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Saucy Cauliflower Tacos
Mining the potential of this supreme vegetable
It’s not as if most people didn’t know cauliflower existed until recently, it’s that few had the experience or exposure to mine its potential. Even the theoretically “new” technique of making gluten-free crusts from cauliflower comes from centuries-old techniques of using finely chopped cauliflower as a base for almost anything saucy. Cauliflower “risotto” certainly isn’t traditional when you call it that, but chopped cauliflower in broth is nothing new. That you can overcook cauliflower, and its little granular bits remain flavorful makes it a candidate for use in countless dishes.
Among them is my (vegan) homage to the traditional chicken tinga. The key ingredients in these hearty tacos are tomatoes and chipotle; both are originally from the Americas. Tomatoes, of course, have become universal – everywhere they’re grown, and even in places that they aren’t, they’re beloved. But the chile chipotle – the smoked jalapeño (usually; other chiles are also smoked and called chipotle) – remains distinctly Mexican and Central American. Although it’s been widely adopted in the US and elsewhere, it remains closely associated with those cuisines. And it’s the key to tinga — which is generally thought to be from Puebla – and the most distinctive flavor in this dish, regardless of the “main” ingredient.
Saucy Cauliflower Tacos
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 2 hours
One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained
4 tablespoons good-quality vegetable oil, plus more for frying
1 small white onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 canned chipotle chile, with 1 tablespoon adobo sauce, or to taste
2 cups vegetable stock or water
1 large head cauliflower (about 1 ½ pounds)
Eight 8-inch (or twelve 6-inch) whole wheat flour tortillas
6 ounces radishes, sliced
2 ripe avocados, pitted, peeled, and sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint, for garnish
1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Put the tomatoes in a baking dish and roast until they start to char and shrivel, 40 to 50 minutes.
2. Put the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onion and garlic and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and starting to brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the cumin and oregano and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the roasted tomatoes, the chipotle, adobo, and stock and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, then adjust the heat so it bubbles gently. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have broken down and the sauce has thickened a little, 25 to 30 minutes. Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture directly in the pot, or carefully transfer the mixture in batches to a blender to puree. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
3. Cut the core from the cauliflower, then roughly chop the florets into pieces about 1/2 inch in size. Add the cauliflower to the sauce and bring the mixture to a boil, then adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently. Cook, uncovered and stirring once in a while, until the cauliflower is tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and keep warm.
4. Pour about 1/2 inch oil into a large skillet over medium-high heat. Put a wire rack on a large baking sheet. When it’s hot, put a tortilla in the skillet and let it cook until it starts blistering but is still soft, less than 15 seconds. Carefully turn the tortilla with tongs, and immediately fold it over and hold it for a few seconds to form a taco shell. Once the tortilla holds its shape, turn it every few seconds, until it’s crisp and golden all over, 15 to 30 seconds more. Transfer to the wire rack to drain. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, adjusting the heat and adding more oil as necessary.
5. To assemble the tacos, spoon the cauliflower into the crisp shells and top with radish slices, avocado, and mint.
— Recipe from Dinner for Everyone