The distinctive red hue of this fantastic vegetarian taco recipe from Michael Natkin's blog Herbivoracious comes solely from achiote paste—a vibrant mixture of red achiote seeds, Mexican oregano, black pepper, cumin, and cloves (among other things), all ground up into a smooth paste. This specialty of the Yucatan region is aromatic and pungent, and (on a completely different note) has the ability to permanently stain anything it comes into contact with.
But it's worth the risk for such a filling and compelling meal as this one.
Considering the achiote paste is so flavorful, everything else here is easy. Just cut the butternut squash into half-inch slabs, rub with the paste, and grill until tender. The pieces took a little longer to finish cooking than I originally imagined, but just reduce the heat to medium-low if they outside starts to look a little too black.
If things get desperate, Natkin also notes that you can microwave the squash to get it 100 percent done. Though I was skeptical, this does work well.
As for the rest of the ingredients, the smoky poblanos add a subtle spice while the caramelized red onions get sweet and rich. The crema and cheese might seem unnecessary, but the two really help to pull all the ingredients together.
Adapted from Michael Natkin's Herbivoracious.
- Yield:serves 4
- Active time: 1 hour
- Total time:1 hour
- 2 ounces achiote paste
- 1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch thick slabs
- 3 poblano chiles
- 3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
- 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
- Salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 tablespoons Mexican crema (or sour cream), plus more for serving
- 1/4 cup shredded Oaxaca cheese (or Monterey Jack), plus more for serving
- 2 limes, cut into wedges
- 12 corn tortillas
In a large bowl, use your hands to mix the achiote paste with two tablespoons of warm water until dissolved. (Be careful while working, as this mixture stains easily.) Add the butternut squash slices and toss until thoroughly coated with the mixture. Set bowl aside for a few minutes, and wash your hands.
Char the poblanos until blackened on all sides either over a burner on a gas stove or underneath the broiler. Transfer to a bag and let them steam for 10 minutes. Remove the blackened skin, the stems, and the seeds. Finely chop the flesh, and transfer to a second large bowl.
Heat a large cast-iron grill pan or grill over medium heat. Brush the pan or grill with half of the canola oil. Add the butternut squash slabs and cook until the pieces are tender, flipping occasionally, 10 to 15 minutes. Reduce the heat if the squash starts to burn. When done, chop the butternut squash into 1/2-inch pieces and add to the bowl with the poblanos. (If some of the pieces are still hard, microwave for a minute or two to finish the cooking.)
Meanwhile, pour the remaining oil into a large skillet set over medium heat. Add the red onion slices and a pinch of salt, and cook until well caramelized. When done, transfer to the bowl with the poblanos.
Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt to the bowl, along with the crema, the cheese, most of the cilantro, and a few cracks of black pepper. Toss well. Season to taste with more salt and pepper, if needed.
Warm the corn tortillas on the grill pan or grill for just a few seconds on each side until soft. Serve the butternut squash mixture with the tortillas, lime wedges, and more crema and cheese to taste.