Sweet Potato Taco
Beet “Tartare” Tostada
2512 E 12th St.
Austin, TX 78702
2512 E 12th St.
Austin, TX 78702
Maitake Tempura Tacos
Hearts of Palm Ceviche
I distinctly remember my first encounter with salsa macha because it was a completely confounding experience. Staring at this strange, violently red jar of oily seeds, it was introduced to me as “seed salsa.” Up to that point, “salsa” had only been used to describe mixtures of finely minced vegetables, sometimes fruits, accompanying Mexican food. Usually tomato-based, fresh and punchy, I couldn’t connect the dots between that condiment and this one.
Taking the tiniest spoonful to test the waters, I watched rivulets of glistening toasted seeds ooze down my plate, soaking into everything it touched. One bite, and I was hooked. Instantly regretting that timid serving, I bellied up to the bar again and again, dousing my entire meal until my lips tingled and my nose turned red from the heat. It’s the good kind of pain the unlocks all sorts of endorphins, creating an undeniably addictive experience.
The allure owes something about the combination of textures and tastes, with toothsome, crunchy seeds tumbled together in this slick miasma of fiery, nutty, tangy oil. It doesn’t sound like it should work on paper, but it exceeds all expectations in real life. Suspend doubt long enough to give it a try, stop trying to put it to words; you’ll understand in an instant.
Consider it Mexican chili crisp; spicy, savory, and impossibly addictive. Salsa macha is an oil-based condiment that goes with just about everything. It was born in the Mexican states of Veracruz and Oaxaca. As one might guess, the name is derived from the feminine version of “macho,” resulting in gender ambiguity, and its base recipe is ripe for tweaking.
Naturally, I had to take my rendition in a completely inauthentic direction that most people would say has gone off the rails. Sorry, not sorry. It all started with an extra bottle of everything bagel seasoning, when I realized that half the ingredients I needed were all neatly bundled together within. Why not take that idea and run with it? Thus, Everything Bagel Salsa Macha was born.
Most salsa macha recipes are at least slightly blended after cooking, but I wanted mine totally chunky and extra crunchy. You could always pulse the mixture briefly in the food processor to break it down a bit, or completely puree it for a smoother sauce. Make it your own! The only rules for salsa macha is that it must contain chilies, seeds, nuts, and oil. Everything else is up for interpretation.
Basically, anything edible is a viable canvas for this chunky, seedy salsa. A few of my favorites and top suggestions for this particular variation include:
Like some of the best things in life, the flavors in salsa macha continue to develop and deepen over time. It’s fantastic right away, enjoyed while still warm, but continues to improve over the coming days. Don’t try to keep it too long, though; the garlic and seeds prevent it from keeping longer than 1 – 2 weeks in the fridge without turning rancid. Of course, that deadline is unlikely to pose a problem. I can barely keep a jar around for more than three days.
Enchiladas, like so many brilliant culinary innovations, date back to the ancient Mayans. Corn was plentiful, which gave rise to the fundamental, unassailable corn tortilla. Of course, they were called tlaxcalli at the time, later changed by Spanish conquistadors who couldn’t pronounce the word and forever changed the course of history. While tacos might seem like the most obvious use, a strong argument could be made that enchiladas were the first tortilla-based delicacy written into the annals of history. Originally, the dish consisted of nothing more than empty corn tortillas, rolled for a compact bite, and dipped in chili sauce. Before they were ever fried or filled, people have found these edible vessels worthy within their own rights.
Thus, I present to you an entirely controversial proposal: Try taking the tortilla out of the enchilada.
I promise, that’s not a hypothetical request or an impossible riddle. It occurred to me early on in the pandemic, when grocery deliveries were more akin to a new episode of Chopped, bringing with it a new mystery basket each week. Pasta has always been essential, but the exact form it would take was a bit of a wild card. Not a problem if you’re swapping ziti for penne, but giant manicotti tubes instead of pastina? Something was lost in translation on that exchange. Having never made manicotti before, those jumbo cylinders sat in the pantry for quite some time.
While I may be old, I certainly wasn’t around when the Mayans were creating this ground-breaking food, so my association with enchiladas is more strongly linked to the sauce and filling. One day, craving something with Mexican flair but lacking the traditional nixtamalized base, I came across that Italian staple just waiting for a purpose, and had this wild idea. Why smother them in plain red sauce when we could spice things up a bit?
Thus, Enchilada Manicotti were born. Perfect for a fiesta, family dinner, or cozy night in, the chewy pasta casing is stuffed with high-protein soyrizo and drowned in piquant enchilada sauce. Arguably easier than the contemporary take on this dish, you don’t need to worry about finicky tortillas cracking or unrolling in the oven. After a bit of assembly, you can take the rest of the night off, since it pretty much cooks itself.
Both enchiladas and manicotti are ideal complete meals in and of themselves, needing no additional flourishes to completely satisfy. However, there are still plenty of complementary accompaniments you can consider to round out your plate:
Is it Ital-ican, or maybe Mex-alian? Honestly, neither really capture the free spirit and full flavor of this dish. I’m perfectly satisfied to call it “delicious” and leave it at that. No matter what, you’ll want to leave room for a second helping.
Imagine taking a bite into a crisp, juicy apple at the peak of the season, as sweet and fragrant as it can possibly get. Downright decadent, the experience goes well beyond simple sustenance. However, after that single bite, you toss the rest of the apple straight into the trash. Who could be so wasteful, so thoughtless, so downright heartless? Though the typical experience is less dramatic, perfectly good food is squandered like this every single day.
Despite best intentions, we often ignore leftovers and forget about perishables until they’ve withered in the vegetable bin, barely even fit to compost. Adding insult to injury, perfectly good ingredients are too frequently tossed for a lack of understanding. Dried shiitake mushrooms are a common victim of this crime, accused of having inedible stalks that must simply be removed and discarded. It’s high time we debunked this myth and restored the stem to a place of honor on our plates.
Make no mistake, shiitake mushroom stems are much more fibrous and tough compared to their tender, meaty caps, but they are entirely edible and packed with all the same rich umami flavor. As always, quality counts, so you can expect the best results from Sugimoto shiitakes, selectively grown for their incomparable culinary potential. In fact, the chewy quality that many write off as their downfall can actually be an asset in the right recipe.
When crafting a dish with only the caps, don’t think for a minute that the detached stems are dumped in the garbage. Since they’re small, I tend to keep a baggie of them in the freezer, filling it slowly until I’ve collected enough to cook with. That way, they won’t spoil before I have a good quantity to work with. Even if the dish isn’t focused on shiitake mushrooms, they add incredible depth to all sorts of soups, stews, curries, vegetable patés, stuffings, and beyond. Anywhere that a melange of vegetables can be added, finely minced shiitake stems are your new secret ingredient for even more savory, satisfying results.
Finely chopped, the hearty, toothsome texture enhances plant-based proteins with an extra meaty mouthfeel and incredibly rich, beefy taste. Easily surpassing more processed alternatives in both flavor and nutrition, it’s a wonder that such misinformation about this vital ingredient persists. Clearly, the people perpetuating the defamatory rumors about shiitake stems have never tried cooking them into hot, spicy taco filling. One bite of this quick fix meal would win over any cynics.
Bolstered by minced tempeh, this instant entree simmers with nuanced seasonings, easily adjusted to personal preferences. With a smoky, subtly charred edge from the kiss of a cast iron skillet, no one would ever miss the meat here. Especially when piled high on soft corn tortillas with a barrage of fresh salsa, herbs, and buttery avocado, it’s unthinkable that the key ingredient might have otherwise been destined for the landfill.
Don’t wait until taco Tuesday to whip up a batch. Beyond classic taco fodder, this meatless marvel makes an excellent pizza topper, superlative spaghetti sauce addition, and brilliant breakfast side. Waste not, want not, especially when it comes to prime Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms.
For a city with no shortage of exceptional Mexican and Tex-Mex fare, it’s a struggle to name one single greatest example of the art. However, it’s not hard to make a concise recommendation that covers all cravings. Nissi VegMex is the first place newcomers should visit, regularly winning praise from eaters from near and far. Authentic, bold flavors crafted from scratch with traditional methods are applied to plant-based proteins, so nothing is lost in translation.
Parked in Kenny Dorham’s Backyard, this modest trailer offers a short menu of top hits. Every entree is a knock-out so even if you come late and discover, for instance, that the very popular birria tacos are sold out, a second, third, or even fourth choice still won’t disappoint. True, it’s hard to match the Mexican version of au jus, pairing crispy tacos with sweet, sour, slightly spicy, and deeply savory stew for dipping, but you’ll forget all about it with one bite of any dish.
The “cheek’n” flautas were my first order and remain a nostalgic favorite. Served with well-seasoned rice and beans plus a refreshing little side salad, these crispy rolled tortillas come smothered with an artful drizzle of crema and avocado sauce. It really is a perfect meal, satisfying without over-stuffing, checking all the boxes for varied textures and tastes. Even my dad, a lifelong omnivore, declared that if all vegan food was like this, he could easily ditch meat for good.
Limited hours of operation are their greatest downfall. There’s no such thing as Taco Tuesday when orders are only accepted on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Delayed gratification is tough to contend with, but worth the wait, even if there is a considerable line during prime time. Real food made from scratch isn’t ready in an instant, so grab a drink from the bar or enjoy an icy glass of hempchata (that’s hemp-based horchata) and enjoy the scene. If you’re lucky, there might be a band playing on the stage to the right, luring other bystanders out to dance.
Where should you go if you want genuine Mexican food? What if you’re on a budget? How about vegan, or gluten-free option, too? Want a taste of true Austin in just one night? Nissi, Nissi, Nissi, and Nissi. If anyone says different, they must not be from around here.
1106 East 11th Street
Austin, TX 78702