Genius Recipes

Genius Vegetarian Tacos Just Right for One (or 10)

Roasted veg tacos with homemade salsa and pickled garnishes might not sound like a casual weeknight dinner at home. But it can be.

July 31, 2019
Photo by Julia Gartland. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

Thumb to page 16 of Anita Lo’s cookbook Solo—where these tacos live—and you’ll immediately see that you’ve stumbled on a very different sort of cookbook.

1 clove garlic (smash 1/3, set aside remaining 2/3)
1 small pinch cinnamon
One 1/3-inch slice medium onion

Each recipe acts as an efficient, self-contained flowchart, where ingredients may part ways (that 1/3 clove of garlic wanders into a salsa, the rest into a quick-pickled radish brine) but all meet back up in one tidy plate. (1)

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Top Comment:
“So creative I love this ”
— Owen M.

What could have been drudgery feels novel—as I sliced three radishes and cleaved a single jalapeño in two, I felt like I was following the carefree instructions of a children’s song. (If you’re happy and you know it, put one two-inch tomatillo on a pan, clap clap.)

Photo by Julia Gartland

Although Lo designed the recipes with economy and pride for eating alone, (2) they also multiply well for any other time you want to play that song no one else loves and feel the life come back into your body as you glide around the kitchen. (Put your radish greens in, take your radish greens out, put your radish greens in and shake ‘em all about.)

In most recipes, the outcome—the tacos, the French toast, the lasagna—is the point. Ingredients arrive fully cleaned and chopped. The oven is preheated for 30 minutes to be used for five. Cores and stems and other halves are discarded, or simply never mentioned again. For Lo, the outcome still matters, but the process is the point, too.

Photo by Julia Gartland

She was inspired to make these particular almost-vegan tacos by a fancier Brussels sprout version at her friend Amanda Cohen’s restaurant Dirt Candy—and by the leftover radishes in her refrigerator.

She sliced and quick-pickled the three tiniest ones as a vehicle for snap and tang. Then she quartered and roasted the rest of the bunch to bring out mellow, sweet, almost meaty vibes, and threw in the radish tops along with them to wilt.

“In restaurant cooking, I’ll do one ingredient several ways, just to show how versatile it is and make sure you’re not bored,” Lo told me over the phone. “But it’s still a cohesive dish, because you’re using one ingredient.”

While at her restaurant Annisa (3), she might have grilled one cut of lamb and slow-stewed another, here both styles of radish only set you back 12 to 15 minutes in total. “It’s also incredibly inexpensive to make these tacos,” she said.

Photo by Julia Gartland

The results of her organization and thrift are clear: in moving efficiently, in feeling free and smart, in creating a lovely unexpected dinner out of it, all without wasting a bit. And with the cooking as self-care portion of the evening behind you, all that's left for you to do is to sink into the quiet, taco and cold beer in hand.

(1) The rest of that onion with the 1/3-inch slice excised? She has a storage tip for that: Store it in a ziplock bag in the fridge with the papery peel to keep it from drying out.
(2) “I’m surprised at how popular the book’s been—there are a lot of lonely people out there!” Lo told me. “(I’m kidding.)”
(3) Lo closed her beloved West Village restaurant Annisa in 2017 after 17 years and is now leading culinary food tours in places like the Yucatan and Portugal—join her!

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

1 Comment

Owen M. July 31, 2019
So creative I love this