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.
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.
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.
This is an item that should be made close to when you are eating and finished the same night. It doesn’t refrigerate well.
These are great on tacos, salads, and sandwiches.
I like to add avocado to these tacos, plus a pinch of picked carrots and a sprinkle of queso fresco.
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.
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.