In Mexico City, some of my favorite tacos, even before I was vegetarian, were those stuffed with cactus paddles, mushrooms or squash blossoms. But at restaurants closer to home, what passes for vegetables often leaves much to be desired. At one Washington spot recently, I had tacos in which the "veggies" were nothing more than grilled onions and peppers: the boring backdrop to fajitas.
Thankfully, exceptions abound. While the farmers market near the White House was open for the season, the women behind Chaya served such great combinations as smoky zucchini with cheese and radishes; and at Taqueria Nacional the other day I had a lovely taco filled with roasted acorn squash and greens. (Their pinto-bean tacos are nothing to scoff at, either.)
At home, I often turn leftover roasted vegetables into tacos, one of my standard rotating uses (along with chopped salads, pureed soups and pasta sauces). I like something a little meaty (not meat, of course, but a vegetable with substance), something a little crunchy, something a little spicy and maybe something a little tart.
My previous recipes for meat-focused tacos, it turns out, sometimes lend themselves perfectly well to new, plant-focused approaches. Instead of fried catfish, I've taken to pairing roasted cauliflower with the other makings of fish tacos: a chipotle-spiked slaw, salsa verde and pumpkin seeds for crunch. Next up for veggie conversion: tacos al pastor, those pork-and-pineapple ones with such a colorful tradition. I'm thinking they're made for sweet potatoes.
Cauliflower Tacos With Chipotle Slaw
4 servings (12 tacos)
Salting and squeezing the cabbage results in a slaw that doesn't get watery; it also helps keep the tacos from falling apart as you eat them.
MAKE AHEAD: The salted cabbage needs to drain for 20 to 30 minutes. The cauliflower can be roasted up to a week in advance and refrigerated; reheat in a low oven or microwave before using in the tacos. The slaw can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. From Joe Yonan, author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook" (Ten Speed Press, 2013).
1-pound head red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek-style yogurt (may substitute low-fat or whole-milk)
2 teaspoons adobo (sauce from canned chipotles in adobo; may substitute 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle)
2-pound head cauliflower, cored and cut into thick slices
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sweet or hot smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton)
Twelve 6-inch corn tortillas
1/2 cup store-bought or homemade salsa verde (see Cooked Salsa Verde at www.washingtonpost.com/recipes)
1/2 cup raw unsalted pumpkin seeds (pepitas), toasted (see NOTE)
12 sprigs fresh cilantro
4 limes, cut into wedges for serving
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Line a mixing bowl with several layers of paper towels.
Toss the cabbage with the tablespoon of salt in a colander that's set in the sink or over a bowl. Rest a plate directly on the cabbage, then weight it with a large can of tomatoes or beans. Leave for 20 to 30 minutes, so the cabbage wilts and exudes water.
Transfer the wilted cabbage to the bowl. Roll it up in the paper towels and squeeze out any remaining liquid, changing the paper towels and repeating as needed. Discard the liquid, wipe out the bowl and return the dry, squeezed cabbage to the bowl. Mix in the yogurt and adobo to form a creamy slaw.
Meanwhile, toss the cauliflower, oil, paprika and salt to taste on a large rimmed baking sheet, using more than one if needed to keep the cauliflower from overlapping. Roast until barely tender and browned on the edges, 15 to 20 minutes.
While the cauliflower is roasting, heat the tortillas: If you have a gas stove, turn several burners to medium and lay a tortilla on each burner. Cook for just a few seconds on each side, turning with tongs, until they are lightly blackened in spots and starting to puff. (If you don't have a gas stove, heat them one at a time in a dry skillet over medium-high heat, for a few seconds on each side.) As the tortillas are done, transfer them to a large piece of aluminum foil and fold it over to keep them warm as you heat the remaining ones.
When ready to make the tacos, arrange 3 tortillas on each plate. Top with the slaw, cauliflower pieces, a drizzle of salsa verde, toasted pumpkin seeds and a sprig of cilantro.
Serve with lime wedges to squeeze over each taco.
NOTE: Toast pumpkin seeds in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat for a few minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. You will hear them make popping sounds.