I have to admit I've never thought much about annatto, other than I got a pretty photo of it (above) on a spice plantation in Zanzibar a few years ago. Like the Omaha music scene or American soccer, while it's probably great, annatto isn't something any of us spend much time thinking about. Underrated is the word I'm looking for. Then, just like other underrated things--from kumquats to the subtle power of Stanley Tucci's acting, once you give it a try, you're totally hooked. You swoon at the thought of annatto-infused oil. You're that guy at a dinner party extolling the virtues of Indonesian annatto versus Brazilian (which, frankly, tastes like sawdust) to a captive stranger at the snack table as he desperately tries to escape your spice drivel. Which, is exactly why, my friend, you should give it a try. Become part of the underground culture who have fallen in love with this smooth, delicate spice the way way we quietly and hopelessly fell in love with the Pixies the first time we heard them. Welcome to the club.
So what is achiote recado? Well, I'm glad you asked. It's a spice blend from the Yucatan. It's a mix of annatto with other spices and sour orange juice. As I learned while living down there, it's both delicious and super popular. You can use it as a rub for any type of meat that you want to enjoy, but it goes great in tofu-based tacos too. Every time I make this, it brings me right back to eating 5 of these tacos for a couple bucks in an open air stall at the town market for lunch!
Prep time: 3 cocktails
1/4 cup annatto seeds
6 allspice berries
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp peppercorns
5 whole cloves
1 TBSP oregano
1/4 of a nutmeg pod, grated on a microplane or the finest side of a box grater
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice
3 TBSP canola or peanut oil
1 brick of extra-firm tofu, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
Roasted carrot refried black beans:
2 TBSP oil
1 very large carrot, cut into matchsticks
3/4 cup veggie stock, store-bought or homemade
1 14-oz can black beans, drained
For the tacos:
Mexican style pickled onions
La Costena pickled jalepenos (available in the Mexican aisle of any grocery store), sliced
Tortillas, fresh or homemade
Additional optional toppings:
Combine all the first 5 ingredients of the achiote recado in a spice grinder or coffee grinder and grind into a powder. Transfer to a small, dry frying pan that's over medium heat and add oregano and grated nutmeg. Dry toast the spices until aromatic and just beginning to smoke a tiny bit, about 3-3 minutes. Transfer immediately to a food processor. Also, add garlic, salt and both juices to the spices in the food processor and process it.
For the tofu: in a large frying pan heat the 3 TBSP over medium-high heat. hen hot, add tofu and sauté, stirring with a spatula almost constantly, until the tofu is nicely golden brown but not burned. It may take some care to prevent the tofu from falling apart. When tofu is golden brown, add the achiote recado and stir it all together well.
While you're working on the tofu, make the beans. First in a medium saucepan, heat the 2 TBAP oil over medium heat. When hot, add the carrots and sauté until the carrots are nicely caramelized, but not burned, stirring frequently. Add veggie stock, beans, and thyme, if using. Bring to simmer for 3-5 minutes, then transfer to food processor and puree until it's smooth. Return to the saucepan and keep it warmed over super low heat.
Now assemble your tacos: throw down some beans and tofu on a tortilla and add a smattering of onions, jalepenos, and cilantro. Perfect!