eat well, live free

California Food Literacy Center & butternut squash tacos!

butternut squash tacos

The California Food Literacy Center is a phenomenal new organization whose objective is to educate our community about healthy food choices, the environmental impact of our food system and our local community contribution to the food we eat. The Center involves students, teachers, parents and the local agricultural community to teach these issues. They are currently working in an under-served and low income school in Oak Park, Sacramento teaching children how to read labels, and introducing them to wonderful winter vegetables such as broccoli.

According to their website, 38% of California children are overweight— a rate three times higher than 30 years ago, when the obesity epidemic began.

The work of the California Food Literacy Center is critical to the education and health of our community, especially our children. In a society where there are dedicated aisles to “health foods” in select super markets, it is imperative that people know what they are eating and where it comes from.

I am truly honored to serve on the Board of this organization and I encourage you to go their website at http://californiafoodliteracy.org/ if you are interested in volunteering, donating, or sponsoring a program.

Amber Stott, our founder, understands that many low-income neighborhoods are “food deserts,” where fresh produce and grocery stores are hard to find, yet fast food and processed foods are readily available. This makes cooking more difficult. Research shows that processed food is taking a toll on our health–and the health of our planet. It is part of the organization’s mission to celebrate healthy food, and they have been committed to creating recipes for their website that reflect cuisines from a range of cultures. In fact, one of their recipes for Chinese New Year salad was featured in the Sacramento Bee. I am excited to contribute some Mexican recipes to add to the international flavors.

These vibrant, rustic tacos are a nutritious and inexpensive alternative to Taco Bell. The local corn tortillas (not gluten free…) are soft and have the full flavor of fresh ground corn. The squash is par-cooked then sauteed with basic spices to seal in the freshness and flavor, providing a meaty replacement to ground beef or steak. Served on a layer of kale and the fatty avocado, the completed tacos are nutritious and filling.  For $11.00, I bought all of the fresh organic ingredients at the local co-op.

Butternut squash tacos with sauteed kale

1 whole butternut squash peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbls olive oil
paprika, oregano, enchilada sauce seasoning mix (optional)
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1 bunch of kale or chard
salt to taste
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1 avocado
1 package of blue corn tortillas (I used our locally made Mi Abuelita Bonita Tortillas)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To get started, here is the painless way to peel and cube a butternut squash without any tears or bloodshed in only 5 minutes that I posted previously for Mexican butternut squash soup.

It is quite simple: #1 With a very sharp kitchen knife cut 1/4-1/2 inch off the bottom of the squash to provide a stable base. #2 Set base on kitchen sink and firmly grasp the top stem to stabilize. Use a potato peeler to peel! I use a kitchenaid peeler that I picked up at Macy’s for about $10. #3 Cut off the top stem, set squash upright and halve lengthwise. #4 Scoop out the seeds. #5 Cut each half into 1″ strips, and then cut those into 1″ cubes.

Prepping the squash with a vegetable peeler

Par-cooking the squash, or partially cooking it, can be done the day or morning ahead of time. In a large bowl, toss the squash with the cumin, salt, cayenne and olive oil. Spread evenly in a single layer on a baking sheet and cook at 350 until the pieces are barely under cooked. Tossing once or twice throughout the cooking time will help the pieces cook evenly.

By par-cooking with basic seasoning, you do not have to use all of the squash the same way. The rest of the squash can be used later in a soup, salad or even pasta. Use the par-cooked squash within 2-3 days for optimum flavor.

When ready to eat saute the squash in a non-stick pan with little oil and season to taste. For this recipe, I used a seasoning mix for enchilada sauce that I picked up at the Mexican market. You can also use spices such as paprika, salt and oregano for a Mexican flavoring.

Prepare the kale by washing thoroughly then tearing out the middle rib from each leaf. It is too hard and generally unappetizing to eat. I heat the pan up under a medium high heat. Tear the leaves up into large bite size pieces. With a splash of olive oil, saute the kale with a few small sprinkles of some good salt. Only cook until the leaves begin to wilt. Move the kale to a plate where it can cool slightly and stop the cooking process.

Start getting your tortillas warm in a number of ways. If you have a flat griddle, lay them out to heat for about 30 seconds each side then repeat at least 5 times until they are as hot as you want them. If you have a comal, a traditional tortilla pan, use that. I personally like to cook the tortillas on an open flame burner because I like the charred flavor throughout. Just don’t leave them there. This process takes seconds. Please don’t burn your house down with a corn tortilla.

Finally, assembly the tacos adding a slice of avocado and serve with a side of beans.

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