tsp salt (omit if your taco seasoning contains salt)
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes (preferably fire roasted), drained
- 2-3 canned chipotle peppers + 1 Tbs of the adobo sauce from the can (scale this way back if you don't like spicy food, as it is quite hot). Or, use chipotle powder to taste.
- 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
- Fat of choice for sauteeing (I used olive oil; avocado oil would be ideal!)
- Guacamole for serving (I used storebought)
- Preheat the oven to 400 F.
- Saute the onions in a bit of oil over medium-high heat until translucent but not brown. Add the green chiles and cook until liquid has mostly evaporated. Set aside out of the pan to cool (I put the mixture in the freezer to cool quickly).
- Thoroughly combine the ground chicken, taco seasoning, cilantro, salt, eggs, and the chile-onion mixture. If you are using a binder (see recipe description), add it now as well. If you have time, refrigerate an hour or more to firm up.
- Lightly oil a slotted broiler pan or cookie sheet. Form the meat mixture into balls using your hands or with a cookie scoop, mounding the tops to be dome-shaped. You should have about two dozen meatballs in total.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until done.
- Meanwhile, puree the drained tomatoes with the chipotles and adobo sauce.
- When the meatballs are done, saute the garlic in the bottom of a Dutch oven or large saucepan until fragrant and straw-colored. Add the tomato-chipotle puree and simmer for a minute, stirring to scrape the bottom of the pan. Add the meatballs to the sauce and turn to low. Simmer for a couple minutes just so that the flavors meld.
- Serve with guacamole atop your favorite veggie pasta substitute (spaghetti squash, zucchini noodles, or sauteed broccoli slaw) or Mexican cauli rice.