July 6, 2021 — Family Food

Aubergine Portobello Taco

  • 1 hour
  • 4 PEOPLE
  • easy

I’ve used hoja santa in this vegetarian/vegan taco filling. Its name, ‘holy leaf’, alludes to Mexican legends that describe this large floppy-leafed tree’s role in the baby Messiah’s nappy routines. This makes for a fun story when introducing the dish to your guests, but it is a very alluring herb and used often in Mexican cooking. It tastes a bit of eucalyptus, anise, nutmeg, mint, tarragon, black pepper and even sassafras – the essence of root beer.

An easy vegetarian/vegan taco

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What you need

Corn tortillas

2 large aubergines

2 large Portobello mushrooms.

1 large white onion, peeled and quartered

1 large dried ancho chilli

2 large dried guajillo chillies

2 large cloves of garlic

400g fresh tomatoes

1 tsp dried hoja santa, plus more to taste

Toasted sesame seeds

Optional taco accompaniments – amounts to suit

Chopped lettuce

Chopped tomatoes – or pico de gallo (chopped tomatoes, onion, chilli, coriander)

Sliced avocado

Grated or crumbled cheese (mild cheddar, Wensleydale, hard mozzarella, feta)

Crema – Greek yoghurt, sour cream, or crème fraiche or a mix, with a little lime juice and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Chopped red or green chillies

Chopped coriander


Chilli sauces of choice…


How Dad Cooked It

The Mexican way with many sauces is to ‘broil’ or char ingredients in a pan and then blitz in a blender and return to a pan to finish cooking. The traditional pan for ‘broiling’ is a ‘comal’ (cast iron flat pan). Therefore, a cast iron pan is the best tool for the job, but a normal non-stick pan can also be used providing you are happy cooking at a relatively (possibly lifetime-guaranteeing-limiting) high temperature. Otherwise, cook the ingredients on a baking sheet under the grill. The idea is to soften and partially cook, whilst charring a little – not to cook all the way through or blacken excessively.

Hoja santa is used fresh and dried in Mexican cooking. Source online, as there is no real substitute.

  1. Take the stalk off the dried chillies and remove the seeds. Cut down the side of the chilli to open and then dry fry all the chillies on a hot pan until starting to colour. Turn often and press down with a spatula to cook evenly. Place the chillies in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to soak for 15 minutes.
  2. Trim the aubergines and cut into slices about 1.5cm thick, then cut again across to make long sticks. Cut across again to make sticks about 5cm long. Cut the mushrooms into slices about 1cm thick.
  3. Using a dry frying pan on medium-high to high heat, dry fry the aubergines until just starting to colour, then pour in a tablespoon or so of light olive oil and fry for a couple minutes until lightly browned on all sides. Transfer to a plate. Add the sliced mushrooms to the pan and fry these until they have released their moisture and are beginning to brown. Add the aubergines to the mushrooms stir and cook for a minute more and then transfer again to the plate.
  4. Put the tomatoes into a cast iron pan (see note above) along with the garlic and onion. Turn the heat up high and cook, allowing the ingredients to soften somewhat and char a little and evenly, keep turning and remove ingredients as they become ready. NB: If desired, protect the ingredients from the blackening of charring by leaving the skin on the onion and peeling after cooking and peeling the tomatoes after cooking. However, top Mexican authority, Diana Kennedy, says don’t bother – the black bits add interest to the finished dish…
  5. Remove any excessively burnt bits from the broiling ingredients. Remove the dried chillies from their soaking liquid (most recipes say discard the liquid, but I like to reserve and add a little to my sauces if they need a little more oomph). Put the broiling ingredients into the blender and blitz, adding a little water if necessary, the consistency should be like soup. NB: You may need to blitz for some time – depending on power and robustness of your blender as the guajillo chillies have quite tough skins.) Pour into a saucepan, add the hoja santa and cook for about 5 minutes. Then add the aubergine and the mushrooms and cook for a couple of minutes more. Check the seasoning – adding some of the chilli soaking liquid if desired.
  6. Put aubergines and mushrooms into a serving dish and sprinkle over the sesame seeds.
  7. Warm the tortillas (in the oven wrapped in tin foil, in the microwave in a plastic tortilla warmer or zip bag, or individually on a hot dry frying pan). Serve, along with laid out accompaniments for everybody to make their own tacos.
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