Accidental Genius and Punjabi Tacos

We recently went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to see Accidental Genius, a exhibit of drawings, paintings and some sculpture by self taught artists. The work in the show was from the collection of Anthony Petullo and was recently gifted to the Museum.  The show includes a wide range of work, mostly drawings and paintings by what are often called naive or outsider artists.  The Museum describes the artists as self-taught, which is generally true although some what misleading given that some of them studied at Universities or Institutes.  Some of the artists, like the maniacal and somewhat creepy Henry Darger, the obsessive/compulsive visionary Martín Ramírez and amazingly industrious Nek Chand were well know to us.  But others, while maybe well known to others, were new to us.  We especially liked the drawings of Rosemarie Koczy which, informed by her experiences in Nazi concentration camps, are moving and also have a remarkable tactile/textile quality that Jeanne, the weaver, particularly appreciated.  The exhibit is up until May 6 and well worth a visit.

While at the museum, we like to stop for lunch in the Museum’s Cafe Callatrava. They have a changing menu and we usually can find something that suits our tastes.

While Jeanne opted for what sounded like, and turned out to be, a fairly traditional falafel, which she said was very good, I went for the intriguing sounding Punjabi “Tacos”. The menu promised griddle-seared Yukon Gold potatoes with mint pesto, ginger/lime crema, coriander (by which I assumed they meant cilantro), onions, roasted Poblano peppers served on local white corn tortillas. Sort of a North Indian/Mexican mash-up. OK, I’m game, knowing full well that “fusion” food can sometimes be a risky choice.

Well, the “griddle-seared” potatoes were kind of soggy having spent, I guess, too much time holding under a heat lamp.  The crema was crema but I couldn’t detect much ginger or lime.  The mint pesto was a little minty but not much like the Indian raita I suspected the chef was trying to reference.  I don’t remember any poblano peppers, coriander or onions but I’ll trust they were there, although pretty minor players.  I couldn’t tell whether the corn tortillas were local or not – they seemed like basic tortillas to me.  Don’t get me wrong, while I was eating them, I thought the Punjabi tacos were pretty good, just not as good as they could be.

OK, so this was a good idea that went a little astray in the execution.  I knew I could do better!  So the next day for lunch and the following day for dinner I refined my version of what I think the chef was trying to do.

The Cafe’s mint pesto was, I think a nod to the Indian raita, a fresh herbal chutney, but was much too tame to carry off the reference.  And the crema was supposed to echo the Indian yogurt salads, but again without much personality in the Cafe’s rendition.

Overall, the Cafe’s version was kind of soggy and lacked freshness. My version, I think, has a nice crispiness from the potatoes, a creaminess from the crema (I used sour cream but I think yogurt would work as well or better) and avocado, some zest from the onion, crunchiness from the cabbage and some tangy brightness form the cilantro, mint and chili.  Plus, aside from boiling the potatoes, they’re quick and easy to put together.  Enjoy!

Punjabi “Tacos”


Red Bliss Potatoes, boiled and cooled, cut into 3/4″ cubes
1 TBS. Olive Oil
1/2 C. Green Cabbage, finely shredded
4 Green Onions, thinly sliced including most of the green tops
1/2 C. Fresh Mint, loosely packed, finely minced
1/2 C. Fresh Cilantro, loosely packed, finely minced
1 Serrano Chili, seeded, very finely minced
1 Tbs. vinegar (sherry, red wine or cider)
1/2 Tbs. Olive Oil
1/2 C. Sour Cream
1 Tbs. Fresh Ginger, grated
1/2 Fresh Lime, juice and zest
1 Avocado, peeled (optional), cut lengthwise into slices
Wheat Tortillas, toasted


Pan sear the potatoes in 1 Tbs. of olive oil of medium-high heat until they are golden brown and crispy on at least half of their faces.  Reserve.

Crispy potatoes

Combine the sour cream, lime juice and zest and ginger.  It should be loose – add a little milk to thin if it seems too thick.  Reserve.

Combine mint, cilantro, chili, vinegar, 1/2 Tbs. olive oil, a little salt and pepper (to taste).  Taste and adjust for your desired level of heat.  Add and additional chili or some Tabasco if you like it hotter.  Reserve.

Mint/Cilantro/Chili Chutney

Mint/Cilantro/Chili Chutney

Lightly toast the tortillas over an open flame until they pick up some browned edges.  Be careful though, they can burn quickly.


In a toasted tortilla, place about 1/4 C. seared potatoes.  Add about 2 Tbs. shredded cabbage, some green onion (to taste) and a few slices of avocado (if using).  Add 1 Tbs. of the mint/cilantro/chili mix and 1 – 2 Tbs. of ginger/lime crema.

Assembled Punjabi Taco

4 thoughts on “Accidental Genius and Punjabi Tacos

  1. Your tacos sound great! And wasn’t that a fabulous show. I love the fact that the museum will be getting these works and that we will see them again. I realize that I forgot to write down names of a couple of my faves. We were going to buy the catalog and then did not. I particularly liked the guy who did things on two sides (I think text on the back). They had a feeling of Indian miniatures if I am remembering them correctly. MAM has such wonderful exhibits. Have you been to the new Chazen here? Beautiful space. We’re looking forward to seeing the two of you in Madison one of these days!

    • Yes, according to the Museum’s web site, this gift will make the Museum’s collection of naive, outsider, self-taught art one of the strongest in the country. I’m pretty sure the artist you’re trying to remember is Josef Karl Rädler. And, yes they did seem like Indian miniatures in both their finely rendered painting and use of text on the reverse. No, we’ve not been to the Chazen but we plan a trip soon.

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