I grew up in the southern part of the United States, where barbeque potlucks were standard and frequent social events throughout the summer. What I remember most vividly from them was the searing heat coming off of the barbeque pits, and how it mingled with the oppressive heat that defined the season. Barbeque sauce offerings were diverse, spanning from basic concoctions to Cheerwine and other cola-based marinades. I remember waiting in lines dotted with endless large plastic bowls of sides, like Duke’s mayonnaise-laced potato and cold pea salads, canned fruit, deviled eggs and chocolate cake. I remember feeling the weight of the food on my patterned styrofoam plate as I made my way to one of the many wooden picnic or folding tables arranged on the grass or under a canopy, excited to taste everything even though I was familiar with it already.
Although pulled pork is something I no longer want or need in my life, discovering canned jackfruit and manipulating it into a similar-textured product in this application unexpectedly brought back some of the sensory memories associated with those potlucks. Even though the contents of my plate as well as my feelings and opinions about animal-based food has changed dramatically over the years, I love the ability food has to evoke seemingly small but powerful sensory memories.
The more I use jackfruit, I think of it less of a meat analog and more of a textural element that pairs perfectly with crisp and fresh complimentary ingredients. Here I’ve used heavily seasoned jackfruit as a soft taco filling, and garnished it with radishes, carrots and watercress, then finished it off with a rich, cilantro-laced sauce. Everything here tastes clean and vibrant, and can be completely prepped ahead of time (and easily doubled or tripled) to create an easy, low-maintenance meal for guests or just for two.
JACKFRUIT SOFT TACOS
Yield 2 servings
for the sauce
- 6 oz. Tofutti sour cream (1/2 container)
- 2 tsp tahini
- 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1 tsp apple cider or coconut vinegar
for softening the jackfruit
- 2, 20 oz. cans of jackfruit in water or brine (this can be found in most Asian markets or online)
- 3 cups vegetable broth (more or less, to ensure the jackfruit is completely submerged)
for the seasoning and baking the jackfruit
- 1, 1 oz. packet of pre-made taco seasoning
- olive oil, for greasing the baking sheet
- soft tortillas
- watercress, lettuce or mache
- radishes, sliced thinly or on a mandoline
- sliced carrots
- fresh cilantro
- lime wedges
- sliced Thai chilis
To make the sauce
- Combine all of the sauce ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Transfer to a container and allow to chill.
To soften the jackfruit
- Place it into a crockpot with the broth. Cook over high heat for about 2 hours. Remove the jackfruit from the broth* and allow it to slightly cool, then gently break it into flakey pieces with a fork. Any tough ends can be cut up into smaller pieces with a knife and the seeds can be discarded.
- Preheat your oven to 350. Place the jackfruit into a bowl and sprinkle with the seasoning. Stir well to combine.
To bake the jackfruit
- Lightly grease a baking sheet and place the it on it in a single layer. Bake for 40-50 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent burning or sticking. Test the jackfruit after 40 minutes—it should be dry but still have a soft bite to it. Bake for an additional 10-20 minutes as needed.
- Allow the jackfruit to slightly cool, then serve immediately, or transfer to a container and refrigerate until ready to serve. It tastes good warm or cold.
- Serve the tacos with the fresh vegetables and chilled sauce on the side. Assemble as desired.
* The leftover broth can be reserved for another application or frozen for future use.