Rajas

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Hey there, it’s been a while

Summer is the hardest time for blogging, at least for me. Maybe it’s because there’s a lot going on between June and August – more midweek Frisbee games, more barbecues/weddings/events in general, more impromptu hanging out on a sunny day. Maybe it’s also because in the summer I’m lazy and end up just putting things on the grill a lot rather than figuring out a recipe or making something interesting. Also, grill pictures don’t turn out so well most of the time. Whatever, we’re wiping the slate clean and starting again.

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Jeff and I took a vacation recently to Colorado, spent a few amazing days hiking around Rocky Mountain National Park and then a few more exploring Denver. Denver is a quirky city, a grows-on-you city. We spent our first day trying to make it a walk-around-sightseeing city, in the way that San Francisco is. Denver is not like that. What we slowly discovered that the city is full of beautiful parks and greenspaces, tree-lined bike paths (that are so wide!) and the most beautiful botanical gardens. We ever found some cute walking areas on our second day in town. And we ate. Oh man, did we eat.

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There was fancy food, an amazing nose-to-tail plate we shared at Old Major. And there were also some great burgers enjoyed while watching soccer. And there were a lot of tacos. You’d think living in San Francisco we wouldn’t really be interested in checking out Mexican (or Mexican-esque) food elsewhere. Or at least, I’d think that. But not only did we have the best al pastor taco I’ve ever had, I also discovered an amazingly delicious vegetarian taco. Oh yes friends, it’s possible.

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Veggie tacos don’t get a lot of love usually. They’re uninspired, generally grilled vegetables topped with guacamole or salsa. We only ordered one because I was desperate for vegetables. It was at a cute and trendy taco bar that was more American than Mexican and I mean that in the best, more delicious way. We ate our way shrimp, barbacoa, pork belly, sipped high quality tequilas, and then got to the rajas taco hiding at the back of the platter. We were full and therefore a little more picky by the time we ate it but it was still the best taco of the night.

Fast forward a few weeks and it’s still on my mind. And then it was on my plate. And then gone.

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Rajas

What is rajas you ask? It’s a pepper and corn mix held together traditionally with crema (similar to sour cream) and cheese. Creamy, earthy, a little sweet. It has depth that vegetarian foods sometimes lack and it feels rich and indulgent in a way that vegetables generally don’t. Generally it’s a side dish (and a great one at that) but now that I know about it as a taco filling, I probably won’t serve vegetarian tacos any other way.

At home I made it with greek yogurt and I didn’t char and skin the pepper which I’m sure is how they did it at the restaurant. No matter, it was still absolutely worth it.

1 medium red onion, halved and sliced thin
2 poblano peppers, ribs and seeds removed and sliced into strips*
2 green peppers, seeds removed and sliced into strips
1 tablespoon oil
1 tsp kosher salt
8 ounces frozen corn**
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 – 1 cup greek yogurt
1/4 cup queso fresco, crumbled or grated***
1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)
Juice of one lime

Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat and add the oil and the red onion. Cook, stirring often, for about five minutes, until the onion is a little softened. Add both peppers and the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 more minutes. If they start cooking too fast just turn down the heat. The peppers and onions should be very soft, almost falling apart. Cooking them for so long over lower heat helps break down the skin which I was too lazy to peel off. You could also skip the long cooking and char the peppers over a flame (takes about 15 minutes), put them in a covered bowl for 10 minutes to steam, peel, deseed, and chop. They’ll be spicier that way.

Once the onions and peppers are very soft, add the corn (still frozen) and increase the heat to medium. Add the cumin too and stir to combine. Cook for a few minutes, until the corn is warmed and then taste to see if the seasoning should be adjusted. Turn off the heat and scrape the contents of the pan into a large bowl.

Let the mixture cool for a few minutes until it isn’t steaming anymore, then stir in the greek yogurt and cheese. Mix thoroughly and taste to see how spicy it is – the dairy will tame some heat so if it’s no longer spicy enough for you, add in a little bit of cayenne. I added a quarter teaspoon, you might want more or less (or none). Add the juice of half a lime, stir, and taste. If it needs more tang, add the rest, otherwise reserve the other lime half for serving.

To serve, you can just put it in a big bowl and have people dig in. It would also be great on a taco salad, maybe with some black beans or avocado slices, or just on it’s own. It’s good hot or warm – I’m not a fan of the cold version though, it’s a little too thick. And for a great taco, warm a small tortilla in a hot pan until it blisters a little (a minute or so on each side) then top with warmed rajas and maybe add a sprinkled of diced raw onion or radish and a squeeze of lime. The perfect vegetarian taco.

* Poblanos are often mild but they can be spicy. Always taste a strip from each pepper to gauge heat. If it’s too much substitute a sweet pepper. If you want more, throw in a jalapeno, with or without seeds.

** Could you use fresh corn here? Absolutely, and it would be great! But just as I am too lazy to peel the peppers for a weeknight dish, I am also too lazy to shuck corn and then strip the kernels off. There’s a lot going on in this dish; frozen corn tastes just fine.

*** I actually used a mix of queso fresco and queso duro from my local bodega but you could also use cotija, monterey jack (ooh, or pepper jack), manchego, or any salty flavorful cheese that won’t melt too much. Feta would work, mozzerella not so much.

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