Memory is a strange and funny thing. It’s incredible, how connected each of our senses is to the triggering of different memories; the way a certain scent can immediately bring you back to a precise place that you haven’t recollected in ages, or a specific song can make you feel like you’re fifteen and irrevocably lovelorn all over again (or hopefully make you laugh at the memory of it). Food and taste have an interesting relationship to memory, as food is so often at the crux of social events or gatherings. We associate certain dishes with specific holidays; remember our excitement when our mothers let us lick the bowl of cake batter or cookie dough; recall what we prepared to eat on the occasion of making that daunting or exhilarating announcement.
Sometimes food is imbued with memory because of who we were with or what transpired when we consumed it, while in other instances it comprises the memory in-and-of itself. The mind-blowingly delicious, sweet and creamy 'normal' cheese (as the Spaniards called it) that topped a bocadito I shared with my best friend in Barcelona this past July will absolutely go down in history. As will the infamous maple cinnamon almond butter, both for its truly insane taste and for initiating my foray into the wonderful world of homemade nut butter. And forevermore, the sight and taste of a ripe, succulent persimmon will remind me of these roasted winter root veg tacos, shared with good friends and family I hadn't seen in ages, a pure delight of distinct, bold, and perfectly complimentary flavors.
My creation of these tacos was impelled by a serendipitous tasting at my local famers’ market in Los Angeles over the holidays. It may go without saying, but I am a huge fan of free samples—especially if they’re of seasonal, quality produce, baked goods, or artisanal cheeses. Meandering through the endlessly vibrant stalls of the market one Saturday, I happened upon a produce seller offering samples of persimmon (known as sharon fruit here in the UK). I had only ever tasted persimmon once before in my life, as a child; I remembered the way it made my tongue feel like sandpaper, a bewitched fruit that mysteriously altered the sensorial chemistry of my mouth. While this mildly traumatizing experience had averted me from the fruit for the following two decades of my life, I was now a new woman: adventuresome, eager, in love with food, and willing to take the risk. I would taste it again.
Sweet, succulent, and juicy, this fruit instantaneously worked its magic on me, but of an entirely different variety this time around. I excitedly approached the grocer and bought more persimmons than I knew what to do with. But I wasn’t concerned. I knew I would figure something out.
The following evening, I had plans to cook dinner with a few friends. Mulling over what would be fun and easy to make for a party of four, lightening suddenly struck: tacos, but with a twist. They would have elements of traditional tacos (corn tortilla, black beans) but be rooted in the produce that was thriving at the moment. They would be persimmon tacos. With beetroot. And sweet potato. A marriage of seasonal flavors, fruit and veg, fresh and roasted, bursting with color. Being made in LA (which has the benefits of certain foodstuffs that are impossible to find in London), they would feature proper Mexican cheese. Fresh cilantro and a creamy coconut sauce. The layers of ideas were bubbling in my head. I simply couldn't wait to make them.
While these tacos require many individual bits to fully execute, they are worth all the effort--for their simultaneous freshness and warmth, their sweetness and zing, and the true explosion of flavor they produce with each eager bite. They provide a burst of color and a sheer joy of taste that will surely brighten up these cold, bleak winter days.
Roasted Root Vegetable Tacos (with Sweet Potato, Beetroot & Persimmon)
4 soft corn tortillas, taco size (if you can't find small corn tortillas at your market, you can use the burrito sized ones and cut them into smaller rounds)
1 persimmon a.k.a. sharon fruit (ripe! not rock hard, like many in the UK are)
Queso fresco, cotija cheese, or crumbly goat cheese (optional)
fresh cilantro for garnish
Maple-Miso Sweet Potatoes, inspired by Love + Lemons
1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes, cut into 1" cubes
1/2 Tbsp. miso paste (organic, non-GMO; light or dark is fine)
1/2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
3 medium beets
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. thyme
squeeze of 1/2 a lemon
Spiced Black Beans
1 15-oz can black beans (or you can cook them from dry if you have time!)
2 tsp. coconut oil (or cooking oil of choice)
1 small red onion, largely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. red chili flakes (or to taste)
(Coconut) Lime Cilantro Sauce -- great with the coconut or without
1/2 cup (4 oz) plain probiotic yogurt (make sure it has no additives, just yogurt)
3 Tbsp. unsweetened dried coconut (optional)
3 Tbsp. cilantro, leaves + stems finely minced
1 tsp. cold-pressed olive oil
1/2 lime, juice + zest
salt & pepper, to taste
1. Make sauce. If using coconut, heat oven to 350°F / 180°C / Gas 4. Spread coconut on a baking tray and toast until lightly golden, 5-7 minutes. Finely chop or mash with a mortar and pestle. Once coconut is prepped, or if omitting, mix all sauce ingredients together. For a smoother sauce, you can combine all the ingredients in a food processor, reserving olive oil to drizzle in and process at the end. Place in fridge to let flavors meld.
2. Pre-heat oven to 400°F / 200°C / Gas 6.
3. Starting with the beetroot, cut off the stems and wash off any dirt (no need to peel). Loosely wrap each beet in foil and set on a baking tray. Roast for 50-60 minutes, checking every 20 minutes or so to make sure they aren't sticking to the tray or burning. Beets are done when a fork slides into their middles easily.
4. Once the beets are in the oven, chop your sweet potato into 1" cubes. Place in a roasting tin, coat lightly with olive or coconut oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast for 10-15 minutes, until just beginning to soften.
5. Mix miso paste and maple syrup together.
6. Remove sweet potato from oven, pour over the miso-maple marinade and toss to coat. Roast sweet potato for an additional 10-15 minutes, until softened and caramelized. (I find that blasting them under the grill or broiler for the last 5 minutes of cooking produces a superior caramelization than cooking them in the oven the entire time.) Set aside.
7. When the beets are cooked through, remove them from the oven and set aside to cool for a few minutes. After they are cool enough to handle, use a paper towel and your thumbs to slide the skins off the beets. They should come off quite easily. If not, they may need a few more minutes in the oven.
8. Dice beets into 1" cubes. Toss with ground coriander, thyme and lemon juice. Set aside.
9. Prepare black beans. In a saucepan on medium heat, sauté diced onion with oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, paprika and chili flakes and cook for an additional 1 minute.
10. Drain and rinse black beans. Add to saucepan with the onions and spices. Stir to coat and cook until thoroughly warmed. Set aside.
11. Slice persimmon into strips. Set aside.
12. When ready to serve, heat tortillas in oven or directly over the flame on a gas stove, watching carefully to make sure they don't burn. Top with beans, beetroot, sweet potato, cheese (if using), yogurt sauce and fresh cilantro. Promptly devour!