Grilled Vegetable and Cheese Tostadas
Over the winter I tried out a recipe for a roasted halloumi, squash, and cabbage salad that I was quite fond of and have had a hankering to make again. It did have a very cold-weather feeling to it though, so hasn't really come up for me to cook again now that we're well into spring, but I had an idea to transform it into something better suited for this time of year by taking the same primary ingredients to the grill and then serving them on a tostada spread with a layer of guacamole. This afforded me a taste of that salad I loved, but definitely transformed it into a much different meal.
First thing that was needed for this recipe was to fry up tortillas for the required tostadas, which is pretty simple since I merely had to heat some oil and slide in whole tortillas and cook them until browned and crisped. While I was at it, I cut up additional tortillas to have some chips too because I planned on making extra guacamole to snack on in the following days.
The first guacamole recipe I ever made was Alton Brown's, and I liked it so much that I never tried anything else for a long, long time. The only thing that had me stray from something so tried and true was getting gifted a large mortar and pestle, which provided an easy path to making a guacamole with the mix-ins all pounded into a rough paste rather then be diced, which is what I've come to prefer nowadays.
I've been experimenting with different seasonings, but I went pretty traditional with this one, using white onion, jalapeño, garlic, and cilantro all smashed into a paste prior to being mashed together with a few ripe avocados. At this point I also added some more cilantro, lime juice, and salt to taste and was very happy with the resulting dip, which I couldn't help but dunk a few chips into and enjoy while it was as fresh as could be.
Now the inspirational salad did use halloumi for the cheese, which is the king of grilling and frying cheeses in my mind with its great saltiness and chewy squeak that can't be beat. However, for use on tostadas, I thought going with the version of a grilling cheese that I can pick up at my local Latino markets made sense. I experimented with this cheese in my early days of grilling, and while it performs great on the grill, its flavor is definitely more understated than halloumi, making it best enjoyed when part of a more complex dish, as it would be here. The grocery didn't have the version of this cheese simply labeled "Grilling Cheese" the day I went shopping, so I bought the next closest thing, which is "Frying Cheese," and it tastes and grills up pretty identically.
The squash variable here can be tailored to your preference and my initial thought was to use the butternut variety because its sweetness would work well paired up with the salty cheese, but I already had a butternut squash tostada recipe on my site, so I opted for something different— kabocha squash. I use this variety of squash, which has a fairly neutral flavor, often to make a soup that's a staple for my wife's family, but I've never actually grilled it before, so was excited to try out this new-to-me method. I was able to pick up a pretty small squash that was well suited for a meal for just a couple people, and because I didn't need all that much of it, I opted to cut away the peel because losing volume was not really a concern. However, the exterior of kabocha squash is edible, so you can totally keep it on if you don't want to go through the extra effort of removing it.
Once I had all the ingredients prepped, I lit up a chimney of charcoal and got to grilling. I put red onions and red cabbage on first, directly over the coals of a two-zone fire in order to get both well charred quickly while the fire was at its hottest. Once that was done, I moved the red onions to a cutting board, the cabbage to the cool side of the grill, and dumped the squash next to it in the free space before covering.
My goal was to get the cabbage crisp-tender and the squash fully tender, which happened at different times. After about ten minutes of roasting, the cabbage was ready to come off the grill, and while the squash finished up, I used that time to remove the core of the cabbage and roughly chop the leaves. The squash was done to my liking about ten minutes after the cabbage, at which point I removed each of my larger slices and chopped them into smalls cubes.
I waited to put the cheese on last because this stuff is at its best when warm and softened, so I wanted to be ready to eat the tostadas as soon as possible once the cheese was done. To make for easy grilling, I sliced the cheese into three large half-inch thick wedges and let each of those cook until well browned before attempting to flip—there has to be a good seared developed in order for the cheese to release from the grates. Once the second side was browned, I quickly diced up the cheese and assembled the tostadas.
That consisted of spreading a layer of guacamole on each tortilla round and topping that with pieces of cabbage, onion, squash, and cheese. I then sprinkled on some lime juice and cilantro before adorning each tostada with a few radish slices. Initially I was concerned that the veggies were going to need some additional seasoning or moisture, but the guacamole ended up being enough to put everything in a very good balance. The veggies provided a wide range of flavors and textures from sweet to tender to crunchy without any one thing tasting out of place, while the cheese rounded out the experience with a pleasing salty chew. The inspirational salad used pita chips to inject crunch, but the tostada did that even more effectively and with more flavor as every bite had that crackling corn taste in it. Yes, this was more effort to put together than that salad, which was a one-pan meal roasted in the oven, but in the warm months I like a recipe like this that keeps me grill-side for a bit where I can enjoy a beer while cooking and have a very satisfying culmination to my time and effort.
Grilled Vegetable and Cheese Tostadas
- Yield 4-6 servings
- Prep 30 Minutes
- Cook 30 Minutes
- Total 1 Hour
- For the Tostadas
- 2 to 3 cups canola oil
- 12 corn tortillas
- For the Guacamole
- 1/2 medium white onion, roughly chopped
- 1 medium jalapeño, roughly chopped
- 2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
- 1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro, divided
- 3 ripe avocados
- 2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
- For the Topping
- 1 small kabocha squash, seeded and cut into 1-inch sections, peel removed (if desired)
- 1/2 small head of red cabbage, core left intact, cut into 4 equal wedges
- 1 large red onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices and skewered horizontally so the rings lie flat on the grill
- 10 oz Grilling Cheese or Queso de Freir, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil, divided
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice, plus extra lime wedges for serving
- 4 radishes, thinly sliced
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- To make the tostadas: Heat oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet, dutch oven, or wok over medium-high heat until it registers 375°F. Adjust flame to maintain temperature. Working in batches, add tortillas and fry until edges just start to brown. Flip tortillas over and continue to cook until crisp and light golden brown. Transfer tostadas to a paper towel lined tray, sprinkle with salt to taste, and let sit for 2 to 3 minutes to drain. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Set aside.
- To make the guacamole: Place onion, jalapeño, garlic, half of the cilantro, and a large pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle and pound into a rough paste. Alternatively, place onion, jalapeño, garlic, half of the cilantro, and a large pinch of salt in the workbowl of a food processor and pulse until all ingredients are finely chopped. Transfer onion mixture to a medium bowl. Scoop out avocado flesh into bowl with onion mixture, add in lime juice and remaining cilantro. Using a fork or potato masher, mash to desired consistency. Season with additional salt to taste. Transfer to an airtight container, press a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of guacamole, cover, and place in fridge until ready to use.
- To make the topping: Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place squash slices in a large bowl, add in 1 tablespoon of canola oil and salt and pepper to taste. Toss to evenly coat squash in oil and seasoning. Brush cabbage and onion slices with oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place onions on hot side of grill and cook until softened and well charred on each side, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer onion to cutting board, remove skewer, and roughly chop.
- Place cabbage wedges on hot side of grill and cook until well charred all over, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer cabbage to cool side of grill. Add squash slices to cool side of grill, cover, and cook until cabbage is crisp-tender and squash is tender throughout, about 10 minutes for the cabbage and 20 minutes for the squash. Transfer each to a cutting board as done. Roughly chop the cabbage and cut squash into a large dice.
- Brush cheese slices with oil, place on hot side of grill, and cook until well browned, 2 to 4 minutes. Flip and continue to cook until second side is well browned, about 2 to 4 minutes more. Transfer cheese to a cutting board and cut into a large dice.
- Spread a layer of guacamole on each tostada round. Top each with pieces of cheese, cabbage, squash, and onion. Sprinkle lime juice over all toppings and season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle on cilantro, add a few slices of radish on top of each tostada, and serve immediately with additional lime wedges on the side.