Smoky Lentil Tacos with Kabocha Squash and Green Tomato Salsa

A Main Course post written by on October 1, 2013

Smoky Lentil Tacos

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Smoky Lentil Tacos

Oh to be a green tomato during pumpkin season… or anything else for that matter. What do you eat when everything’s pumpkin pie? Dont’ get me wrong, I love pie and pumpkins of all sorts in various variations and dressing! But, what kind of a southern gal would I be if I didn’t talk about green tomatoes this time of year when the last of the tomatoes hang on the vine waiting for that ounce of elusive sunlight.

Aside from making vanilla green tomato jam, pickled green cherry tomatoes, green tomato fritters, and the requisite southern fried green tomatoes with cashew relish, I love mixing them into my weekly savories like tacos. I’m not going to talk about fried green tomatoes though fried green tomatoes would be awesome in a taco. You’ve tried that haven’t you? I have a large stash of green tomatoes in the fridge that will last me another month, but I am afraid there might not be roasted green tomatoes for my sunchoke mash for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t see any green tomatoes at the market this week, but maybe they are just slow to come? I’m hoping they are slow to come.

Anyways, green tomatoes make perfect salsa verde – sometimes tomatillos are just not that easy to find! If you have very green, firm tomatoes, they make an amazing end of summer salsa.



Making salsa makes me feel a bit like a food processor. It’s all the chopping dicing mincing arm to blade action. And since I can’t open an onion without getting lachrymose – it feels like a perfect job for a food processor. But I insist. I always insist on making salsa by hand. Why? No real culinary reason, I just like the tedium and I also don’t like air mixed into my salsa. I don’t like the idea of airy salsa.

Once in my teens when I was preparing a very spicy pepper for salsa I did a juvenile thing by wiping my eyeball with pepper fingers. You only make that sort of mistake once.

Smoky Lentil Tacos

I’ve been making smoky tea lentils since I got my new cookbook but I didn’t like the original recipe. I modified it a lot to use as a taco filler. Lentils make an amazing taco filler. Even my boyfriend thinks it’s a great meat substitute for tacos (he’s not vegetarian). We think it tastes much better than vegan soyrizo (with the added benefit of that hint of smoky flavor). If you can spare a few pumpkin slices from your pie making, try this taco combo: smoky lentils, spiced squash, and salsa verde. It’s a nice introduction to fall and a tasty farewell to summer tomatoes.

Be sure to deep fry your tortillas. There are You Tube videos you can watch. It’s pretty easy and they are amazing when freshly fried. Just toss some smoked sea salt on them as they come out of the heat.


Smoky Lentil Tacos: Recommended taco accoutrements

Fried tacos from fresh corn tortillas (I know they are not pictured here, but trust me, you want them deep fried, it’s much better that way just this once do it)

Lime-y sour cream (sour cream with lime zest – my favorite)

Queso Fresco, chopped

Fresh, chopped cilantro

Extra jalapenos

Smoky lentils (recipe below)

Spiced squash (recipe below)

Green Tomato Salsa (recipe below)


A small amount of Green Tomato Salsa:

2 very firm, green tomatoes (medium-ish)

2 small cloves of garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced

1 jalapeno

1 TB finely chopped cilantro

1 lime, zested & juiced (I use the zest in my sour cream)

1/4 ts roasted, ground cumin seeds (more if you really like cumin)

Salt & Pepper

+ Taste the jalapeno for heat – if it’s too hot, you should remove the seeds and set them aside. You can always add them back in later. Mince the jalapeno flesh.

+ Chop 1 tomato coarsely and 1 tomato very fine – be sure to reserve the juices by halving and de-seeding into a bowl. This will ensure that you get a chunky salsa that’s very juicy. You can make it all finely chopped if you like a smoother salsa but I like it both ways so I do different cuts.

+ Mix the tomatoes with the cilantro, shallots, garlic, lime juice, cumin, and the jalapenos (be careful to add the jalapenos a bit at a time).

+ Salt and Pepper your salsa to taste. Set aside. The salt will help the tomatoes release their juices and the time will allow the cumin and flavors to meld.


Smoky Lentil for Tacos: Inspired by Culinary Tea, I removed the tomatoes, added smoked salt, smoked paprika, cumin, onions… among other things. I removed the tomatoes bc I thought their sweetness interfered with the smoky, savory flavor of lentils. If you plan on eating them in another form, just add 1/2 c. roasted tomatoes to the last few minutes of cooking and skip the onions/spice. 

There are two ways to make a dish smoky, one is to infuse it with smoke, the other is to use smoked ingredients. My recipe uses 3: smoked tea, smoked salt, and smoked paprika. Smoked salt in here really does make a big difference. You can make it yourself or buy it. It’s cheaper if you make it, and you can also give it away as gifts! I’ve already given away 2 jars. 

Remember, these are not hickory smoked sandwiches – just flavored with smoky things. If you want to have an intensely smoky lentil taco,  follow my recipe for smoked sea salt using mesquite or hickory wood chips (you can omit the rice and tea). Smoke the lentils after they are cooked, otherwise you will lose their flavors in the cooking process. Serve immediately. 

2 c strong smoky tea (I used 3 bags of Lapsang Souchong, but you can also use Russian Caravan, stronger tea = smokier lentils)

1 c black lentils

2 TB oil

1 onion, minced

1/4 -1/2 ts Spanish smoked paprika

1/2 ts toasted cumin seeds, ground

1/4 -1/2 ts tea smoked sea salt

1/8 ts black pepper

+ Brew the tea by heating up 2 cups of hot water and allow to steep for about 4 minutes. Bring the tea and lentils to a boil and then allow to simmer until the lentils have absorbed the tea. 20-30 minutes

+ Remove the lentils from the pot and heat oil in the same pot. Saute the onions until clear. Add cumin and smoked paprika and cook for another minute. Add lentils back into the pot and mix well until lentils are heated. Salt and pepper to taste. I will say that I added 1/4 ts and it was not enough. Make it saltier than you normally would. The lentils are balanced by a salsa and sour cream so don’t be afraid to salt them.


Spiced Kabocha Squash: You can eat Kabocha skin, that’s why I use them all the time, but if you have a few slices of butternut, toss them in. Roast or cook squash on the skillet with a heavy dose of this spice rub. Don’t be afraid to char it a bit  – I like the taste of burnt things in smoky recipes. ~ 30 minutes in a 400F oven.

1 part coriander powder

1 part garlic powder

1 part salt

1 part chili powder

2 parts cumin powder

+ You can also use nopales, poblanos, or probably even okras. Just whatever’s in season…The lentils are great here, but I love adding a bit of something seasonal – whatever’s in my market basket.




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20 Responses to “Smoky Lentil Tacos with Kabocha Squash and Green Tomato Salsa”

  1. Heidi Leon says:

    Ha. My very mexican Mom makes her salsas using the blender. I cannot tell the difference in terms of `air´ in the salsa. 🙂
    Loved all your photos btw.

    • phi says:

      🙂 I’m partially insane, but it came out of habit…

      I’m absolutely obsessed with the textures and cut of my veggies in salsas. I think I noticed that the food processor tends to crush things up and smooshed others so when I want it chunky, I hand-chop my veggies for more control. IF I have delicate tomatoes or strawberries for chunky salsa, I will use my hands. I always cut the cilantro and onions by hand, as the processing tends to release too much powerful onion juice. Or so I hear… somewhere on the internet one day many moons ago when my impressionable young, cooking fervor was at full steam.

  2. I too prefer the control of hand chopping, But there are some amazing things a food processor can do…

    Beautiful photos, btw & lovely recipe.

    • phi says:

      Thanks for the kind words Janae! I actually got a new Food Processor for Christmas! I was operating a broken one before and now the Cuisinart and I do circles in the kitchen. I could write a million things about food processors I love them so much.

  3. Melanie says:

    Oh that is soooo great! As a newbie here in California (coming from the North & East, in Canada) and sort of a newbie to all year-long gardening, (ah-wesome), I didn’t know what I was going to do with the HUGE amount of green tomatoes in my gardens….Very glad I just read this post 🙂

  4. Oh my… I am SO glad I found your blog today – holy moly, this looks delicious. I haven’t tried kabocha squash yet… what does it taste like??

    • phi says:

      Hi Ali! Thanks for stopping by…

      I think kabocha is sweeter like most other squashes {butternut}, but tends to be on the starchy side like a sweet potato. It’s closest american cousin I can think of is the Hubbard squash. Some kabochas will have a tougher skin than others, but most are edible all the way through. I like it braised with mirin and sake, tempura fried with skin and all, or just in a dashi broth for soup. It’s available year-round here, but if you can’t find it just use a fall pumpkin of your choosing.


  5. I am a huge smoke fan myself. Though I’ve used tea for other things it hadn’t occurred to me to use is as the “broth” to make lentils. LOVE LOVE LOVE this! I’m also with you on the aerated salsa- and then there’s the foamy part too.

    Love your blog, writing and recipes- glad I found you.

  6. SavorThis says:

    I went through quite the smokey tea phase- usually in pork but also in tea eggs, ice cream, shortbread… Your photos are simply lovely and I happen to have a kabocha on the counter so this looks great. Sadly, we ripped up the last of our tomato plants but I think tomatillos would be nice too. Or even pickled cucumber. Happy to have found you!

  7. Trina says:

    What a gorgeous recipe! I just love what you’ve made here. Nicely done.

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