THE WASHINGTON POST – Something special happens when you fry tortillas, one at a time, in a pot filled with oil.
As Gabrielle Hamilton wrote in one of the most memorable similes of her 2011 memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter, the tortilla will “float and sizzle on the surface for a moment like a lily pad on a pond”.
When Hamilton was forming them into edible salad bowls as a teenager at a Pennsylvania restaurant, she wrote, the flour tortilla “came up around the bowl like the long dress and underskirts of a Victorian woman who had fallen, fully clothed, into a lake, her skirts billowing up around her heavy sinking body”.
I rarely fry flour tortillas, but I think of Hamilton’s description every time I drop a corn tortilla into oil, which is something I do at least once a week. I adore tacos in soft corn tortillas, too, but when you turn them deep golden brown and crispy in the frying, they become even more compelling to eat. You can pile them high with your favourite toppings and pick them up for eating – sometimes causing some spillage, but what’s more fun than something a little messy?
Those toppings can be just about anything you like: I usually go for some combination of beans, avocado, cilantro and salsa on mine (and sometimes chicken or shrimp for my husband’s), adding leftover roasted vegetables or greens as I see fit.
A recent cookbook, Esteban Castillo’s Chicano Eats, gave me another inspiration: Castillo tosses roasted squash with a combination of the spices that typically flavour Mexican sausage. As someone who has explored multiple vegan twists, I was hooked immediately.
Castillo suggests sandwiching the squash in buns for tortas or folding it into tacos.
But even before I tasted the tangy, spicy squash, I knew I’d be frying up some tortillas for this and that I’d first smear on some refried beans (either out of a can or mashed from leftovers).
To me, they’re a must for the bottom layer, not just for their flavour and protein but for their stickiness, which will help hold the tostadas and their other toppings in place as you take bite after bite.
SPICY SQUASH TOSTADAS
Roasted squash rings get tossed in spices and piled onto tostadas for a fun, crunchy meal.
You can also serve them on buns to make tortas, or stuff them into fried shells or soft tortillas to make tacos.
Note: With proper frying temperature, all eight tortillas absorb barely one tablespoon of sunflower oil total; to save time, you can use store-bought tostada shells.
Storage: The spice-coated roasted squash can be refrigerated for up to one week or frozen for up to three months. Defrost, if needed, and rewarm in the microwave or in a 300-degree oven. The fried tortillas can be cooled and stored at room temperature in a zip-top bag for up to three days.
One-and-a-half pounds acorn squash
Two tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Two cups sunflower oil
Eight (six-inch) corn tortillas
Two tablespoons fresh lime juice
One-and-a-hald teaspoons ground ancho chillies
One teaspoon garlic powder
One teaspoon onion powder
Three-quarter teaspoon sea salt
Half teaspoon smoked paprika
Half teaspoon ground cumin
One-eighth teaspoon allspice
One-eighth teaspoon ground cinnamon
One-eighth teaspoon ground cloves
One can refried beans, warmed
Flesh of two avocados, sliced
Half cup homemade or store-bought salsa of your choice
Cilantro leaves or sprigs, for garnish
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
Line a plate with a clean dish towel. Halve the squash lengthwise, scoop out and discard the seeds (or save for another use), and cut the unpeeled squash into half-inch half-rings.
In a large bowl, toss the squash with one tablespoon of olive oil. Arrange on a large rimmed baking sheet in a single layer, and roast for 10 minutes.
Flip the pieces and continue roasting for about five minutes, or until the squash is cooked through and golden brown. Let the squash cool in the pan.
Meanwhile, in a four-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the sunflower oil until it reaches 375 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Fry the corn tortillas, one at a time, until deep golden brown and crisp, one to two minutes. Use tongs to keep each tortilla submerged as it fries, and flip it as needed.
When the tortilla is ready, lift it out of the oil and gently shake to let as much excess oil drip off as possible. Drain on the towel-lined plate, and repeat with the remaining tortillas.
In the same bowl you used for the squash, whisk together the remaining olive oil, lime juice, ground ancho, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, smoked paprika, cumin, allspice, cinnamon and cloves. Return the squash to the bowl and gently toss to coat the squash in the spice mixture.
Smear three tablespoons of refried beans on each tostada. Divide the squash pieces among the tostadas and top with avocado slices, salsa and cilantro.