One of the finest tacos we've ever eaten was an avocado tempura taco at a casual restaurant two blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. We'd love to have it on demand, but if there's one thing the MSV kitchen doesn't tolerate well, it's deep frying. We pretty much refuse to do it, and this little pepita-crusted avocado taco (which we prepared on the humble, but totally useful, electric countertop grill) leaves us feeling entirely vindicated.
The secret here, as with every avocado dish, is using the avocados at the right stage of ripeness: dark exterior, firm but not hard, yielding gently when pressed. Once that's achieved, get ready for a big reward in the form of perfect little tacos stuffed with plump, creamy avocado slices rolled in nutty, seasoned ground pepitas toasted to produce a stunningly aromatic golden crust. Top it off with a potent trio of cilantro, red onion, and spicy radishes (we used a particularly bold variety of black (exterior only) radishes found at the MSFM) left to mellow in lime juice. It's not the sort of blend you pile onto a tortilla chip on its own, but it balances the considerable richness of the avocado and pumpkin seeds and brightens up the whole taco beautifully. The lime juice really does mellow the flavors, but if you're sensitive to spice, try substituting a mild vegetable such as cucumber or jicama for the radishes.
Pepita-Crusted Avocado Tacos with a Fresh Radish Relish
makes about 1 1/2 dozen tacos [see Note]
For the relish:
half a medium red onion (3 oz), trimmed and very thinly sliced
2 large spicy radishes (4 oz total weight without greens), peeled and grated
1 small bunch cilantro (1/4 cup tightly packed), chopped
1/8 tsp fine sea (or kosher) salt
juice of 1 large lime (about 2 1/2 TBSP)
For the crusted avocados:
3/4 cup raw, unsalted pepitas
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp pimenton (smoked paprika)
1/2 tsp fine sea (or kosher) salt
3 ripe avocados, pitted
1/4 cup chickpea flour
1 TBSP cornmeal
1/3 cup water
corn tortillas, freshly made, if possible
To make the relish, stir together all ingredients in a medium serving bowl. Cover with a towel, set aside, and let marinate for at least 1 hour.
If making fresh tortillas, prepare and cook them now before proceeding with the avocado, or heat your store-bought tortillas on a griddle. Keep them warm, covered, in a low oven.
For the avocados, heat a dry skillet over medium heat and add the pepitas. Toast, tossing frequently, until the seeds pop and begin to turn golden, a few minutes. Transfer the seeds to a plate and let cool.
Once cooled, transfer the seeds to a coffee grinder or food processor and grind well, but not to a powder. Transfer to a pie plate and whisk in the cumin, pimenton, and salt.
Halve and pit the avocados. Cut each half lengthwise into four slices and scoop out the sliced flesh with a spoon.
Heat a countertop electric grill (alternately, heat a griddle on the stove or an outdoor grill). While it heats, whisk together the chickpea flour, cornmeal, and water. When the grill is ready, dip an avocado slice into the wet mixture, press into the ground pepitas on both sides, and place on the hot grill. Repeat with as many slices as you can fit on the grill--unless your grill is very large, you'll need to cook these in a couple of batches--before closing the lid. Cook until very fragrant and golden brown, 4-5 minutes (if using a griddle, cook one side, then flip to sear the other side).
[A note on yield: Our homemade tortillas are made with a wood press that makes thicker tortillas about five inches in diameter, whereas store-bought tortillas are six inches. Our five-inch tortillas mostly fit one avocado slice snugly, but occasionally two for smaller end pieces. Six-inch tortillas may hold more avocado slices each, resulting in a lower taco count.]