Perhaps you’ve had this experience: you get a new cookbook or recipe online that you’re super excited about. Maybe it’s a food from a cuisine you don’t usually make, or maybe you’re experimenting with a new diet. You scan the ingredients list, and you come across an item that makes you say…what the heck is that, and where the heck can I find it? And how much is it going to cost me?
I have to admit that it’s been awhile since I was stumped by an ingredient. When I first switched from being an omnivore to a vegetarian, I stuck to more “mainstream” foods like pasta, pizza, and rice with peppers, tomatoes, and onions. I didn’t go for anything fancy that involved more obscure foods like chia seeds, nutritional yeast, or liquid smoke (yup, that’s a thing). But slowly and surely, as I ventured deeper into the vegetarian and vegan food world, developing my cooking skills with all sorts of new recipes, I discovered that there was a whole new world of food out there. Of course, no one can know every food, but it’s relatively rare that I’m too surprised by an ingredient these days.
And yet a few months ago, I came across a vegan recipe for “Jackfruit Gyros” that called for jackfruit as a replacement for shredded pork. Now, apparently the vegan community has been on to jackfruit for some time, but it was new to me even though I know my way around a meat substitute. And it seemed odd to use fruit as a substitute for meat.
Jackfruit is native to South and Southeast Asia, though it is now grown in tropical environments around the world. Some environmentalists believe that jackfruit can be leveraged to fight food shortages and climate change because it’s the largest tree-born fruit in the world – one jackfruit can weigh between 10 and 120 pounds, and one tree can bear 100-200 fruits per year! This is an average of 3 tons of fruit, per tree, per year. Given the resilience of the tree to pests and drought, it’s certainly an attractive crop that’s currently underutilized. Personally, I’m not convinced that any one plant is going to make a huge difference in the climate change fight (in fact I think that it is the diversity of foods that we can eat which make our planet and bodies stronger) but I do think it’d be a good thing to tap into the jackfruit in places where it might really make a difference.
Ripe jackfruit can be served fresh, frozen, or canned. Online research showed that it was sweet, like its tropical cousins the pineapple or the mango. When unripened, jackfruit can be purchased fresh or canned in a salty brine, then cooked. The unripened fruit has almost no taste and, when cooked, a stringy texture similar to pulled pork – thus the adoration by vegans and vegetarians.
After I failed to find it at my local Whole Foods for the recipe in question, I became a tad obsessed with this elusive fruit. The internet suggested it would be easy to find, but my experience was a bit different since I couldn’t seem to find the unripened version.
But I kept an eye out, and my first sighting was in HMart, the Korean grocery chain where I was hopefully searching for the unripened canned version. I found a ripened can, but that was sweetened with added syrup, so really not what you want as a meat substitute. Then in the produce section I found a packaged chunk of unripened jackfruit! I snagged that and went on my first jackfruit taco adventure. It did taste good and the stringy texture totally made sense to me, though I still found it a tad sweet for a meat substitute.
Another day, I was perusing the frozen fruit section at Whole Foods to find my next smoothie combo and there it was – frozen jackfruit! I happily purchased a bag of the sweet, ripe fruit to test it out. The next morning, I opened the bag with excitement. It smelled funky – fruity, but funky too. I found my test smoothie satisfying and pleasantly sweet; David found out that he was highly allergic to it. So much for jackfruit for dinner.
Finally, unexpectedly, I found a can of unripened jackfruit at Bangkok Center Grocery. Though I had no recipe planned, I bought it and stashed it away in my pantry. And a few weeks later, I came across this recipe from one of my favorite blogs of all time, Vegan Richa, making spicy jackfruit tacos. This was, by far, the best iteration to date!
The final verdict on jackfruit? It’s a versatile option for both sweet and salty dishes. I don’t think it brings a lot to the sweet dishes, since it’s comparable to other more available products. For savory, it’s a good texture substitute but not as caloric as other protein subs. And given that David turned out to be highly allergic, I don’t think it’ll become a household staple anytime soon.
This recipe is adapted from one of my favorite blogs of all time, Vegan Richa. Richa Hingle is an incredible cook and finds ways to make recipes both east and flavorful – I highly recommend her blog and am such a huge fan. I made a few swaps based on what I had on hand and was satisfied with the result, though I admit it is close to the original.
First step is to drain and boil the jackfruit until soft, about 10 minutes. Once it’s soft, you’ll want to shred it with a fork.
Next, start sautéing the onions while you prepare the chipotle sauce mixture. Instead of a blender, I used my mortar and pestle because, well, it’s awesome and easy to mix sauces and spice blends.
Add the chipotle sauce to the onions.
Add the cooked jackfruit, some water and salt, and cook for about 10 minutes. Lower the heat and simmer for an additional 15 minutes.
Serve in tacos! You can add other fillings to your taco as desired. I used pinto beans, kale, avocado, cheddar cheese, and some chopped cilantro on top. If you want a vegan version, omit the cheese.
Spicy Jackfruit Tacos
2 servings; Original Recipe: Vegan Richa
- 1 (20-ounce) can of young green jackfruit in brine
- 1 red onion, chopped
- 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
- 8 cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon fresh cilanto, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/4 cup water, divided
- salt to taste
For the tacos:
- 2 whole wheat tortillas
- Pinto beans
- Spicy jackfruit
- Shredded mild cheddar cheese
- Cilanto, chopped (for garnish)
- Other toppings as you desire!
- Saucepan or small pot
- Large pan
- Mortar & pestle OR blender
- Drain the Jackfruit. Add to a saucepan with 3 cups of water, bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 10 to 11 minutes. Drain, shred with a fork and keep aside.
- Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt and cook until translucent. Stir occasionally and cook for about 4 minutes.
- Muddle or blend chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, tomato paste, garlic cloves, chili powder, black pepper, cumin, cilantro, oregano with 1/4 cup of water until smooth.
- Add the sauce to the onions and cook until it thickens and smells roasted. Stir occasionally. About 6 to 8 minutes.
- Add the shredded jackfruit, 1 cup water and salt. Mix well. cover and cook for 10 minutes.
- Stir, reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook until the sauce reduces and the jackfruit picks up the sauce flavor. 15 minutes or more. Taste and adjust salt, heat and sweet.
- Prep the toppings.
- Heat tortillas on a skillet or grill. Add desired toppings to taste and serve.