Butternut Squash, Kale, and Cruncy Pepitas Taco
Butternut Squash, Kale, and Cruncy Pepitas Taco
4 Sep 2014

Butternut squash, kale, and crunchy pepitas taco

I’ll never forget the day I met Sara Deseran. I was in the full time professional program at San Francisco Cooking School and Sara came in as part of a panel on food media. Sara was the editor-at-large at San Francisco Magazine, which explains the food media connection, but she’s also the co-owner of Tacolicious with her husband Joe Hargrave, which is why I turned into a borderline stalker upon meeting her. As the panel was wrapping up Sara put it out there that she was beginning work on the Tacolicious cookbook. She mentioned that seeing how she was at a culinary school she should probably try to find a recipe tester. Looking back I should probably be a bit embarrassed at how I flung myself at Sara, but I am a serious Tacolicious fan and I was ready to do just about anything to be their recipe tester. She was so kind, we exchanged info and that’s how my time with the T-lish family and some beautiful friendships began.

The Tacolicious cookbook holds a special place in my heart as it’s where my interest in recipe testing really blossomed. In order to properly recipe test you have to totally put your ideas and ego aside and follow the recipe you’ve been given with total precision. The point as a tester isn’t to make something taste good, the point is to give the recipe writer feedback and let them know if what they gave you works, makes sense for home cooks, is correct in terms of quantity and then you can give them your subjective feedback as to whether or not it was successful. Sara is an incredible recipe writer and has several other cook books under her belt, so the recipes came to me in great shape, but she was really open minded to the critiques I offered up. It was a lovely collaboration and seeking out some of the more unusual ingredients at the various bodegas in the Mission made it a total adventure. I was even invited into the Tacolicious kitchen for a lesson in tamale making from the master, Virginia Hinojosa, so that I was able to properly test the recipe and give feedback on how to describe the process of making them for the home cook.

The more I got to know the process and the people behind Tacolicious, the more my love for the food grew, which is why I was so honored when Sara asked me to contribute a recipe to the book. She was interested in adding a vegan taco to the mix that would appeal to carnivores and veggie lovers alike. Um, yes! I decided to make a flavorful and slightly spicy filling of butternut squash and kale with crunchy pepitas and a rich and tangy vegan cashew lime crema. Sara and Ten Speed press have been kind enough to allow me to share it with you here, but do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of the book. If you’re in San Francisco, Omnivore Books is the place.

Thanks so much to my friends at Tacolicious – Sara, Joe, Telmo, Mike… the list goes on. I adore you guys and am so thrilled to have been a part of this! Also a big shout out to the talented Emma Campion and her crew at Ten Speed Press for making such an amazing book. Then there’s the amazingly gifted Alex Farnum who shot the book as well as the stylist, Christine Wolheim who made everything look so delicious.



butternut squash, kale, and crunchy pepitas taco recipe


Makes about 12 tacos; serves 4 to 6


cashew crema

2/3 cup raw cashews

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 3 limes)

1/4 cup water

2 teaspoons kosher salt


pumpkin seeds

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1/3 cup raw hulled pumpkin seeds

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt



2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion

1 clove garlic, minced

3 cups 1/2-inch-diced butternut squash

1 teaspoon chile powder

2 teaspoons kosher salt

4 cups finely chopped kale

Corn tortillas, warmed, for serving

Chopped white onion, chopped fresh cilantro, and salsa of choice, for serving (optional)


To make the crema, soak the raw cashews in room-temperature water to cover for at least 1 hour. Drain and reserve.

Toast the cumin in a small, dry, heavy skillet over medium heat for about 1 minute, until fragrant. Transfer to a spice grinder, let cool, and grind finely.

In a blender, combine the cashews, cumin, lime juice, water, and salt. Start the blender on the lowest speed and gradually increase to the highest speed. Blend for at least 1 minute, until a creamy consistency. Pour into a serving bowl and set aside.

To make the pumpkin seeds, heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the pumpkin seeds and sauté for about 2 minutes, taking care that they do not burn. The seeds will begin to puff up and pop. Once they appear toasted, immediately pour them into a bowl. Toss with the cayenne and salt and set aside.

To make the filling, heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 3 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and sauté for about 1 minute more. Add the squash and sauté for 6 to 7 minutes, just until the squash begins to soften. Season with the chile powder and salt.

Add the kale and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute, until it begins to wilt. Remove from the heat, taste, and adjust the seasoning with salt if needed.

Serve with the tortillas, crema, pumpkin seeds, onion, cilantro, and salsa. To assemble each taco, invite guests to spoon about 1/2 cup of the warm filling into a tortilla and top with some crema and pumpkin seeds. If guests want more toppings, they can finish off their tacos with onion, cilantro, and salsa.

Reprinted from Tacolicious, by Sara Deseran and Joe Hargrave, Copyright © 2014, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC. Photographs copyright © 2014 by Alex Farnum.

tacolicious cook book pics

butternut squash
prepping squash
diced squash
clean kale
cooked squash and kale
crunchy pepitas
tacos on set
Butternut Squash, Kale, and Cruncy Pepitas Tacos

Photo credit, tacos and book cover: copyright (c) 2014 by Alex Farnum
Ingredient and set photos: Lauren Godfrey

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