Sweet and Savory Jackfruit Carnitas Tacos

Recipe by Terry Hope Romero from Vegan Eats World: 300 International Recipes for Savoring the Planet (Da Capo); photo by Isa Chandra Moskowitz Yield:  4 servings
Prep Time:  1 hour Cook Time:  1 hour 15 minutes

Sweet and Savory Jackfruit Carnitas Tacos

“Now a living legend in the vegan culinary scene, tropical jackfruit was first featured on the menu of the now defunct Pure Luck eatery in L.A., but versions of this have lived on in vegan blogs as an exciting, alarmingly ‘meaty’-looking alternative to tempeh, tofu, or seitan in vegan Mexican American cuisine. Jackfruit flesh is all texture (visually it’s reminiscent of pulled pork or shredded chicken) and can be short on big flavors, so I add pineapple juice, soy sauce, chile powder, liquid smoke, and spicy chipotles in adobo sauce for a well-rounded flush of umami, sweet, and smoky flavors. If you prefer a less sweet filling, replace the pineapple juice with water. Once simmered, gently searing the seasoned jackfruit lightly caramelizes the shreds for that authentic carnitas touch, so don’t skip this step.” —Terry Hope Romero

From the Test Kitchen: Allow at least 20 minutes—or overnight—to marinate the jackfruit. If you are making the pickled onions from scratch, allow 30 minutes for them to marinate (you can do this while the jackfruit cooks).

Ingredients

Pickled Red Onions:

3 cups red onions, sliced ¼ inch thin

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sea salt

Jackfruit Carnitas:

2 (10-ounce) cans green, brined jackfruit, or 20 ounces brined frozen unripe jackfruit, thawed (see Kitchen Tip)

2 rounded teaspoons ancho chile powder or Mexican chile powder blend

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon garlic or onion powder

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 cups pineapple juice or water

¼ cup water

2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste

2 chipotles in adobo, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, peeled and grated on a microplane grater or pressed

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 tablespoon molasses

2 teaspoons liquid smoke

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil, plus additional oil for frying if desired

Tacos:

1½ cups pickled red onions (see recipe above)

Finely shredded green or red cabbage or lettuce

2 ripe tomatoes, diced into bite-size chunks

1 ripe avocado, diced into bite-sized chunks

Instructions

Make the Pickled Red Onions:

  1. Place the red onions in a large metal colander in a sink. Boil 3 cups water, pour over the onions, and shake the colander to get rid of any excess water.
  2. Place the onions in a glass or plastic mixing bowl, toss with vinegar and salt, and set aside to marinate, stirring occasionally. Onions are ready to eat after 30 minutes. (Store the onions along with their pickling juices in a tightly covered container in the fridge. Pickled onions can last for weeks in the refrigerator, so you may want to double or triple the batch.) (Makes about 1½ cups).

Make the Jackfruit Tacos:

  1. Place prepared jackfruit chunks in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with chile powder, cumin, coriander, garlic powder, and salt. Use your fingers to vigorously rub the spices into the jackfruit. In a 3-quart pot whisk together the remaining ingredients. Add the jackfruit and vigorously stir to coat with the marinade, then set aside for 20 minutes or even better, cover and chill overnight.
  2. When ready to cook the jackfruit, turn the burner onto high and bring the jackfruit marinade to a rapid simmer for 2 minutes, then reduce heat to low. Partially cover the pot and simmer the jackfruit for 50 to 55 minutes, occasionally stirring; there should be some sauce still left in the pot. Turn off the heat, uncover the jackfruit and remove the bay leaves. You can now serve the jackfruit as is, or fry it up slightly to caramelize the edges for a better texture.
  3. To fry the jackfruit, preheat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat, then spread a teaspoon of vegetable oil over the bottom. Pour in 1 cup of jackfruit with sauce and sauté for 4 to 6 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the edges of the shreds are browned and slightly caramelized. Transfer to a serving dish and sauté more jackfruit as needed in small batches.
  4. To assemble a taco, preheat a cast-iron skillet to high. Overlap 2 corn tortillas on the dry skillet and warm just enough to get the tortillas hot and flexible, about 45 seconds. Transfer tortillas and overlap slightly on a serving dish. Pile on about ⅓ cup of jackfruit carnitas and sprinkle with toppings as desired. Buen provecho!

Kitchen Tips

From Vegan Eats World: 300 International Recipes for Savoring the Planet by Terry Hope Romero. Reprinted courtesy of Da Capo Lifelong Books.

All Jacked Up About Jackfruit

When shopping for jackfruit, for best results  look for unsweetened, brined unripe jackfruit sold in cans or jars or frozen, and don’t buy jackfruit packed in syrup. Brined jackfruit has been peeled and sliced into wedges and has a firm texture and a light pinkish color. The brine helps lightly pickle the jackfruit while giving it a firmer texture and a mellow flavor. Avoid frozen green jackfruit not packed in brine; this may look like soft white pods, not pinkish wedges or slices. Once thawed it turns into a mushy, grainy mess. To prepare canned or jarred jackfruit, first drain the jackfruit wedges and rinse with plenty of cool water. Chop the wedges into 1-inch-wide chunks, then use your fingers to pull the pieces into shreds. The more you shred the jackfruit pieces, the more carnitas-like it will look. If desired, remove the seeds for a more carnitas-like look; these are also edible, so leave them if you don’t mind. Grab handfuls of the pulp and squeeze out as much water as possible before marinating. If using frozen, thaw overnight or speed up thawing by steeping the unopened jackfruit package in hot water. Squeeze out as much water as possible and separate into chunks as described for canned jackfruit above.

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