In order to not burn out on my go-to recipes, I’ve been exploring flavors I’d previously only entrusted to trained professionals by taking nightly trips around the world of multicultural food blogs. Collecting pointers from other cooks, especially those who grew up inhaling symphonies of garlic, ginger, hot chilies, and other magical seasonings wafting from their childhood kitchens is a great failsafe against squandering expensive aromatics. You just know a recipe is gonna be good if the author cites it as a hand-me-down from their grandma. Especially if said grandma is described as being able to produce eye-wateringly delicious dishes from memory, equipped with two sleeves-full of tricks and a kind of gastronomical finesse otherwise witnessed only in silver screen mice. So keep an eye out for bloggers who borrow recipes from family: if it’s still circulating after all those generations, it’s probably pretty tasty.
When I try my hand at a new dish, I personally find it less intimidating to go out on a limb that stems from the tree of tried-and-tested ingredient knowledge. With that in mind, when I suddenly craved something spicy and smoky for dinner last week, I knew exactly where to start exploring. Armed with a pineapple and some courage, I queued up a mouthwatering taco tutorial for inspiration, and reached into my pantry for the versatile, indomitable, extremely shelf-stable staple known as canned chipotles in adobo.
Chipotles in adobo are jalapeno peppers that have been smoked, dried, rehydrated in a piquant tomato sauce, and stuffed into adorably tiny cans. Sliced or pureed, they can be used in a variety of savory recipes that need just a little more kick, like chili or omelettes. Here, they lay the flavor foundation for tacos al pastor, a term which means “shepherd style,” and in culinary use dates back to around 1930. Tacos al pastor originated in Mexico and drew influence from the traditional shawarma technique brought there by 20th-century Lebanese immigrants.
Traditional tacos al pastor feature pork roasted on a vertical spit, marinated in a tangy blend of chili peppers, fresh pineapple, and spices, and then shaved onto a tortilla and topped with raw onions and cilantro. In this recipe, I substituted jackfruit for meat, which works perfectly thanks to its stringy, pulled-pork texture and tendency to adopt whatever flavor you throw at it. For this vegan rendition, it’s best to use canned jackfruit, which spares you the square footage investment into either a vertical meat spit or a fresh jackfruit. Seriously, have you seen those things? They’re monstrous.
You can use whatever protein you prefer–this marinade pairs well with pretty much everything, whether you’re in the mood for pork, shrimp, chicken, or tofu. Other great toppings that complement the smoky, fruity, and subtle spiciness of al pastor include additional chopped pineapple, a sprinkle of soft cheese like queso fresco, and julienned purple cabbage. You could also try using the pico de gallo from our recipe for avocado melt sandwiches. And if you can find them, use mitad y mitad tortillas, which feature the best of both worlds: wheat flour makes them sturdy enough to hold saucy fillings, and masa gives them a sweet corn flavor.