Valentin Atayde, having worked at restaurants around the valley like La Calenda and Brasswood, has seen first-hand that vegan diets are popular in the valley. But he has also noted there can be a problem.
“Sometimes a person will order a dish off a menu and then ask us to make adjustments: Can you leave off the cheese? Can you make it without the sour cream?” he said “Yes, of course, we always try to accommodate them. We want to make people happy but the dish was designed for all of these elements to work together. If you don’t want the sour cream, it will change the dish.”
The solution is to design vegan dishes, something he has vowed to do at his company, Mercadito Food Truck and Catering.
Atayde, a native of Mexico City, had already started on a different path when he launched his food truck in Napa Valley four years ago. “I didn’t do burritos,” he explained. “People said, ‘How can you not do burritos?’ But everyone does burritos. And — I know people love them — but they are not what you would eat in Mexico.”
Instead, he began serving up the authentic street foods popular in Mexico City, like Huaraches, made with corn masa, melted cheese, green avocado salsa, lettuce, onion, queso fresco and crema. Or Pambazos, a Telera bread dipped in a red mild sauce filled with potatoes, chorizo, lettuce, cheese, sour cream. onions and green salsa.
And he has begun creating vegan dishes, which eschew animal products.
Eating plant-based foods “comes naturally with Mexican cuisine,” Atayde said.
“In Mexico, people cook with what they have. You eat meat when you get paid, maybe every two weeks.”
For the most part, it was a question of finding satisfactory substitutes for cheese and sour cream, and then letting his imagination go to work.
So successful have his creations, like cauliflower al pastor been, that he is launching a new project that every other Friday will provide a full vegan, Mexican dinner — salad, soup and main course.
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Friday, Feb. 21, 4 to 8 p.m., is the next date that it will be available for delivery or pick-up at the Mercadito site, which will be at Soscol and Pearl streets in Napa.
In the run-up to his Friday feast, Atayde provided a preview of some his vegan dishes at the professional kitchen on Industrial Way, where he does his cooking.
First up was a Chile Relleno, stuffed with potatoes, squash, onions and a vegan cheese “that really melts.”
“Traditionally, the chile relleno is topped with a chunky sauce,” he said, “but I make this sauce smoother.”
He cooks the pepper in a saute pan, so it retains a welcome crispness. Rather than drenching the pepple in the sauce, he put a serving of tomato flavored rice on top of a small pool of the chipotle-flavored sauce, added the pepper, with another light garnish of sauce, garnish of corn and cilantro.
His second dish was enchiladas with a mole sauce — Atayde has given lessons in making traditional mole sauces at the CIA at Copia. He uses a vegetable stock for his sauce, along with almonds, chocolate, and peppers, and he thickens the it with tortillas. His enchiladas are were filled with butternut squash, garnished with the mole sauce and a cashew cream in place of sour cream.
Next up, Atayde created a red pepper stuffed with chayote squash, carrots, onions and tomatoes. Garnished with sauteed kale, it is served on an achiote sauce, another traditional recipe, he explained, made with annatto seeds and chile peppers.
And finally, he prepared a platter of that most popular creation, tacos, made with his house-made tortillas.
“In Mexico City,” he said, “at taco stands, you can order custom-tacos as you like them.”
His three, assembled in short order, included his popular cauliflower al pastor — no need for the meat with this sauce — that is served with thinly sliced onions and chunks of pineapple, a customary accompaniment to foods prepared with the spicey pastor. A second taco was mushroom chile verde, served with rice, and the third, was calabacitas, a summer squash, “one of those things that you don’t like as a kid,” he said. Add a garnish of cashew cream, cilantro and pickled red onion — and who knows what kid may just like this taco.
While he will continue to serve other Mexican dishes that do include meat, Atayde said the response to his vegan- inspired cooking is gaining new fans.
Just don’t ask him for a burrito.
Reach Sasha Paulsen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-2262.
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