Saturday, January 21, 2017

Butternut Squash Tacos

"Greater than the sum of its parts" is probably over-used in food writing, but it nonetheless is sort of a Holy Grail. To be able to take simple, easily available ingredients and make them into something delicious and satisfying is a pretty cool thing. I think this is true for a couple of reasons: readily available often means (relatively) affordable, using ingredients you can find at your local grocery store means you can replicate this recipe whenever, and it makes you feel like an awesome cook for just throwing together a few things and producing something wonderful (these reasons are mainly from a home cook's perspective, but hey, that's what I am!). Tacos are generally regarded as a type of recipe that fits this description, but I hadn't had much luck with homemade tacos until not too long ago. Truthfully, I'd only had a few really mind-blowing tacos in my lifetime, so I didn't have much to go on. Technically, I suppose, anything that is put in a tortilla and folded in half can be a taco, but having a few simple guidelines really helps. Starting with a flavorful, well-seasoned base of either meat or vegetables is a given, and from there I'd recommend only 2-3 toppings that each contribute something different. For example, these tacos have pickled red onions for an acidic, savory pop, ricotta for creaminess, and chopped cilantro for bright herbiness. Simple ingredients, but together they are magic. Did I mention these tacos are also cheap and filling?

Also, hello! At this point a several-month hiatus is becoming the norm (grad school...), so I figured there was no point in addressing it. I've got a few more things lined up that hopefully I'll get around to posting, including a few very loose recipes like the one for today.

Make these - warm, bright tacos on a winter evening are a lovely change of pace.

Butternut Squash Tacos
Yield: Honestly, however many tacos your little heart desires
Pickled red onions from Saveur

For the pickled red onions:
Half of a large red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 tbsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1-2 cloves garlic, halved lengthwise
3/4 c red wine vinegar
For the squash:
Butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I used about 1/3 of a huge one for four tacos/one serving)
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Paprika and ground or whole cumin seeds
Minced garlic
For serving:
Corn tortillas
Ricotta cheese (or queso fresco or feta or...)
Chopped fresh cilantro

  1. Ideally at least an hour before dinner: Combine the onions and 1/2 tbsp kosher salt in a bowl and let sit for about 15 minutes, until onions start to soften and release a bit of liquid. While that happens, combine the rest of the pickled onion ingredients in a pint jar and shake. Add the onions when they are ready and refrigerate. The recipe says to wait at least four hours for using, but I found them delicious after just an hour or so.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375. Toss the squash with enough olive oil to lightly coat and season with salt, pepper, paprika, and cumin. Roast until soft all the way through, then turn off the oven, toss with garlic, and return to the oven.
  3. While the garlic cooks lightly in the oven, heat a nonstick skillet over high heat. Once it is very hot, (very) lightly moisten the tortillas one at a time and cook in the skillet on both sides, until warm, dry, and pliable, with a few small brown spots.
  4. Add a few spoonsful of the squash/garlic mixture to each tortilla and top with pickled onions, a few small dollops of ricotta, and some cilantro.
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