Cinco de Mayo = Taco Party, right? Not that we Angelenos need an excuse to eat tacos, but this Sunday my guess is a lot of people will be firing up the grill for tacos al pastor or carne asada. For those of us who are interested in a vegetarian taco party, Kajsa Alger has some ideas. She’s the chef and co-owner of Susan Feniger’s Street, which is known for offering top notch vegan and vegetarian fare alongside their meaty dishes. At the restaurant you can find things like chipotle spiced jackfruit tacos, but for the home cook she shares her recipe for Grilled Spring Onion and Bean Tacos with Tomatillo Avocado Salsa. Below she shares tips for grilling veggies, her favorite guacamole ingredients and what margarita she loves most.
Cinco de Mayo is coming up and we have tacos on the brain. What vegetarian options would you suggest for filling our tacos?
We love to fill our tacos with earthy flavors that pair so well with Mexican herbs and spices, like thin slices of red spring onions and baby squashes grilled on the barbecue. Or, for a twist on the beer battered taco, things like cactus and okra work well. And of course, one of our favorites at the restaurant is a chipotle spiced jackfruit taco.
When I think of a taco party, I think about grilling. What vegetables work well on the grill?
Anything without too much moisture and a firm texture. Zucchini, Chayote, Eggplant, and Peppers are all great. It’s all about a simple, great quality base ingredients and then finishing it with a punch of flavors and textures in the salsas and relishes you put on top.
Guacamole is a staple for Cinco de Mayo. What do you put in yours? Are you a traditionalist or do you spice it up?
Maybe it’s all my years at Border Grill, but I am a traditionalist. Great avocados (and I’m spoiled by our fantastic ones from California), onions, cilantro, chile, lime, and salt. For me, having the avocado diced in small pieces instead of mashed is also equally as important.
Let’s talk about beans! Do you go pinto or black? And how do you prepare them?
I go for both. I love pintos and black beans. The way I cook them both is essentially the same. Lots and lots of caramelized onions, garlic, a delicious herb called Epazote, and arbol chiles. Whether I keep them whole or puree them depends on what I’m doing with them. An interesting thing that I always like to point out is that Americans often interpret the word “refried bean” to mean, as it would translate literally, “fried again”. Whereas, the Spanish word “refrito” actually means, EXTRA fried…or cooked really well…. as in cooked with the onions, etc… (Just some random trivia!)
You can’t have tacos without margaritas, right? What do you like to put in your margaritas and what kind of tequila do you use?
We have a delicious margarita here made with fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, Karma tequila, crushed serrano chiles and agave. It’s finished with a splash of Mezcal, so it has all at once a tangy, spicy, smokey thing going on. I absolutely love it!
Grilled Spring Onion and Bean Tacos
*These quantities will feed a large crowd. If you are entertaining a smaller group, be sure to scale the recipe down.
Red Wine Vinegar
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Refried Beans (recipe below)
Tomatillo Avocado Salsa (recipe below)
Fresh Corn Tortillas
1. Toss the spring onions in a little olive oil and salt and grill over a barbecue or firepit using a grill screen. When cooked through, let cool slightly and then toss them with a splash of red wine vinegar and a little more olive oil.
2. Warm the tortillas over an open flame until soft and slightly charred.
3. Top with some warm beans and a good helping of the charred onions. Garnish with tomatillo avocado salsa and enjoy, or add your favorite toppings. These tacos are vegan, but are a great base for any taco, vegan, vegetarian, or meat.
Refried Beans for Tacos
Yield: 1 gallon
2 quarts dried pinto or black beans
5 white onions, diced
2 ea Serrano chiles, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup olive oil
Salt to taste
1. Place the beans in a large pot of cold water. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for approximately 1 ½ hours or, depending on the size of the bean, until tender and quite soft…almost falling apart. When the beans are almost done, add salt to taste.
2. While the beans are cooking, in a separate large skillet, sauté the onions in the oil until caramelized and golden brown in color. Add the chiles and garlic and cook a few minutes more until the aromas are released. Turn off the heat and wait for the beans to finish.
3. When the beans are finished cooking, place them, along with a cup of the cooking liquid, into the onion mixture. Adjust salt if necessary and simmer for 15 minutes. Do not mash. The beans will start to fall apart on their own and will be soft, but with a lot of texture still to them.
Tomatillo Avocado Salsa
Yield: 3 quarts
¾ gallon whole peeled tomatillos
3 bunches cilantro, chopped
2 each ripe avocados, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 ea Serrano chiles, chopped
1 cup water (to help blend)
Salt to taste
1. Cut the tomatillos into smaller pieces. Chop everything else.
2. Puree in the SMALL BLENDER in batches until smooth and emulsified.
3. Taste for salt.
(you may need the water in little bits at a time to get the blender started)