Food writer and recipe tester Linda Avery reviews cookbooks.
by Sara Deseran Photographs © Alex Farnum
I wish I could tell the whole backstory of Sara Deseran and her husband Joe Hargrave, but then I’d only have room to say that Tacolicious is a fun book with great, creative recipes. I'll try to squeeze in a short version.
Setting: San Francisco, 2009. Joe owned a Spanish restaurant but his love was/is Mexican food. His restaurant was good and before leaving for Mexico, Joe was asked to participate in the new farmer’s market at the Ferry Building (presumably serving his Spanish food).
Prior to the trip, a bit of serendipity: Rick Bayless walks into Joe's restaurant and Joe musters the courage to ask Rick where to eat in Mexico City. Turn the clock forward: Poof! Magic! The suggestions were spot on fabulous and their love of Mexican food was stronger than ever. Upon returning home Sara and Joe decided the farmer’s market stand would be Mexican instead of Spanish. The stand was dubbed Tacolicious and drew long lines the first day.
Fast forward to today: three Tacolicious restaurants are located in San Francisco and another in Palo Alto. This book contains 62 food recipes: 15 salsa, pickles and more, 23 snacks and sides, and 22 tacos, tacos, tacos. Plus 37 drink recipes (including twists on a base recipe) for cocktails, agua frescas and what they call G-rated drinks. Actually, saying there are 62 food recipes isn’t correct because there a riff in the center of the book “Twenty 20-minute (max) tacos del día: Quick inspirations for what to wrap in a tortilla.” Make that 82 food recipes plus an ingredients glossary and mail order sources.
There are a lot of parties in the pages of this book - recipes for salsas, tacos, tostados, tamales, rice, ribs, quesadillas, empanadas, and infused tequila. And there are useful sidebar tips: “Crisco is out. Lard is in..…. If you’re looking for the most healthful lard, don’t look in the grocery store. Lard sold in a can has usually been hydrogenated to extend its shelf life. Look instead for leaf lard which is the highest grade available…”
By the way, did I mention that Williams-Sonoma carries their line of sauces: habanero, chipotle, avocado-tomatillo, braising sauce and more. Check it out - they sound delicious! In the meantime, here is a recipe for vegetarian tacos using butternut squash.
Drummed up by our intrepid recipe tester Lauren Godfrey, this nontraditional taco, sweet with squash, earthy and nutty with kale, and crunchy with fried pumpkin seeds (Pepitas), is–shhhh–vegan. Don’t tell anyone, but because it is so tasty, no one will care. The cashew crema can be replaced by store-bought crema or our Cumin-lime crema but after polling both vegetarian and carnivorous friends, everyone preferred the nutty and rich nondairy cashew version (which must be made with raw cashews to work). To prepare the butternut squash, use a sharp peeler to remove the tough skin before slicing it in half and scooping out the seeds and fibers. Lazy cook’s tip: Some markets sell butternut squash already peeled and seeded and ready to go.
Makes about 12 tacos: serves 4 to 6
2/3 cup raw cashews
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 3 limes)
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup raw hulled pumpkin seeds
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 clove garlic, minced 3 cups
1/2-inch-dice butternut squash
1 teaspoon chile powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 cups finely chopped kale
Corn tortillas, warmed for serving
Chopped white onion, chopped fresh cilantro and salsa of choice, for serving (optional)
1. To make the crema, soak the raw cashews in room-temperature water to cover for at least 1 hour. Drain and reserve.
2. Toast the cumin in a small, dry, heavy skillet over medium heat for about 1 minute, until a fragrant. Transfer to a spice grinder, let cool, and grind finely.
3. In a blender combine the cashews, cumin, lime juice, water and salt. Start the blender on the lowest speed and gradually increase to the highest speed. Blend for at least 1 minute, until a creamy consistency. Pour into a serving bowl and set aside.
4. To make the pumpkin seeds, heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the pumpkin seeds and sauté for about 2 minutes, taking care that they do not burn. The seeds will begin to puff up and pop. Once they appear toasted, immediately pour them into a bowl. Toss with the cayenne and salt and set aside.
5. To make the filling, heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 3 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and sauté for about 1 minute more. Add the squash and sauté for 6 to 7 minutes, just until the squash begins to soften. Season with the chile powder and salt.
6. Add the kale and cook, stirring, for about 1 minutes, until it begins to wilt. Remove from the heat, taste, and adjust the seasoning with salt if needed.
7. Serve with the tortillas, crema, pumpkin seeds, onion, cilantro, and salsa. To assemble each taco, invite guests to spoon about 1/2 cup of the warm filling into a tortilla and top with some crema and pumpkin seeds. If guests want more toppings, they can finish off their tacos with onion, cilantro, and salsa.