Thursday, May 3, 2018

Sweet Potato Tacos

Saturday is Cinco de Mayo, one of my favorite occasions other than Taco Tuesday to enjoy delicious Mexican fare. Many of my favorite Mexican recipes feature meat fillings, such as these Chicken Burritos Mojados, Shot-and-a-Beer Braised Chicken Tacos, Guajillo-Braised Beef Short Rib Tacos, and Peptito (Steak Sandwich). But you can still have delicious Mexican food without the meat.

Take these Sweet Potato Tacos from Guerrilla Tacos in Los Angeles for instance. They are full of flavor, some of the most popular tacos on the Guerrilla Tacos menu, but contain no meat. They are far from traditional, but that's part of what makes them so much fun.

Sweet potatoes are boiled, sliced, and then pan-seared in some butter, then layered into warm tortillas along with a brightly-hued almond salsa, crumbled feta cheese, corn nuts, and scallions. Each component provides an important layer of flavor. The sweet potatoes themselves are sweet and a little nutty from the butty.

The salsa combines roasted red peppers, tomatillos, garlic, almonds, chiles de arbol, and vinegar to make a well-balanced, somewhat spicy, creamy-looking salsa. I omitted the habanero and much of the seeds from the chiles de arbol to make for a less spicy, somewhat family-friendly salsa, but feel free to go all out with the chiles if you prefer.

The feta cheese adds some saltiness and brininess, while the corn nuts are the only crunchy element on the taco, a nice balance to the softness of all the other ingredients. The scallions provide some bright color and freshness to finish things off.

I have to say, I didn't miss the meat at all with these tacos. The original recipe calls for 3 pounds of sweet potatoes for 8 tacos which is kind of insane. I cooked all 3 pounds of sweet potatoes, but knew immediately this would make way more filling than required for the recipe's yield. I suggest using half the recommended amount of sweet potatoes to have a more appropriate amount of filling, and you can probably still get about 10 tacos out of it, maybe more. I've adjusted the measurements below based on my experience. The recipe also makes about 3 cups of salsa, a lot more than you need for this recipe, but the salsa can be used for other purposes or frozen.

Sweet Potato Tacos
Makes about 10 tacos
(Adapted from Guerrilla Tacos)

1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, skins on (Japanese sweet potatoes are best, the long and thin kind with the red skin) (the original recipe calls for 3 pounds which is way more than you need for 8 tacos--I recommend using about half that amount to comfortably make about 10 tacos, give or take)
Kosher salt

Almond Salsa:
1 tablespoon lard or canola oil
1/2 cup loose-packed dried chiles de árbol, stemmed and roughly torn (I knocked out some of the seeds inside to make the spice level more family-friendly)
6 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons slivered or sliced almonds
1 pound tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1 cup rough-chopped store-bought roasted red bell peppers
1/2 cup water
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 dried habanero chile, stemmed (use half if you don’t like your salsa too spicy) (I omitted this entirely to make the spice level more family-friendly)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more as needed
3 thyme sprigs
10 corn tortillas, warmed
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (Valbreso if you can find it)
4 tablespoons corn nuts
1 bunch of scallions, green parts only, sliced about 1/8 inch thick

In a large saucepan or 6-quart stockpot, combine sweet potatoes and enough cold water to cover. Add salt until it’s as salty as the sea. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Lower heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook 12 minutes or until potatoes are just cooked—you can stick a knife into one and it comes out clean. Drain and set potatoes aside. When they’re cool enough to handle, slice them into 1/2-inch coins or bite-size pieces and set aside.

To make the almond salsa: While potatoes simmer, warm a cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. When pan is hot, add lard. Once lard is melted, add chiles de árbol. When chiles are browned all over and smelling toasty, add garlic and almonds; cook 30 seconds. When garlic is slightly golden brown, add tomatillos, roasted peppers, water and 1 teaspoon salt to pan.

Cover and cook until the tomatillos are mushy, about 8 to 12 minutes—they should split easily and break apart when you push them with a spoon.

Remove skillet from heat and, using a slotted spoon, transfer solid ingredients to a blender, reserving cooking liquid in pan. Add olive oil, red wine vinegar and habanero to blender. (Cover the blender well and watch out you don’t touch the hot chile seeds during this part.) Blend until salsa is smooth, and season with salt. You want a little acidity, plus sweetness from the roasted peppers and heat from the habanero and chiles de árbol. Add some of the leftover cooking liquid to reach your desired consistency. It should be almost as thick as a milk shake. You'll have about 3 cups of salsa, more than you'll need for these tacos. The salsa will keep in the refrigerator for a couple weeks, or can be frozen for a few months.

Put your largest cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat and warm butter until it’s melted and bubbling but not burning. Add a layer of potatoes to the pan—you want both sides of each potato slice to get a little browned, but not tough or crispy. Add some of the thyme and cook the potatoes until golden brown, about 5 to 10 minutes. Flip them and brown the other side. Set the browned potatoes aside on a plate and cover with foil to keep them warm. Repeat until all the sweet potatoes are browned, using more butter as needed.

Top each tortilla with 3 to 4 slices potato and 1 tablespoon salsa, 1 tablespoon feta, 1/2 tablespoon corn nuts, and a sprinkle of scallions. Serve immediately.


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