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
- Prep time 1 hour
- Cook time 20 minutes
- Makes 2 1/2 cups (but scales down well)
- To make the aciento:
cloves garlic (generous 2 ounces/60 grams), peeled
1 1/2 cups
(310 grams) nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening
(130 grams) pumpkin seeds
(140 grams) sunflower seeds
(36 grams) peanuts (preferably raw—see note in step 2), skin removed, if any
1 1/2 teaspoons
- To make the memelas:
masa harina corn flour (Bricia Lopez recommends Bob’s Red Mill)
1 1/2 to 2 cups
(80 g) aciento
(280 g) crumbled cashew cheese
Watercress or purslane (tossed in a bit of olive oil and citrus vinegar, if you like)
- To make the aciento:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- To make the memelas:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.