Last week was Sarina’s birthday, and she requested a Mexican feast for her celebration. These tacos, filled with achiote-rubbed butternut squash were the highlight. I grilled both the squash and some poblanos, then tossed them with crema and cilantro and served them on soft corn tortillas with red onions, queso panela, and Tapatio hot sauce. I think this is one of the tastiest vegetarian tacos I’ve ever had (if I do say so myself).
If you haven’t used achiote before, it is worth checking out. The mildly sour flavor balanced beautifully with the sweetness of the butternut squash. The red color comes from annatto seed, the same plant used to color cheddar cheese. It is typically sold in a small brick, mixed with spices, vinegar and, sadly, red food dye. This mixture is used frequently in the cuisine of the Yucatan penninsula.
The brand of achiote I used was Del Mayab “La Perla”. If anyone has an opinion on even better ones, or more natural options, I’d love to know about them. Anyone worked with plain annatto and made the rest of the mix themselves? I would probably have gone that route but didn’t find annatto in my very limited search. I found the Del Mayab at a nice Mexican grocery in Bothell, WA.
Among the guests for Sarina’s dinner was Geoff Bugbee, who is one of my brother’s best friends. He also happens to be a fantastic photojournalist, specializing in humanitarian work. He took the upper picture in today’s post for me, with his sweet little Canon G9. A little more prosaic than his normal subjects, but I really appreciated it!
Achiote-Rubbed Butternut Squash Tacos
Serves 8 as part of a feast
Vegetarian and gluten-free; could be vegan if you omit the cheese and crema
For the filling:
- 1 large butternut squash, peeled seeded, and cut into 1/2″ thick slabs
- 2 oz. achiote paste (see above)
- 3 poblano peppers
- mexican crema or sour cream
- 32 soft corn tortillas
- 1/2 red onion, medium slices
- 2 limes cut into wedges
- 1/2 pound panella cheese or other soft, mild, white cheese
- more cilantro
- more crema
- Tapatio or other hot sauce
- optional: guacamole, more poblanos
- Mix the achiote paste with a small amount of hot water. Working in the sink, use your hands to break it up until thoroughly dissolved. Rub it on all sides of the butternut squash slabs and set aside. Wash your hands, this stuff stains!
- Prepare a grill for direct high heat. Place the poblano peppers on the grill and char them, rotating occasionally until they are mostly black on all sides. Remove from the grill and put them in a covered bowl for 10 minutes (the steam makes it easy to remove the skins).
- Reduce the heat of the grill (by adjusting the gas or allowing the charcoal to burn down and using the side areas), then put on the squash. I didn’t use any oil and had only slight sticking, but you might want to use a little. Cook until thoroughly tender, flipping halfway through.
- Remove the squash from the grill and allow to cool a bit, then cut into cubes. If you had to remove it early because it was overcooking on the outside and isn’t quite tender, you can use a microwave to finish it.
- Peel and seed the poblanos, then cut into small dice.
- Toss the squash and poblanos along with a 1.5 teaspoons of salt. Taste and adjust. Place in a bowl and top with a squirt of crema and some cilantro.
- Wrap the tortillas in a moistened towl and microwave for 90 seconds.
- Bring everything to the table and let everyone roll tacos to their own taste. Use two overlapped tortillas per taco to make a structurally sound dining device.