My childhood was filled with some of the most exquisite meals I’ve ever had, and still to this day, delicious food is a mainstay of my parents’ home. But I had no idea this wasn’t the case in everyone’s homes.
I learned practically everything I know about food from watching my dad gracefully execute four masterpiece plates on a nightly basis.
Apparently, our weekly culinary roundup wasn’t the norm.
I assumed everyone was dining on rosemary and garlic roasted chicken, balsamic-drizzled sea scallops, and lusciously lemony handmade crab cakes.
Thanks to my dad’s many years spent in gourmet kitchens, combined with a natural intuition and love for extracting flavors, our standard fare was reminiscent of what you’d find in a five-star restaurant.
Of course, of all my dad’s go-to dishes, I couldn’t get enough of taco night. I was a kid, after all.
I remember miniature multicolored ramekins filled with everything from lime-scented sour cream to crunchy cabbage to shredded aged white cheddar. Though there was always citrusy sliced chicken breast available straight off our indoor grill, our veg game was equally as strong.
With both parents being advocates for fresh (never frozen or canned) vegetables, charred red peppers, sweet onions, and earthy mushrooms always made an appearance as part of our condiment station. But they were usually offered as something secondary to the protein.
In my present-day kitchen, this has inspired me to enhance my taco bars with all different kinds of vegetable varieties.
But no matter the time of year, I always find my way back to those grassy peppers, softened onions, and umami-rich mushrooms.
Techniques like toasting ground spices in oil to bring out their flavors also brings a zesty flair to my fillings. But for me, texture within a taco is everything, and this recipe is a perfect example of just that.
Instead of jumbling all my veggies into one pan, I let the mushrooms do their sauteing solo. Here’s why:
The more you crowd a spongy ingredient like mushrooms into that skillet, the more they will steam instead of browning. They just won’t get enough direct contact with the heat that way.
So it’s time to say no to soggy mushrooms!
Speaking of which, let’s take a quick trip to the land of mushroom “fries” (which could totally be used in this recipe as an additional garnish from taco texture heaven).
I take long, thin strips of shiitakes that have been coated in olive oil for a spin in a high heat oven. They shrink down and crisp up on the edges, while the meaty middles stay tender and soft.
While they’re still hot, I hit them with a sprinkling of flaky sea salt. Try feeding one of those to someone who claims they don’t like mushrooms and watch their face melt into a puddle of puzzled joy.
Since preparing mushrooms two ways would diverge a bit from the gorgeous simplicity of these tacos, I simply saute them separate from the rest of the veggies as I’ve described below, so they don’t end up in a busy pan.
Let them hang out untouched for at least a minute to create that spectacular crisp and golden brown exterior. And if you have a helper in the kitchen, feel free to take on the task of creating glorious mushrooms two ways!
Searing the mushrooms correctly is only half of the secret here, though. The warm, aromatic medley of smoky cumin, garlic powder, and chili powder that’s toasted in the pan before the veggies dive in is the real deal ticket to taco flavor town.
The oil becomes perfumed, the spices’ flavors deepen, and – alongside a refreshing smear of cilantro-lime sour cream – everybody becomes one big happy handheld family and lives spicily ever after.
That’s the kind of fairy tale I can get down with.Print
Turn up the volume on your veggie tacos. Crunchy peppers, onions, and earthy shiitakes explode with spices in these flavorful handhelds.
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder, divided
- 1 teaspoon chili powder (seasoning blend), divided
- 2 cups stemmed, thinly sliced shiitakes
- 1 3/4 teaspoons coarse salt, divided
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 2 cups thinly sliced yellow bell pepper
- 2 cups thinly sliced poblano pepper
- 2 cups thinly sliced red onion
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- 8 corn tortillas, warmed
- 1 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese
- 1 cup shredded romaine lettuce
- Chopped tomatoes, lime wedges, and sliced jalapenos (optional garnishes)
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and swirl to coat the pan.
- Add 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1/4 teaspoon chili powder. Whisk and toast the spices until very fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Add mushrooms and toss to coat with the oil and spices. Saute until golden brown and lightly crispy, about 2 minutes. Season them with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Add the remaining oil and swirl to coat the pan, then add 1 teaspoon cumin and the remaining garlic powder and chili powder. Whisk and toast the spices again until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Add the yellow peppers, poblano peppers, and red onions. Toss to coat the veggies in the spices, then saute until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Season the veggies with 1 teaspoon salt and the remaining pepper, and set them aside with the mushrooms.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1/4 teaspoon salt, sour cream, lime juice, cayenne, and cilantro.
- Warm the tortillas on a flat-top grill or in a dry pan over medium heat (or hold them over an open flame on a gas grill) until lightly charred around the edges.
- To assemble, top each warm tortilla with a dollop of the sour cream mixture and a portion of the spiced veggies. Top with even amounts of shredded cheese and lettuce. Serve with your choice of additional toppings, such as chopped tomatoes, sliced jalapenos, and lime wedges.
- Category: Tacos
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Vegetarian
Keywords: bell pepper, poblano pepper, mushroom, vegetarian, taco
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Measure Spices and Chop Veggies
Measure the cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, salt, and pepper.
Using a sharp knife, remove and discard the stems of the shiitake mushrooms and thinly slice the caps.
Remove the seeds and ribs from the peppers and thinly slice them into long strips.
Halve and thinly slice the red onion into strips.
Step 2 – Toast the Spices for the Mushrooms
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and swirl it to coat the pan.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of the cumin, 1/4 teaspoon of the garlic powder, and 1/4 teaspoon of the chili powder. Whisk to combine and toast the spices until they are very fragrant, for about 2 minutes.
Step 3 – Saute the Mushrooms
Add the mushrooms and toss to coat them with the oil and spices. Allow the mushrooms to cook for about 1 minute untouched, so they can crisp up and brown.
Cooking the mushrooms separately from the rest of the veggies assures that they will saute instead of steaming, and develop a slightly crisp texture. Saute until they are golden brown, for about 2 minutes total, and then season them with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Remove the mushrooms from the pan with a slotted spoon and set them aside.
Step 4 – Toast the Remaining Spices and Saute the Peppers and Onions
Add the remaining oil and swirl to coat the pan, then add 1 teaspoon of the cumin along with the remaining garlic powder and chili powder.
Whisk and toast the spices again until they’re fragrant, for about 2 minutes.
Add the yellow peppers, poblano peppers, and red onions to the pan.
Toss to coat the veggies in the spices, and then saute them until they are softened a bit but still crisp-tender, for about 5 minutes.
Season the veggies with a teaspoon of salt and the remaining black pepper, and then set them aside with the mushrooms.
Step 5 – Make the Sour Cream Sauce
Step 6 – Warm the Tortillas and Prepare the Garnishes
Warm the tortillas on a flat-top grill or in a dry pan over medium heat. You could also hold them over an open flame on a gas grill if that’s more your thing, until they’re lightly charred around the edges.
Chop the tomatoes and lime wedges, and thinly slice the jalapenos for garnish. Your favorite salsa, pickled jalapenos, or fresh chopped cilantro would also make tasty garnishes for these tacos. Go with your favorites!
And if you haven’t already, shred some lettuce and some grated sharp cheddar cheese.
Step 7 – Assemble and Enjoy
To assemble the tacos, top each warm tortilla with a dollop of the sour cream mixture and a pinch of the spiced veggies. Top with even portions of shredded cheese and lettuce.
Serve with the chopped tomatoes, sliced jalapenos, and lime wedges, or your choice of additional toppings.
Crank Up that Veggie Taco Volume
If you’re over bland, barely seasoned vegetarian tacos, take this opportunity to spice things up.
Tickle your tongue with an extra boost of heat by bringing a few of the big boys into the toasty mix: cayenne, ancho, chipotle powder, and so on.
Stuff your leftovers into a large folded flour tortilla, and then into your face hole. The zesty veggies and melted cheese make for a glorious quesadilla as well.
For more Mexican-inspired munchies you’ll want to wrap your hands around, check out these tasty tacos next:
- Vegetarian Grilled Corn and Green Bean
- Shrimp with Green Onion and Cilantro Crema
- Crunchy Beef with Zesty Homemade Seasoning
Corn or flour? Soft or crunchy? What’s your taco vehicle of choice? Share your favorite vessels in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Shanna Mallon on November 14, 2014. Last updated: July 15, 2020 at 13:13 pm. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”