“Trejo’s Tacos: Recipes and Stories from L.A.” by Danny Trejo with Hugh Garvey (Clarkson Potter, $26)

Tortillas get the star treatment

Maybe Danny Trejo’s name doesn’t ring a bell. But you might recognize him — as Machete in the “Spy Kids” movies, Razor Charlie in “From Dusk Until Dawn,” or characters listed in film credits as “bad guy #1`,” “scary guy #2 or “tough guy #3.”

In recent years, the prolific actor’s craggy, mustached visage has also become the face of a successful Los Angeles restaurant group that specializes in California-inspired tacos and doughnuts. “Trejo’s Tacos is no vanity project,” he insists in the introduction to his new cookbook, “Trejo’s Tacos: Recipes and Stories from L.A.” (Clarkson Potter, $26). “It’s a love letter to L.A.,” he writes.

Trejo’s life story of growing up in a working-class Latino family in Los Angeles seems made for Hollywood. After doing prison time for drugs and armed robbery in the 1960s, he got clean, became a drug and Alcoholics Anonymous counselor, and went on to win some boxing championships. A gig training actor Eric Roberts to punch landed Trejo a role as a fighter in the 1980s movie “Runaway Train.”

Some 300 films later, he got to talking food with a producer, who suggested he start a restaurant. Trejo’s Tacos is rooted in his mom’s traditional Mexican cooking, but geared to a health-seeking Hollywood crowd who’d find nothing weird about wrapping falafel in a tortilla.

I didn’t miss the meat in Mushroom Asada Tacos with Salsa Verde and Pepita Pesto. Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Red Chimichurri was another hit. And Blackened Salmon Bowls provided fixings for several meals.

Sauces, fillings and sides are broken down into simple components for mixing and matching, while splurges such as Margarita Donuts and Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies stand on their own.

In cooking, as in acting, Trejo notes that “sometimes you need to stick to the script and sometimes you can improvise.” In these pages, there is ample opportunity to do both.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

Mushroom asada tacos from Trejo's Tacos, the new cookbook from Danny Trejo. Courtesy of Clarkson Potter

Mushroom Asada Tacos

These tacos are a vegan variation of the classic Carne Asada, also included in “Trejos Tacos.” The multi-layered filling is meaty-tasting, well-balanced, and deeply satisfying. Leftover Pepita Pesto is great tossed in rice or roasted potatoes, or as a topping for most any plain protein. To save time, I used store-bought green salsa instead of the Salsa Verde presented here.

Mushroom Asada Tacos
  • ¼ large white onion, roughly chopped 
  • 1 ½ chipotle chiles from a can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, plus 1 tablespoon of the sauce 
  • 1 medium jalapeño, roughly chopped 
  • 3 garlic cloves 
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro 
  • 6 tablespoons orange juice (preferably fresh) 
  • ¼ cup pure olive oil 
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce 
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon 
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin 
  • 1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika 
  • 1 pound mushrooms, such as cremini, stemmed and sliced 
  • 2 tablespoons pure olive oil 
  • Tacos:
  • 12 6-inch corn tortillas 
  • 1½ cups shredded green cabbage 
  • ¼ cup Salsa Verde (recipe follows) 
  • 1 recipe Mushroom Asada 
  • ½ cup Pepita Pesto (recipe follows) 
  • 3 limes, quartered (12 wedges) 
  • Make the marinade for the Mushroom Asada: Combine the onion, chipotles and sauce, jalapeños, garlic, cilantro, orange juice, olive oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, cumin, and paprika in a food processor or blender and puree. 
  • In a medium bowl, toss the mushrooms with the marinade. Set them aside to marinate for 30 minutes. 
  • Set a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil, and heat until it is shimmering, 2 minutes. 
  • Working in batches (if you overcrowd the pan, they will steam instead of brown), cook the mushrooms, stirring often, until they are lightly browned, about 15 minutes per batch. 
  • Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Stack the tortillas, wrap them in aluminum foil, place them in the oven, and let them warm until they’re fragrant and pliable, about 15 minutes. 
  • Remove the tortillas from the oven. Unwrap the stack and line up the tortillas, assembly-line-style, on your work surface. In a medium bowl, mix the shredded cabbage with the Salsa Verde. Spoon the mushrooms in a straight line down the center of each tortilla. 
  • Place a line of the cabbage mixture on top of the mushrooms, and top that with the pesto. Serve each taco with a lime wedge. Makes 12 tacos.

Nutritional information

Per serving: (1 taco) 194 calories (percent of calories from fat, 59), 5 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 14 grams fat (trace saturated fat), trace cholesterol, 257 milligrams sodium. 

Salsa Verde

Salsa Verde
  • 12 medium tomatillos (about 1½ pounds), papery skin removed, tomatillos left whole 
  • 1 medium jalapeño, left whole 
  • 2 garlic cloves 
  • ½ medium white onion 
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro 
  • Juice of 1 lime, plus extra to taste 
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus extra to taste 
  • Heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat until it is very hot, about 4 minutes. Add the whole tomatillos and jalapeño. They should sizzle when they hit the dry hot pan. Cook until the vegetables are black and blistered in spots and soft on one side, 5 to 7 minutes. Use tongs to turn the tomatillos and jalapeño over. 
  • Add the garlic cloves. Cook the tomatillos, jalapeño, and garlic until the tomatillos and jalapeño are blistered and the garlic cloves are toasted but not burned, 5 to 7 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool to room b temperature. 
  • Transfer the tomatillos, jalapeño, and garlic to a blender or food processor and add the onion, cilantro, lime juice, and salt. Process until the sauce is completely smooth. Taste and add more salt or lime juice if desired. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and chill before serving, or refrigerate it in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Makes about 2 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: (1 tablespoon) 10 calories (percent of calories from fat, 22), trace protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 217 milligrams sodium 

Pepita Pesto 

Pepita Pesto 
  • About 1½ cups roughly chopped fresh cilantro 
  • About 2 cups roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 
  • 6 garlic cloves 
  • 1 cup unsalted raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds) 
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra to taste 
  • ½ cup pure olive oil 
  • Put the cilantro and parsley in a food processor and add the garlic, pepitas, and salt. Pulse for 5 seconds and then scrape down the sides of the bowl. Repeat the pulsing and scraping about 5 more times, until the ingredients are finely minced. While the machine is running, slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube, processing until the pesto is combined and looks like coarse meal, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides if necessary. 
  • Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt as needed.
  • Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt as needed. Use the pesto immediately or transfer it to an airtight container or glass jar and refrigerate it for up to 3 days. Makes about 1 cup.

Nutritional information

Per serving: (1 tablespoon) 110 calories (percent of calories from fat, 84), 3 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 10 grams fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 79 milligrams sodium.

All three recipes are reprinted from “Trejos Tacos: Recipes and Stories from L.A.” by Danny Trejo and Larchmont Hospitality Group LLC (Potter, $26). 

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