A good tortilla is supple, with a velvet-like density if it’s made of corn, or a burnished, silky sheen if it’s molded out of a wheat flour-based dough. It should curl into a cylinder without tearing or flaking, but be tender against the teeth. Once filled, a proper tortilla becomes an edible vessel that complements the flavors it cradles within. In the symphony of a great taco, I think of the tortilla as the bass: a reference point for all of the other ingredients in each bite.
The taco, what we now think of as an emblem of Mexican culture, is an ideal example of what chef and culinary historian Maricel Presilla calls “the Latin penchant for building layers of flavor, instead of trying to fuse flavors into an indivisible whole.”
Whether you get them from a sidewalk stall or taco truck, a chain restaurant or fine-dining table, every taco has multiple components, each adding a note that, eaten together, builds into a pleasing, and sometimes surprising, crescendo of taste and texture.
I was thinking about all of this as I worked on this recipe, for grilled zucchini and corn tacos with refried beans and quick-pickled chiles.
You’re going to need a stack of good tortillas. They can be any kind, though I prefer corn for this taco.
Start by making a small batch of quick-pickled chiles. I suggest Fresno chiles, those small teardrop-shaped red ones, but any fresh chile will work – just be sure to cut it into bite-size pieces or rounds.
While the chiles pickle, make a small batch of refried beans in a pan with some coconut oil, grated onion and garlic, and — this will save you time through the whole recipe – a dash of sazon.
The spice mix popular throughout Latin America – usually composed of some combination of salt, pepper, cumin, oregano and other aromatics – adds bold flavors to the beans as well as to a couple of ears of corn and halved zucchini. Rub the vegetables with some oil and throw them on the grill until they’re tender and lightly charred. Let them cool, and then chop.
Now the fun part: Layering the flavors. Steam or griddle your tortillas until they’re soft and pliable. Add two or three tablespoons of refried beans, spreading them into a thick circle toward the center of each tortilla. Add a large spoonful of chopped vegetables, a few pickled chiles, and, if you’d like, some crumbled or shredded cheese, a squeeze of lime and a few sprigs of cilantro. If you’re serving this to a small crowd, let everyone build their own – layering on more of the flavors they prefer and less of the ones they don’t. That’s part of the art of the taco, too: You can have it any way you like.
Grilled Zucchini and Corn Tacos With Quick-Pickled Chiles
Active time: 35 minutes | Total time: 45 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
These summery tacos have layers of flavor: Quick-pickled chiles add heat and acidity; quickly made refried beans provide heft and creaminess; and grilled zucchini and corn deliver a hint of char and sweetness. Sazon, a salted spice blend, makes seasoning the vegetables and beans a cinch; see NOTES for what to use if you don’t have it on hand. If you don’t have a grill, you can sear the vegetables in a cast-iron skillet on the stovetop or broil them until they’re lightly charred all over.
Make Ahead: The beans may be made up to 2 days in advance; gently rewarm on the stove or in the microwave until steaming, loosening with a splash of water, if necessary.
Where to Buy: Sazon can be found in the spice section of most grocery stores, online – or can be made at home.
Not into chiles? >> Use your favorite mild salsa instead.
Instead of pinto beans >> you could use Roman or navy or even black beans.
Zucchini and corn are a nice combination for late summer >> though the same seasoning and preparation would work just as well with bell peppers, asparagus, onions or mushrooms.
Avoiding starches? >> Spread the beans over the bottom of a shallow bowl, top with leaves of lettuce or other greens, followed by the grilled vegetables and toppings.
NOTES: You can make your own sazon, or for this recipe, use 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/4 teaspoon onion or garlic powder and 1/4 teaspoon hot paprika or ground black pepper.
If grilling over charcoal, use a grill thermometer or use the hand method: If you can hold your hand an inch from the grill for about six seconds, the grill should be around 350 degrees.
FOR THE PICKLED PEPPERS
- 2 Fresno chiles or jalapeños chiles (about 2 ounces total), seeded, ribbed and sliced
- 1/3 cup white vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar (optional)
FOR THE REFRIED PINTOS
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil or olive oil
- 1/4 small white or yellow onion (about 1 ounce), grated
- 2 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
- 1 teaspoon sazon seasoning blend (see NOTES for a substitute)
- One (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 to 2 limes)
- Salt, to taste (optional)
- Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
FOR THE ZUCCHINI AND CORN
- 4 scallions
- 2 medium zucchini (about 1 pound total), halved lengthwise (or quartered, if thick)
- 2 ears of corn (about 1 pound total), husked
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons sazon seasoning blend (see NOTES for a substitute)
- 8 to 12 small tortillas (flour or corn), steamed or warmed in a skillet
- Lime wedges
- Crumbled cotija cheese, feta cheese, sour cream or yogurt
- Small handful fresh cilantro sprigs
- In a small bowl, stir together the chiles, vinegar, salt and sugar, if using.
- In a small skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until it begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in the sazon and the beans, and using a fork, mash the beans into a rough paste. Stir in the lime juice, remove from the heat and taste, adding salt and pepper if desired.
- If using a gas grill, preheat it to medium, or 350 to 400 degrees. If grilling over charcoal, use a grill thermometer or use the hand method: If you can hold your hand an inch from the grill for about six seconds, the grill should be around 350 degrees.
- In a large bowl, combine the scallions, zucchini, corn, olive oil and sazon. Use your hands to rub the oil and seasoning over every piece. Place the vegetables on the grill perpendicular to the grates and cook until lightly charred on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove from the grill and let sit until cool enough to handle but still warm, then roughly chop the scallions and zucchini, and scrape the corn off the cob. In a medium bowl, mix the chopped vegetables together.
- To serve, spread a thin layer of refried beans onto each tortilla. Top with a mound of the chopped grilled vegetables, a few pieces of pickled chile, cheese, sour cream or yogurt, a squeeze of lime and a few cilantro sprigs, or as desired.
Nutrition per serving (based on 2 tacos; excluding quick-pickled chiles) | Calories: 282; Total Fat: 18 g; Saturated Fat: 10 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 401 mg; Carbohydrates: 26 g; Dietary Fiber: 5 g; Sugars: 4 g; Protein: 7 g.
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
From staff writer G. Daniela Galarza.