Tacos Are Always in Season

Exploring the filling, flavorful world of vegetarian tacos.

September 6, 2017

Issue 26: September/October 2017Sonoran Skillet

Like most reasonable people, I love tacos. More specifically, I love the ones with lots of meat.

The tacos of my youth were stuffed with dubiously seasoned ground beef; bits of shredded cheese and anemic produce scattered with each crunchy bite. You know the ones. Grocery shelves across America are still stocked with those preternaturally yellow stacks of rounded shells for good reason.

It wasn’t really until my college years that I understood the breadth of flavors and ingredients that tacos could encompass. La Veracruzana, an always-busy counter service restaurant in Western Massachusetts, was the locus for my initial education in Mexican cooking. In retrospect, I probably got more out of that experience than the liberal arts degree. Over the course of a few years of working at La V, my Mexican and Salvadoran coworkers patiently helped me to learn Spanish and make tortillas, enfrijoladas, aguas frescas, rice pudding, and mole. I also learned that spectacular vegetarian food existed outside the realm of Tofurky and tempeh-style meat replacement.

Thinking about my time in that one-car-garage-size kitchen helped inspire this group of taco recipes. The guiding premise was to develop a sense of meatiness and balance in the fillings, without actually including meat. I find that I am often turned off by vegetarian tacos because they are either too starchy, or lacking in depth of both flavor and oppositional textures. So these recipes are designed to hit the spot, but also to nourish. Be sure each taco includes some fat and some crunch; cilantro, toasted pepitas, lime wedges, avocado, radish should ideally be on the table, along with the crema, pickled carrots, extra lettuce, and pomegranates in the recipes. A bowl of queso fresco is a good idea as well. Many of the ingredients will still be available in the fresh markets in the early fall months, including beans, pomegranates, cilantro, basil, corn, radishes, and carrots. You should even be able to find a few ripe peaches.

This is the best food for a backyard gathering for the cooler evenings to come—though tacos are always in season.

Pinquito Tacos with Peach and Onion Jam

Pinquito Tacos with Peach and Onion Jam.

Santa Maria Pinquito beans can be found at the Sunday Heirloom Farmers’ Market at Rillito Park. The beans are native to California, and often used with barbecue, but I love their meaty flavor and diminutive size. I like to cook them slightly al dente. Plain pinto beans will work great, too. Buy them fresh, and be sure to soak and cook with salt to avoid mushy starchiness.

Pinquito Tacos with Peach and Onion Jam
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Servings
10 people
Servings
10 people
Pinquito Tacos with Peach and Onion Jam
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Servings
10 people
Servings
10 people
Instructions
  1. Soak beans for at least 8 hours or overnight, rinse and follow cooking instructions. Sauté the onions with olive oil for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the sugar and sauté another 7 minutes. Increase heat to high for 2 minutes.
  2. In a separate pan, cook the peaches over medium heat for 10 minutes, adding small amounts of water if the liquid from the peaches dries completely. Combine peaches and onions. Add lime juice. 
  3. Serve the taco with a layer of the cooked peach mixture, a layer of beans, and some lettuce. Garnish with pomegranate seeds. 
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Double Corn Tortillas

After breaking a few tortilla presses over the years, I have decided that hand-rolling tortillas is easy enough, so I just opt to save the shelf space. The fresh corn will add texture and dimension to your tortilla. I use Rick Bayless’ advice and cook between two cast-iron skillets set at different temperatures, in part because I find the two griddles makes it easier and faster to create an assembly line, particularly if I am making a large volume of tortillas. Use ghee in place of butter if you enjoy the flavor. For this, and for all the recipes, I recommend using Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. Leave some fleur de sel or other finishing salt on the table, too.

Double Corn Tortillas
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Double Corn Tortillas
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Instructions
  1. Melt butter. Combine masa, butter, and water with a spatula. Knead the dough for 2 to 3 minutes. If the dough is too dry, add water 1 teaspoon at a time until it is pliable, but not sticky. Cover with plastic and allow the dough to sit for 30 minutes. The wait time is important. 
  2. Knead in the corn, and roll golfball-sized balls of dough. After resting, the dough will probably need a touch more water. Roll each ball to 1/8-inch thickness using a rolling pin, or press between two flat surfaces, such as cake pans. If the edges begin to crack, press against the edges through the plastic wrap to smooth. 
  3. Flip each tortilla into your palm before placing on a cast-iron skillet at medium heat. Cook for 30 seconds. Transfer to the medium-high skillet, and cook the other side for 30 seconds, and go back to the first side for 30-45 seconds, being careful not to overcook. Stack and cover with a clean hand towel. Makes 20 tortillas.
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Cashew, Basil, and Avocado Crema

Cashew, Basil, and Avocado Crema

This is an item that should be made close to when you are eating and finished the same night. It doesn’t refrigerate well.

Cashew, Basil, and Avocado Crema
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Cashew, Basil, and Avocado Crema
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Instructions
  1. Pour 2 cups boiling water over the cashews and soak for 1 to 3 hours. Using a food processor, combine all ingredients, and blend until smooth. Add water gradually until it reaches desired consistency.
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Carrot Quick Pickles

These are great on tacos, salads, and sandwiches.

Carrot Quick Pickles
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Carrot Quick Pickles
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Bring water, vinegar, honey, turmeric, jalapeño, and salt to a simmer. Turn off heat. Place carrots in a jar and pour the brine over. Cover and refrigerate. Ideally, eat within 1 to 48 hours, but keep them for up to a week.
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Potato and Carrot Tacos

Potato and Carrot Tacos.

I like to add avocado to these tacos, plus a pinch of picked carrots and a sprinkle of queso fresco.

Potato and Carrot Tacos
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Potato and Carrot Tacos
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Instructions
  1. Put potato and carrots in a saucepan. Cover with water and add 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, and par-cook for 5 minutes. Dry on paper towels.
  2. Warm 2 tablespoons oil or ghee on medium-high heat, ideally in cast iron, and add spices. Cook for about a minute, until fragrant. Add shallots. Cook until translucent. Add potato and carrot. Sauté for about six minutes. Add garlic, and remaining oil.
  3. Sauté for about 5 more minutes, until fragrant and slightly browned. Be sure to keep the vegetables moving over the heat so that they do not burn. Add cilantro. Serves 10.
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Smoky Mushroom “Chorizo” and Egg

Smoky Mushroom “Chorizo” and Egg.

My goal in devising the recipe was to maintain a drier consistency, so (as always) do not wash your mushrooms. Instead, brush them or wipe with a paper towel, and do not add water or oil to the pan when you cook them down. This dish can be served with or with-out the scrambled egg (or tofu if you go vegan). I make it with fresh, soft-scrambled egg.

Smoky Mushroom “Chorizo” and Egg
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Smoky Mushroom “Chorizo” and Egg
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Instructions
  1. Follow quinoa directions on bag, but be sure to rinse well before cooking to remove its bitter flavor. Cook mushrooms on medium high in a cast-iron skillet, stirring constantly until water evaporates. Set aside in a mesh strainer.
  2. Add oil to the pan. Add the spices, shallots, and onion. Cook until translucent.
  3. Add the mushrooms, quinoa, vinegar, and salt. Sauté, for about 5 more minutes. If you are adding egg, whisk, lower the heat, and cook until just done. Be sure not to rubberize the eggs. Serves 10. 
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Shelley Lawrence Kirkwood earned her MFA in photography from the University of Arizona in 2003. She is a devoted home cook and mother of two children. She has written for The Boston Globe, Connecticut Magazine, and Art Papers Magazine.







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