(Chayote squash tacos with Baja mango slaw and chipotle almond butter; inspired by the vegan fish tacos at Jajaja Plantas Mexicanas in NYC and the front-foot catch tre flips you know you’ve tried to copy).
Prep time: 60 minutes; bake time: 10 minutes.
Forgive me if this title takes some explaining, sometimes I forget that skateboarding colloquialisms are not entirely uniform across the U.S. (much less the world). For instance, having spent all my skateboarding years in Texas and NYC, I was caught off guard by everybody on the Nine Club calling nose manuals “nose wheelies.” Does anybody else call varial flips “dog flips?” Ever heard of the switch varial heel being colloquially dubbed “the white rapper?”
Admit it, it makes sense.
Another colloquialism that comes to mind is the “yo flip.” You know that tre flip with the spread out front-foot catch and the back leg catching so late that it almost looks like a glitch in the video? That’s yo. Some skate legends have that natural yo flip—that effortless front foot catch that brings a tear to your eye because, dammit, sometimes life is just beautiful. Dylan Rieder, Janoski, Desarmo and Gustavo all come to mind.
The only drawback to having such a beautiful trademark style in skateboarding (whether it’s footwork or threads) is that its sure to amass a cavalcade of people who mimic it exactly, while more or less forsaking their own natural style. Just like the early 2000s saw an influx of studded belts and bracelets accompanying slim black jeans and white button-up shirts, the yo flip has an endless list of imitators. But what the chorus of forced yo flips neglects is that the skaters mentioned above have a similar, natural style in every trick (not just the tre flip), making the yo flip a ripe cherry on top of an already delectably steezy cake. Conversely, if the yo flip is merely a single outlier in an otherwise radically different style, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Take Josh Kalis, for example: undeniably one of the most iconic tre flips in skateboarding. While it’s not a yo flip, his tre matches the style he exudes with the rest of his tricks. Can you imagine what a yo flip in the middle of an otherwise Kalis-esque lineup of tricks would look like? What about Joslin doing one down half a million stairs? Exactly.
Just like an intentional hands-down style is not a sufficient substitute for, say, the real hands-at-your-side style Antwuan Dixon displays, meat-mimicking vegan recipes are often somewhat try-hard and tend to lose themselves in the process. While there are a few recipes that break the mold and really do have the ability to mimic steak, bacon, barbeque, etc. (cue the jackfruit recipes), the downside is often that these require a litany of lab-crafted ingredients that defeat the health-related purposes of a natural, plant-based meal.
Of course, when I hear buzz of a meal that naturally tastes like meat (just like an up-and-comer that has a natural yo flip), I’m intrigued. I was reading about a restaurant that opened recently in New York City that’s entirely vegan, but still attracting omnivores like wildfire. Jajaja Plantas Mexicanas, on NYC’s lower east side, has created a vegan “fish” taco that uses chayote squash to recreate the tenderness and consistency of a fish fillet. Breaded in cornmeal and ground flaxseed and then served with chipotle almond butter, the menu description omits room for any ingredient that either ends in “isolate” or can’t otherwise be reproduced in a non-commercial kitchen. I decided to try this method to see if this culinary yo flip was truly a Rieder-esque natural.*
Be aware, this recipe requires a little more prep work than the other recipes I’ve introduced and involves a few more ingredients, as there are several working parts. If the other recipes are just like learning a flatground trick, think of this one as learning TJ Rogers’ dream trick. It may take a little more effort to get it down, but the roll away is 100% worth it.
Chayote (pronounced chi-yo-tay) is a South American squash that, like other gourds, is relatively low-calorie while still serving as a good source of complex B vitamins. While it is generally firm, when sliced and steamed, it takes on the pliable nature of a fish fillet; further when marinated in a squeeze of lemon, dressed with some fish seasoning and breaded, it takes on a similar flavor to a fillet of fish nestled in a tangy Baja-style taco.
I’ll let you come to your own conclusions, but I’m pretty stoked on this one. The squash, the almond butter and the slaw all come together in equal parts to put together a very flavorful (and picturesque) taco that could fit seamlessly in a Wahoo’s lineup (note: don’t throw these at Willy Santos). The crispness and tanginess of the slaw meshes perfectly with the spice and creaminess of the almond butter, while the lightly-breaded, melt-in-your-mouth fillets of squash provide the subtle crunch and warmth you’d expect from a fish taco.
Let’s learn some chayote flips.
Squash Fillet Ingredients:
- 4-8 tortillas of your choice (I prefer mitad y mitad (half corn, half flour))
- 2-3 chayote squash (cut into 4-8 fillets)
- ½ cup almond milk (unsweetened)
- ½ cup flour (white, whole wheat, or oat flour)
- 4 tbsp. corn meal
- 3 tbsp. ground flax seed
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Vegan fish seasoning, to taste (most are vegan, just be wary of ones that have butter flavor)
- ½ tsp. salt
Chipotle Almond Butter Ingredients:
- 3 tbsp. smooth almond butter
- 1-2 tbsp. almond milk (unsweetened)
- ground chipotle chili pepper, to taste
Baja Slaw Ingredients:
- ½ medium red cabbage (diced)
- 2-4 small sweet red/orange/yellow peppers (diced)
- 1-2 medium mangos (diced)
- 2-3 stalks green onion (diced)
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tbsp. agave syrup
- squeeze of 1 lime
- The longest part of prepping the ingredients will be steaming the chayote squash, so it makes sense to start with that and take care of the other steps while it’s steaming. First, grab your squash and cut it lengthwise, as shown below. To cut it into fillets, the most important thing to remember is that any shape you make must be thin enough to steam all the way through. If you want to make larger, flatter fillets, then you can get two good fillets out of one squash by cutting it lengthwise and whittling away the edges. If you want thinner fillets, then you can further cut the squash into quarters and whittle it to thinner fillets. Or, like I did, when I was considering naming this recipe “fishtail” tacos (yeah, that almost happened), you can whittle them into fishtail boards. Either way, just make sure your fillets are no more than ¼ – ½” thick.
- Steam the fillets for 40-50 minutes, checking after 30 minutes. When they are starting to lose just a bit of their green hue and become moderately flimsy (like a fish fillet), they’re ready to go. If you don’t have a steamer, you can steam these by adding a few inches of water to a medium pot, putting the fillets in a colander/strainer (note: NOT a plastic one), placing it over the pot and boiling the water on medium while covered, as shown below. Note: boiling the squash will result in them absorbing too much water.
- While those are steaming, throw the almond butter in a small mixing bowl or mug. Stir in the almond milk, one tablespoon at a time, until the almond butter takes on the consistency of a lighter mayo you would expect to have in a fish taco. Pepper in a few dashes of ground chipotle powder until it reaches the desired spiciness, stir it up and set aside for later.
- Dice up your cabbage, sweet peppers, green onions and mangos and throw into a large mixing bowl. If you’ve never diced a full cabbage before, start by cutting it in half from top down to the stem and then, using the same longitude, cutting each half into quarters, as shown below. At a slight angle, cut the white stem out of each quarter, so that the quarter still stays largely intact. Placing the quarter down on one of its faces, slice the sides from top down to bottom until you’ve gone through the whole quarter. If you like shorter strings of cabbage, it also helps to rip up the strings into smaller pieces after slicing.
- Much like an avocado, the perfect mango should have a slight give when pressed lightly. If it’s too firm, it’s not ripe yet; if the skin breaks, it’s past ripe. To cut up a mango, stand the mango up lengthwise and locate the stem. Thinking of the birds’ eye view of the mango as an axis, slice about a quarter of an inch from the stem on the shorter, equidistant sides of the mango, all the way down to the bottom, as shown below. If you’re finding it difficult to slice, you may be slicing through the front/back of the mango, rather than the sides. Once you have the sides, without slicing through the skin, cut a grid through the meat of the mango and then press up through the bottom of the skin to pop the cubes of mango up. Simply slice the cubes off into the bowl.
- Once all the slaw fruits and veggies are diced up, add in the olive oil, lime and agave and lightly toss it until it’s evenly distributed. Set aside for later.
- Once the chayote fillets are steamed, remove them and pat them dry with a paper towel for a few minutes to remove any excess water. In a dish or small tray, squeeze some lemon juice over one side of the fillets and seasoning on some fish seasoning (about ¼ – ½ teaspoon per fillet). Let them sit for a few minutes to absorb, then flip them over and repeat.
- In a bowl, mix up the cornmeal, flax seed, salt and some extra fish seasoning (no more than a tablespoon). This will be your breading.
- Time to set up your breading/frying workstation. From start to finish, you should have: (1) your marinated fillets; (2) a bowl with the ½ cup of flour; (3) a bowl with the cup of almond milk; (4) a bowl with the cornmeal/flax mix; (5) an oiled frying pan; and (6) a plate on which to place the finished fillets (see photo below, omitting the frying pan).
- Heat up the olive oil in the frying pan on medium heat. Take a marinated fillet and roll it around in the flour until it is lightly dusted. Next, dip the fillet into the almond milk, remove, and then roll it around in the breading mix until it is completely covered. Throw it into the pan and fry for 1-2 minute on each side or until the breading is lightly browned and crispy. Remove and place onto the plate for the finished fillets. To soak up any excess oil, cover the finishing plate with a paper towel before placing the fillets onto the plate. Repeat for each fillet (you can also fry multiple fillets at once).**
- Once the fillets are fried (or baked – see note below), nestle them into a tortilla, throw on some slaw, drizzle it with the almond butter and dive into flavor country.
- Go put down some tre flips in whatever style comes naturally to you.
*I have not had the opportunity to go to Jajaja yet, so while I have seen some videos and read up on the restaurant, I cannot verify if this is the exact process they have used in their preparation. Additionally, while I added the Baja slaw, the menu and videos I have seen show that they finish the taco with cabbage, picked red onion and hemp seeds instead.
**If you prefer not to fry, these can also be baked, free of olive oil. Once they are breaded, simply place them on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake them for 15-20 minutes at 375° F, flipping halfway through.
Makes 4 servings of 1-2 fillets: per serving: 140 calories, 9g fat, 13g carbs, 3g protein
Makes 5 cups of slaw: per cup: 160 calories, 8.5g fat, 11g carbs, 2g protein.
Makes 4 servings of chipotle almond butter: per serving: 70 calories, 6g fat, 3g carb, 2.5g protein