Genius Recipes

A 5-Ingredient Wonder Sauce From Oaxaca

This week’s Genius Recipe veganizes the unveganizable—and succeeds!

March 11, 2020

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.

For any of the reasons you might want to eat less meat, this recipe is here for you.

All plants, all the time. Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Veronica Olson. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne.

If you’re a lifelong vegan and don’t have much use for meat in the first place, it will just make your food more delicious. Easy.

But even if you were raised like me, with crispy pork in your DNA, you will find this spread uncannily reminiscent of the rich, savory flavor of carnitas or braised pork belly, while only using plants (and not doing much to them).

Five ingredients, count 'em. Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food Stylist: Drew Aichele.

It’s a new-age form of aciento (or asiento), which is essentially a roasty chicharrón butter, and the traditional Oaxacan way to make the most of the whole pig.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I have read so much about Oaxacan food and am very excited to explore the cookbook and recipes.”
— Liz S.

“Think of it as Oaxacan brown butter,” Bricia Lopez writes in her lush, sun-hugged cookbook Oaxaca. “It is amazingly flavorful and really completes a lot of masa-based Oaxacan dishes such as tlayudas, memelas, empanadas, and chochoyotes,” adding not just flavor but a crunchy layer of texture.

Garlic mellowing (and making garlic oil). Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food Stylist: Drew Aichele.

At Guelaguetza, the James Beard Award–winning L.A. institution Bricia co-owns with her siblings, they serve it on their vegetarian tlayuda, a wide corn tortilla thick with toppings that some describe as the Oaxacan version of pizza.

And with encouragement from Bricia in the video above, I learned how easy (and thrilling!) it is to make your own memelas, thick and ridgy hand-formed masa boats somewhere between a torta and a gordita. (You can also simply smear it on a warm corn tortilla and call it breakfast.)

Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food Stylist: Drew Aichele.

What is this mysterious alchemy that turns vegetable into animal into gold? It’s so simple that it makes me think we could use Bricia’s trick in all kinds of places we want to add rich depths of toasty Maillarding and umami without leaning on meat or fish or butter.

Ready? Fry up a pile of garlic cloves. Next, blend a skilletful of well-toasted seeds and nuts into a powder. Then, blend them all together, and you're ready to smear a warm memela (or whatever you can get your hands on).

It doesn’t taste like roasted garlic paste or nut butter, despite the strong personalities each ingredient brings. Instead, they meld into an inseparable whole, with a singular flavor of its own: aciento.

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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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Chris
  • TinaI
  • Smaug
  • Locke Pleninger
    Locke Pleninger
  • Liz Summers
    Liz Summers
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."


Chris March 13, 2020
Kristen, how do you keep your oil from splattering all over the stove? Do you start out at a lower temperature, then turn it up? Most recipes call for med-high heat and I get splatters.
Kristen M. March 18, 2020
Hi Chris, I sometimes use a splatter screen (and some people swear by the Frywalls we sell in the Food52 Shop), but mostly I just accept that we're going to be cleaning our stove every day, just like we do the dishes!
Chris March 18, 2020
Thank you!
TinaI March 12, 2020
What is non-hydrogenated shortening?
Kristen M. March 13, 2020
It's a pretty common ingredient in vegan baking, and you can find it at health food stores and some other grocery stores, too. Spectrum is the brand I see most often.
Smaug March 12, 2020
I've more or less given up on internet writers having any mercy on the English language, but if "unveganizable" catches on I will have to have my dictionary taken out and shot.
Kristen M. March 13, 2020
Can't I have any fun, Smaug?
Smaug March 13, 2020
Shooting dictionaries is actually kind of fun. So is trying to express yourself with the language as given, but it's not the sort of challenge that people seem inclined to accept nowadays. Then again, there are words and words. There are fine, sturdy old words, such as "shortening" and "emulsion", that should be allowed to keep their meaning. There are words that are far too fine to be limited situationally, such as "nacreous" and "bufflehead"- they should be allowed to mean anything that the context demands. And there are words, such as "landscaping" and "splendiferous" that should be left to welter in their own horribilitousness. It's all a matter of the conscience of the individual, so we're in a lot of trouble.
Kristen M. March 18, 2020
:) I always learn something new from you.
Bryan March 18, 2020
Language evolves, Smaug! If you really cared about words, you'd applaud creativity.
Rosalind P. March 26, 2020
yes indeed. have fun. you be you. don't mind the language police.
Smaug March 26, 2020
."Yet gladly or no, suffer them you most assuredly shall"

eclogues 37;8
Rosalind P. March 26, 2020
And what would we make of Shakespeare? His inventiveness continues to enrich our langage. Thank goodness no Elizabethan usage police to scold him. English is fluid; what is cringeworthy today is conventional tomorrow. And what is useless falls away.
Smaug March 26, 2020
And what would we make of Wodehouse, who could string together the language of Shakespeare, Miss Grundy and the New York bowery into a seamless thing of beauty? Perhaps that he was a genius. My faith in humanity may be misplaced but I continue to believe that the advocates of creativity could strive to do better than to string together platitudes, just as a professional writer striving for expression could do better than a turgid accretion of syllables.
Rosalind P. March 26, 2020
one thing "veganize" is not is a platitude, since it was presumably born in this instance. And isn't the test of a new word whether it conveys an unmistakeable meaning? Turgid is in the eyes and ears of, well, you know. Here's what one of Shakespeare's contemporaries said of him: " [his] whole style is so pestered with figurative expressions, that it is as affected as it is obscure.… I will not say of so great a poet, that he distinguished not the blown puffy style from true sublimity; but I may venture to maintain, that the fury of his fancy often transported him beyond the bounds of judgment." That would be from renowned Elizabethan Robert Greene. Oh, wait.... Robert who? None of this gets in the way of what this site has brought to all of us, which, if I were Shakespeare or Wodehouse, I could write the praise it deserves. I think we all agree on that, yes?
Smaug March 26, 2020
No, that wasn't one of the platitudes, nor was "veganize" the word in question, it was- and it is unjustly burned into my memory- "unveganizable". Though in truth, "veganize" is bad enough. Among other things, it is inexact to the point of nonsense- if this site has taught us nothing else, it is that people are willing to substitute recipes beyond recognition; there are no recognized limits, so nothing is unveganizable (there's still hope- spellcheck doesn't acknowledge it). As a matter of fact, I found the word rather humorous- the problem is that when stuff like that gets published on the internet, where there seem to be no editors to intervene, people pick it up and next thing you know the dictionaries are forced to acknowledge them and we're stuck with them until they pass into archaic. Since you bring up Shakespeare, I can't claim an exhaustive knowledge of his work but as far as I know, while he apparently knew every word ever used and was able to combine them in endlessly creative ways, he wasn't prone to inventing words (and certainly not by crude mechanical means) any more than Mozart was inclined invent chords and scales- their creativity consisted in using existing vocabulary in new (and often unexpected) ways.
Locke P. March 12, 2020
Didn't Bricia say everyone watching gets a copy?
Kristen M. March 13, 2020
:) she hopes everyone gets a copy!
Liz S. March 11, 2020
I just ordered the Kindle version of the cookbook and can't wait to look through it! AND to try this recipe and maybe the non-vegan also as I eat omnivore. Both sound wonderful to me. Now, Masa Harina. I am a MH snob. Bob's Red Mill is ok but I love the MA SE CA brand which is origin Mexico. I think it tastes more like real corn. U.S. corn is mostly GMO and seems like it has the flavor bred out if it. The MA SE CA brand is available to me here in smallish town NW Montana. I happen to love masa and use it as a thickener/binder in various fritters, meatballs, meatless-balls, falafel and the black bean falafel from this site as well as for corn tortillas and gorditas. I have read so much about Oaxacan food and am very excited to explore the cookbook and recipes.
Liz S. March 11, 2020
Yikes!! Forgot to say thank you for the wonderful video!!!
Kristen M. March 13, 2020
Thank you, Liz—so helpful!
jane M. March 11, 2020
If we have someone with a peanut allergy, what would be the nut you would use to replace the peanuts?
Kristen M. March 13, 2020
It's a relatively small amount, so you could just do more of either of the seeds or sub in whatever nut you have (almonds seem nice).
Lisa March 11, 2020
Could you just use olive oil?
Kristen M. March 13, 2020
It will be much runnier after cooling, so you'd probably want to use less.
susanjarrell March 11, 2020
I can’t wait to make this! Lovely video, very well done!
Kristen M. March 11, 2020
Thank you, Susan—it was so much fun cooking with Bricia!
momoffive March 11, 2020
Is there a substitute for vegetable shortening you recommend for this recipe?
Kristen M. March 11, 2020
See my note to BelieveinMonsters below! (She smartly suggested coconut oil.)
BelieveInMonsters March 11, 2020
could you use coconut oil in place of the shortening?
Kristen M. March 11, 2020
I like that idea! Be sure to use refined if you don't want a strong coconut flavor. I've used neutral oil and it was good but runnier, so you'd want to use less than called for