Vegan Aciento (& Memelas) From Bricia Lopez

March 10, 2020
6 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Veronica Olson. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne.
  • Prep time 1 hour
  • Cook time 20 minutes
  • Makes 2 1/2 cups (but scales down well)
Author Notes

In this vegan version of the traditional Oaxacan condiment known as aciento from Bricia Lopez's family's restaurant Guelaguetza, you won't taste garlic or sunflower seeds specifically, but instead a deeply savory spread that replaces the meaty flavor of the original surprisingly well—all with plant-based ingredients (that you won't need to do all that much to). Traditionally, aciento is a toasty chicharrón spread used throughout Oaxacan cuisine, particularly on tlayudas (Oaxacan "pizza") and memelas. (See Bricia's recipe for memelas below to make your own!). You can also simply smear the aciento on a warm tortilla and call it breakfast.

As Bricia writes, "I first had vegan aciento maybe eight years ago during a trip to Oaxaca. I was taken by surprise. It was the first time I had ever heard of a plant-based aciento. It made me think of all the traditional Oaxacan dishes that are accidentally vegan. In Oaxaca, food selection is not about health or animal rights, it’s about economy. My mom grew up eating meat only on Sundays. Back then, if you had a chicken or a cow, it just made more sense to eat its eggs and milk over many years instead of killing the animal and feeding yourself only a couple of times with the meat. I think you’ll find that the toasted seeds in this vegan aciento mimic the flavor of chicharrón pretty well."

Adapted from Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico (Harry N. Abrams, October 2019). —Genius Recipes

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Vegan Aciento (& Memelas) From Bricia Lopez
  • To make the aciento:
  • 20 cloves garlic (generous 2 ounces/60 grams), peeled
  • 1 1/2 cups (310 grams) nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup (130 grams) pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup (140 grams) sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup (36 grams) peanuts (preferably raw—see note in step 2), skin removed, if any
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
  • To make the memelas:
  • 2 cups masa harina corn flour (Bricia Lopez recommends Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups hot water
  • 1/4 cup (80 g) aciento
  • 10 ounces (280 g) crumbled cashew cheese
  • Watercress or purslane (tossed in a bit of olive oil and citrus vinegar, if you like)
  1. To make the aciento:
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the shortening, then fry the garlic in the shortening until lightly browned and aromatic, about 2 to 3 minutes. Move the cloves around with a slotted spoon and scoop out smaller cloves if they brown first. Work in batches if necessary. Let the garlic and melted shortening cool, either in a heatproof bowl or in the skillet off the heat if the garlic doesn't look like it will burn.
  3. Put the pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and raw peanuts in a comal or large cast-iron skillet over medium heat and mix well to toast, about 5 minutes. (Note: If you can only find roasted peanuts, add them at the end of toasting.) Be careful not to burn.
  4. Transfer the seeds and nuts to a food processor and pulse until they are fully ground. Add the fried garlic with the shortening and the salt. Process until the aciento has become a thick paste, similar to a peanut butter. It will thicken as it cools. This should take about 2 minutes of undisturbed processing. The aciento will keep for up to 3 weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  1. To make the memelas:
  2. Mix salt into the masa harina corn flour. Slowly pour the water into the dough, stirring, to get a smooth consistency. The dough should be firm and springy when touched, not dry or sticky. Let rest for about an hour, covered with a damp towel.
  3. To form the memelas, roll the masa into balls measuring about 3 inches wide. Cut a gallon zip-lock bag down each side so that it’s attached just at the bottom, then place the open bag in your tortilla press (this type of plastic works better than plastic wrap—if you have beeswax-based wrap, it will work almost as well). Press each masa ball individually on the lined tortilla press. Each ball should be just over 1/4-inch thick, or about 5 inches (12 cm) in diameter after pressing.
  4. Note: If you don’t have a tortilla press, you can roll the masa out with a rolling pin or press with a flat meat pounder or the bottom of a skillet, but be sure to keep the masa inside a plastic or beeswax liner to keep it from sticking.
  5. Place a nonstick griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Carefully transfer each memela to the hot pan. Cook each side for about 2 minutes until the tortilla is fully cooked.
  6. Using your fingertips while the memela is still really hot, pinch up the edges by about a 1/4-inch so that the memelas start to look like little boats (your first few times doing this, pinching through a damp kitchen towel to protect your hands will really help!). Make a few more pinches in the middle to help hold the toppings. Spread about 1/2 teaspoon of aciento in a thin layer on each memela.
  7. Return the memelas to the hot pan, aciento side up, and cook until the bottoms get a bit crispy. Top with crumbled cashew cheese. Allow the cheese to get warm on the tortilla. Remove from heat, top with the watercress and serve hot.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

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  • Jessica Lioon | garlicpressjess
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  • Smaug
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Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

14 Reviews

Kathy April 13, 2020
Already a favorite meal in our house! Everyone (hubs + 3 college-age kids back home during the quarantine) raved about how flavorful this “smear" was! My memelas were great, I don’t have a tortilla press so I smooshed the harina ball between 2 cutting boards and it worked like a charm! One issue: the aciento came out too runny, not the consistency of peanut butter as it should be. Not sure why... It was an easy fix, just added more toasted pepitas & sunflower seeds and now it’s perfect. The recipe makes a lot of aciento so I’m making more memelas so the kids can enjoy these for lunch or as a snack - because wow, they eat a lot! Thanks for the recipe!
Lisa April 5, 2020
Anyone have a cashew cheese recipe that can crumble?
Rosalind P. March 26, 2020
I didn't know what asiento is so didn't appreciate the radical idea until I looked it up: "veganizing" (yea, that's a good word) pure animal fat! As soon as I can go out into the world for those seeds, it's going to be in my larder (pun intended!). For vegans/vegetarians/kosher people, this is, to stretch the English lexicon, a mitzvah. But then again, almost all of your work here is. And I think Virgil would agree.
Rosemary March 17, 2020
Peanut allergy here. Can you suggest a substitute?
Smaug March 17, 2020
You could just up the sunflower/pumpkin seeds. You may have trouble with cashew cheese too, but if you're vegan you probably know the alternatives; if not there's regular cheese.
Stephanie B. March 15, 2020
Excited to try this, and interested in this book! I've been to Guelaguetza a few times and enjoyed it.
Jessica L. March 11, 2020
I'm curious why shortening is the fat ingredient in this case. Is it more for flavor or texture or what? I know it obviously defeats the vegan aspect but do you think you could you use butter instead of the shortening? Or could you just use oil? Would love to hear more about why shortening!!
Smaug March 11, 2020
Probably it's the closest vegan equivalent of lard.
Kristen M. March 11, 2020
Exactly, Smaug—it's about the consistency after cooling (and keeping it vegan). I've tried with neutral oil and it was runnier, but might work if you scaled down the oil amount. Another commenter on the article suggested (refined) coconut oil for a vegan sub, which seems like it could be good, and butter would of course be delicious!
Renee F. March 15, 2020
I made it with butter! My wholefoods had none of the usual vegan butters/shortening stocked. (is vegan butter a thing people panick buy?)
It is delicious. I put it on roasted sweet potatoes with sauteed greens. I will note it did take forever for the garlic to brown - likely because I was worried about the butter browning and burning. But in the end I had browned garlic and browned butter. Extra nuttiness!
Smaug March 11, 2020
I haven't tried it with this, but I've found that Bob's masa harina is a bit too coarse for tortilla making; they just won't hold together. Unfortunate, because it's the only yellow corn masa I ever see in stores; Maseca makes one, but I've only found it online for an atrocious price. Speaking of atrocious prices, pumpkin seeds in most markets are appallingly expensive- maybe you can do better at a Mexican market or online.
Kay R. March 12, 2020
You must not be in California, Smaug. We have several brands and types of masa in every grocery store. Looking forward to trying this recipe soon. I'm very tempted to make the aciento with lard!
Smaug March 12, 2020
I am, in fact in California, but I don't get around a great deal any more; stores within my reach have Maseca white corn M.H. and occasionally Bob's, but not much else. There are good Mexican groceries, but I'm not near any of them.
Kay R. March 12, 2020
Ah, too bad.