For Texans, fall brings the typical seasonal changes—crimson foliage, cloud-swept horizons, and the cozy aroma of fireplaces lit for the first time. But Texas is massive, and the terrain varies, so not all of us experience autumn the same way. For Emiliano Marentes, fall is merely a blip between the sweltering summer heat and onset of winter. “It’s super hot, and then we get a little bit of cold, and then it’s back to super hot,” says the El Paso–based chef and owner of Elemi. “I don’t experience the seasonal changes like I did when I was living in San Antonio.”
But the lack of a distinct autumn doesn’t prevent the chef from indulging in the abundance of produce the season yields. Marentes loves citrus, especially grapefruit. He’s a fan of squash. And he gets down—way down—with cauliflower.
“My favorite way to cook cauliflower is to roast it with olive oil, salt, and pepper,” says Marentes. He also adores it drenched in dense sauces, particularly moles, because of the cruciferous vegetable’s ability to give way to any richness it’s smothered in. Cauliflower acts as a kind of vehicle for sauces, especially in Marentes’s roasted cauliflower and peanut mole tacos.
“The vegetable works well with nutty flavors,” he says. “And this mole is a really nutty.”
He uses almonds in the mole at Elemi, but here, he’s adapted the recipe for home cooks. “I love peanut mole, but you know, a lot of people are allergic to peanuts. The almonds work really well.” But his preferred flavor, peanut, is the nucleus of this hearty, easy-to-make mole.
Roasted Cauliflower Tacos with Peanut Mole (Tacos de Coliflor Encacahuatado)
1 head of cauliflower
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Sour cream seasoned with a dash of salt and a squeeze of fresh lime juice
Queso fresco, crumbled
1 pound Roma or other large tomatoes
4 cups water
2 pasilla chile peppers
2 ancho chile peppers
2 morita peppers
½ yellow onion, chopped
4 whole garlic cloves
¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
½ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
½ pound peanuts, roasted (purchase them pre-roasted)
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds (can purchase pre-toasted)
1 tablespoon salt (can add more to taste)
For the cauliflower tacos:
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Cut the cauliflower into florets. In a mixing bowl, dress the florets with extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and black pepper.
- Place the cauliflower on a sheet pan and roast for approximately 15–20 minutes or until it begins to brown. Check for doneness by poking a large piece with a knife or cake tester. The florets should be tender but not mushy.
- Set cauliflower aside. Prepare the mole (recipe below) and add the cauliflower to the pot and stir.
- Warm tortillas in the microwave or oven.
- Using a spoon, scoop a few pieces of cauliflower with mole on top or the tortilla to make a taco. Drizzle with sour cream and sprinkle some crumbled queso fresco on top. Garnish with roasted sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, or all three.
For the peanut mole:
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Coat tomatoes in olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Roast for 40–50 minutes, or until they begin to brown.
- Bring the water to a boil, then remove from heat. Quickly toast the chiles in a hot sauté pan for 3 to 5 minutes, being careful not to burn them. Remove chiles from the pan and steep them in the boiling water for 10 minutes.
- Sauté the onions until golden brown, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the roasted tomatoes and cook over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated and tomatoes are starting to stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Strain and rinse the chiles, reserving the water they cooked in.
- Add all the remaining spices, nuts, and reserved water into the pan and simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Allow sauce to cool down. Then, using a blender, process the sauce until it becomes a smooth paste.
- Return to the stove and continue cooking to desired thickness and season with salt to taste, then stir into roasted cauliflower for tacos.