Eric Akis: Roasted squash gives tacos fall flair

Eric Akis

I enjoy making and eating tacos, because you can fill them in all kinds of tasty ways, my favourite being seasonal fillings.

For example, back in late March, when the first halibut of the season became available, I used the fish fillets to make fresh and fabulous fish tacos.

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I also took the use-what’s-in-season approach with today’s taco recipe. I chose the first ingredient after seeing an impressive display of recently harvested B.C.-grown squash for sale at a grocery store.

I decided peeled and cubed pieces of squash, seasoned and roasted, would make a nice, meat-free taco filling — especially if I mixed them with some protein-rich black beans, which would nicely offset the squash’s colour.

To add a crisp texture to my tacos, I also picked up some B.C.-grown red cabbage and thinly shredded it.

My taco filling now consisted of foods that respectively had orange, black and purple/red colours. When envisioning them in my tacos, I thought they also needed something green that would also add some moisture to the filling and I opted for guacamole.

The avocados I used to make it are not, of course, grown in B.C. But many of the other ingredients I used to make my guacamole were B.C.-grown, such as corn, onion, cherry tomatoes and garlic.

And rather than mix them in raw, I roasted them first, which intensified their flavour.

When cooled and mixed into my guacamole, they gave this classic Mexican dip/spread a tasty new twist that worked well with the squash, beans and cabbage.

I also added some cilantro to my tacos and some B.C.-made queso fresco.

The latter is a fresh, soft Mexican-style cheese that you can crumble or pull into small pieces. The brand I used was Queso Dorado, which is made by Scardillo Cheese (scardillocheese.com) in Burnaby.

Once the tacos were filled, I drizzled them with lime juice and hot sauce to finish them off.

A palate-pleasing, late summer version of this dish was ready for devouring.

Roasted Squash and Black Bean Tacos

Mix roasted cubes of Island-grown squash with black beans and stuff them into tortillas with cabbage, guacamole, cheese and cilantro to make these colourful, seasonally flavoured tacos.

Preparation time: 35 minutes

Cooking time: 26 to 28 minutes

Makes: four to six (two or three tacos each) servings

12 (six-inch round) soft corn or flour tortillas

3 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (about 1 medium squash; see Note 1)

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

• salt, to taste

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can black beans, drained, rinsed, and drained again

1 cup thinly shredded red cabbage

• guacamole with roasted vegetables, to taste (see recipe below)

• cilantro leaves, to taste

100 grams queso fresco, crumbled, or to taste (see Note 2 and Eric’s options)

4 to 6 lime wedges

• hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut two, 12-inch long pieces of aluminum foil. Stack six tortillas in the centre of each piece of foil and wrap them up.

Set wrapped tortillas aside for now.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place squash, oil, cumin, chili powder, paprika and cayenne pepper in a bowl and toss to combine. Spread squash on the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt.

Roast the squash, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

Remove squash from the oven and mix in the black beans. Set the pan of squash and beans back in the oven, along with the wrapped tortillas, and cook six to eight minutes, or until squash is tender, and beans and tortillas are hot.

To make the tacos, top each tortilla with some of the squash/bean mixture, cabbage, guacamole, cilantro leaves and queso fresco. Serve the tacos with the lime wedges and hot pepper sauce for squeezing and sprinkling on the taco fillings.

Note 1: The squash I used weighed 775 grams. I cut the squash into 1/2-inch cubes. Other types of squash, such as kabocha or banana, will also work in this recipe.

Note 2: Queso fresco is a fresh Mexican-style cheese sold in the deli department of some supermarkets. I used Queso Dorado brand.

Eric’s options: If you can’t find queso fresco, try another soft cheese, such as B.C. goat cheese or a mild, Canadian-made feta cheese. If you absolutely must have tomato salsa in your tacos, you could certainly use some in this recipe.

Guacamole with Roasted Vegetables

This tasty twist on the classic Mexican-style dip/spread mixes locally grown and roasted corn, onion, cherry tomatoes and garlic with mashed avocado.

You can make the guacamole an hour or two before serving. Tightly cover and refrigerate until needed.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 20 to 22 minutes

Makes: about two cups

1 cup fresh corn kernels (see Note)

1 medium jalapeño pepper, finely chopped

8 ripe cherry tomatoes, chopped

3 Tbsp finely chopped white or yellow onion

1 medium garlic clove, minced

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp olive oil

2 medium ripe avocados

1 1/2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice

3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

• salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Put the corn, jalapeño pepper, tomatoes, onion, garlic, cumin and oil on the parchment paper and toss to combine.

Spread the corn mixture into a single layer and roast 20 to 22 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and lightly caramelized. Remove corn mixture from the oven and cool to room temperature.

Cut the avocados in half lengthwise, pull them apart and remove the pits. With a spoon, scoop out the avocado flesh into a medium bowl. Add the lime juice and, with the back of a fork, mash the avocado until it is somewhere between chunky and somewhat smooth. Add the roasted corn mixture, cilantro and salt, and mix to combine.

Transfer the guacamole to a decorative serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use on the tacos.

Note: The kernels from one medium to large cob of corn should yield the one cup needed here. After shucking the corn and thoroughly removing the silk, grab onto the cob’s stem end. Set the tip of the cob in the centre of a wide, shallow bowl. Now use a sharp paring knife to cut and slide the kernels off the cob.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

eakis@timescolonist.com

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