Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tortas de coliflor tacos.

Our new "house" taco - tortas de coliflor (cauliflower). © Ryan Schierling
It's been some time since a new taco recipe has graced the pages of this humble blog. There are taco joints a-plenty in this town and every home cook has a private claim to fame – such is the nature of good Austin living.

To date we've stayed true to our mission statement, entertaining ourselves here with stupendously highbrow and treacherously lowbrow tacos, plus a couple in between. But these tacos with their little cakes of tender, sweet cauliflower have, in a matter of just a few weeks, become our new "house" taco. As in "just you try and stop me from eating these every day!" 

I wish we could take credit for the concept, but we know a good thing when we taste it and Papalote Taco House on South Lamar in Austin gets our respectful nod. Papalote is a friendly little taco purveyor with an assortment of creative and delicious fare, and some of the more interesting vegetarian options you'll find in town. Unique among these offerings is a taco starring a fried patty made with cauliflower, dressed in guajillo chile sauce and topped with cabbage and queso fresco. Delicious! It's a stroke of genius with a very low guilt quotient. 

How we first made these at home is most certainly not a story of scientific inquiry or deliberate re-creation. We just had a head of cauliflower that needed to be used, a stack of corn tortillas in the fridge, and we were hungry. We were working from vague memory of a previous visit, but with the basic concept and flavor profile in mind, and simply began making them as we saw fit. The cauliflower, we thought, would be most flavorful if roasted, and in order to let it shine we kept the patty seasonings minimal, simply adding an egg and some flour to tighten up the mixture. Loose as it was, we were able to form small patties, coat them in fine breadcrumbs and fry them up moist and delicious. 

Instead of making our own sauce that first time, we tried using the Frontera Guajillo Salsa which is looser, chunkier and milder but makes a bang-up shortcut if you're pressed for time. If you like them this way, you'll eventually want to try our Guajillo Sauce recipe below for the richer depth of chile flavor it imparts.

Make the sauce ahead, even roast the cauliflower ahead, and you'll be all set for a quickly-assembled meal the next day. We love that our version has a delicate texture from the bits of roasted cauliflower and the savory richness of the guajillo sauce pairs beautifully with this creamy, mild cruciferous on a corn tortilla. With the crunch of the cabbage and a hint of heat from the fresh sliced jalapeño – this is truly appetite-satisfying fare.

(L-R) Roasted cauliflower. Tortas de coliflor. Guajillo sauce. © Ryan Schierling

Cauliflower Tacos
(featuring tortas de coliflor)

Corn tortillas, warmed
Cauliflower cakes (recipe below)
Guajillo sauce (recipe below)
Shredded green cabbage
Fresh jalapenos, very thinly sliced 
Crumbled cotija cheese, or shredded queso fresco
Mexican crema (optional)

Cauliflower Cakes (tortas de coliflor)
1 large head of cauliflower
1 egg, slightly beaten
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain dried fine breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
Oil for frying

Remove leaves from head of cauliflower and slice 1/2 inch thick or break cauliflower into small florets. Arrange cauliflower on a foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle lightly (or mist) with olive oil. Bake at 350º F for about 40 minutes, or until tender and showing some golden color. 

When the cauliflower is cool enough to touch, put it in food processor and pulse it until you achieve a “finely chopped” crumbled texture. Or do it the old-fashioned way and use a knife – the food processor just makes nice quick work out of it.

Put the crumbled cauliflower in a medium mixing bowl and mix in the egg, then the 3 tablespoons flour and salt. The mixture will be slightly loose, but will “just barely” hold together when formed into a small patty in the cup of your hand.

In a separate small bowl, combine 1 cup of fine dried breadcrumbs with chili powder, cumin and chipotle powder. Gently coat each small patty in this mixture. It is easiest to spoon some breadcrumbs onto the top of it in your hand and actually do the coating from your palm, not in the bowl. This will keep the patty intact while the coating acts to bind the surface.
In a skillet, add oil to the depth of about 1/4 inch. Heat to 350º F.  

Using a soup spoon, move the patty from your palm to the hot oil. Fry for about 45 seconds on each side, or until a nice deep golden brown. Be sure to maintain the oil temperature as you continue to fry the patties. Drain on an upside-down cooling rack placed over paper towels. Hold in warm oven until ready to serve.  

Makes 12 patties (depending upon size of cauliflower and patties)

Guajillo Chile Sauce
4 ounces dried guajillo chiles
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup soaking water or filtered water (see below)

1 pound fresh ripe tomatoes, halved
1/2 pound fresh tomatillos, halved 
6-7 cloves of garlic
1/2 large white onion
Olive oil

2 tablespoons piloncillo, or brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup water (if needed for thinning sauce)

Tear or cut stems off tops of the guajillo chiles. Split and open the dry chiles and remove seeds and membranes. On a hot, dry comal or skillet (we prefer cast iron) toast chiles until they are fragrant, a few seconds on each side. We used a spatula to press the chiles flat against the comal.

Place toasted chiles in a bowl, cover with boiling water and put a plate over the bowl to hold the chiles down in the liquid. Soak for about 20 minutes, until chiles are rehydrated. Remove chiles from liquid (reserving liquid) and place in a blender with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Taste the reserved liquid. If it is not bitter, add 1/2 cup to the chiles in the blender, otherwise just use water. Blend to into a soft paste (should make about 1 cup) and put in a medium saucepan.

On a foil-lined baking sheet, arrange tomatoes (cut side up), tomatillos (cut side up), garlic cloves (peel on) and onion half and drizzle all with olive oil. Roast in 350º F oven for approximately 40 minutes. When cool enough to handle, put the tomatoes, tomatillos and onion in the blender, squeezing the roasted garlic out of the skins into the blender, as well. Purée (should make about 2 cups), then strain through a fine-mesh sieve into the medium saucepan. 

Bring this mixture to a simmer, allowing the mixture to reduce by up to 25 percent. Add the piloncillo (or brown sugar), olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt (or adjust to taste). If mixture is too thick for your preference, add a little bit of water.

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