sweet potato and leek tacos

8:47:00 PM

I use an app for my recipes that allows you to rate them on a 1-5 scale (no half stars allowed!) We have to save the 5-star rating, therefore, for stuff that’s really, really phenomenal. I rely on Bob for these ratings, because he is an excellent critic. There’s a great chicken enchilada recipe that made the cut, an unreal barbecue chicken grilled cheese with gorgonzola fondue… and now, these tacos.

Yes, a vegetarian taco got a 5-star rating from Bob, and he also confirmed what I already knew - that these are the best tacos I’ve ever made. And seriously though, we eat a lot of tacos. And sometimes they have bacon. And these are still the best. 

Granted, there is cheese. A lot of cheese. 

So I’ll set the scene: crispy, delicious sweet potatoes roasted in butter combine with leeks that have not only been baked - again, in butter - but also poached in wine with herbs and garlic and thennnn seared in a hot pan - yes, in butter - and then oh man, it’s all served over a hot tortilla covered in oaxaca cheese that’s been browned in a skillet, then topped with even more cheese (the salty feta variety) and some crunchy almond slivers and scallions andddd we’ve got some homemade almond-tomatillo salsa…

basically this is an A+ recipe. It was published in the LA Times and is an adaptation of a recipe from a food cart in LA called Guerrilla Tacos. I have never been to California, but if the photos and descriptions of this cart’s tacos are anything to go by, I think I might eat at this place every day.

No, this is not a typical taco recipe that will take you twenty minutes. It’ll cost you an hour, at least, but you will be rewarded with a taco with amazing depth of flavor and perfect contrasting textures.

Every single component of this taco is important. I was close to leaving out the almonds and the feta (thinking the oaxaca cheese was enough), but don’t. Don’t skip a single thing. 

There are only a couple tiny changes I made to the original recipe. The salsa calls for an ounce of arbol chiles. The recipe didn’t specify fresh or dried, but I assume fresh given the quantity. I bought dried ones, since it’s all I could find, bit into one cautiously to test the spice level, and then spent a while with my head under the faucet trying to soothe the burn. So, ONE tiny little chile was enough for me for this salsa. Bob probably would’ve preferred two as he’s a spice fiend, so if you are also, use two. This makes a lot of salsa - you could probably halve the recipe for the salsa if you want. My tomatillos were pretty big, so I cut them into quarters. 

The recipe also calls for cooking leeks in wine. It called for an entire bottle of wine and that made me very sad - discarding an entire bottle of wine after poaching the leeks. So I used about half a bottle - two cups worth or so - in a smaller saucepan and added just enough water to cover the leeks. This worked perfectly - still had a very definite wine flavor without having to use an entire bottle, plus enough left over for dinner.

If you can’t find oaxacan cheese, fresh mozzarella would be an okay substitute, but use oaxacan if you can find it - it’s a bit drier and works better for this.

sweet potato and leek tacos
makes 4 servings

for the almond-tomatillo salsa - makes about 2 cups, you will have leftovers!
1 red bell pepper
1 tablespoon oil
1-2 dried arbol chiles 
3 tablespoon slivered almonds
1 pound small tomatillos, peeled and rinsed (if tomatillos are large, cut them in half or quarters)
2 plum tomatoes, quartered
1 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar

for the tacos
1½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into about ½ inch pieces
2 large leeks
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
3 tablespoon butter, melted
salt and pepper 
2 cups dry white wine
5–6 sprigs fresh thyme
5–6 sprigs fresh parsley
8 corn tortillas
8 ounces Oaxacan cheese, sliced into ¼ inch rounds
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted in a dry pan until lightly browned
1 cup thinly sliced scallions, green parts only

Make the salsa first: 

If you have a gas stove, hold the bell pepper with tongs and roast on all sides over a flame until skin is blackened and blistered. If you don’t, pre-heat your broiler. Line a cooking sheet with aluminum foil. Cut the sides off the pepper so you have four pieces, then place them on the foil, skin-side up, and broil until skin is blackened and blistered. 

Place pepper in a plastic bag and let steam until pepper is cool enough to handle and peel the skin off the roasted pepper.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pot over medium-high, then add the arbol chile and the almonds and toast until fragrant. Add the tomatillos, tomatoes, water, and 3/4th tsp of salt, and cook for about 10-15 minutes, until tomatillos are tender.

Transfer the mixture to the blender or food processor, along with the bell pepper, then puree until smooth. Add the vinegar. Add salt and pepper as needed. Keep salsa in fridge until ready to use.

Onto the tacos:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Prepare the leeks by removing the tough green parts, leaving only the light green and white parts. Cut them in half lengthwise so you end up with four roughly equal pieces and each piece has some root attached - this will help keep the leeks together during the various steps of cooking them. Rinse them well to remove grit, then gently pat dry.

On a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment, place the cut up sweet potatoes, the leeks, and the whole cloves of garlic. Pour 3 tbsp of melted butter over the vegetables, toss well, then season with salt and pepper. 

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until sweet potatoes are roasted and browned and the leeks and garlic are softened. 

In a large pot or pan, bring the white wine, 2 cups water, thyme and parsley to a boil and cook until it loses the raw alcohol smell, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer, then add the cooked leeks and garlic and cook for about 30 minutes, until leeks are tender. Discard garlic and herbs.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Pull the leeks from the wine, pat them dry and add to the butter to cook briefly on both sides, about 3 minutes total.

Cut the root ends from the leeks and cut the remaining leeks into 2-inch lengths.

For each taco, heat a corn tortilla in a large skillet (cast iron works great for this) over medium-high heat with a little butter so it gets toasty. Next to the tortilla in the skillet, place a round or two of the Oaxacan cheese, and let get melty and browned on the bottom. When tortilla and cheese are warm, place the tortilla on top of the cheese, then flip the whole thing over with a spatula and slide onto a plate so that the cheese side is  facing up. Top the taco with a few strips of leek, some sweet potatoes, a couple tablespoons of salsa, crumbled feta cheese, the toasted almonds, and green onions. 

Repeat using the remaining ingredients.

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