Vegan Taco Onslaught!!

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Daniel Larkin:

to Jamey Bennett

Traditional tacos filled a with lentil and mushroom base, and curry tofu and chickpea tacos in a soft tortilla.  Well, that’s really only two, but it kinda counts as an onslaught, right?  Now this looks like a long email, but bear with me because it’s two back-to-back meals that fold seamlessly into each other with very little effort!

I don’t know if I told you or not, but the doc told us that Charlie has some food allergies.  They should pass as he gets older, but in the meantime, Jenny has been told to avoid milk and peanuts while she breastfeeds.  Since Jenny is already vegetarian, that almost veganizes her diet.  (She still eats eggs)  So we’ve been really trying to create new whole food, meatless and dairyless recipes, and for the most part, we’ve had some really great successes – especially these two that I made over the weekend.  VEGAN TACOS TWO WAYS!

These two make great back-to-back meals because they share a ‘creamy’ avocado, lime and cilantro sauce.  And while these are both technically tacos, their flavors couldn’t be more different.  The best part is that both are ridiculously simple and only use a few easy to find ingredients.

OK, we’ll start with the sauce, since that’s the common denominator in both recipes; the Avocado, Lime and Cilantro ‘Cream’ Sauce.

Ingredients

  • 12 oz silken tofu
  • 1/2 ripe Haas avocado
  • 3 tbs lime juice
  • 1tbs apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • A good palmful of fresh cilantro leaves
  • Salt to taste

Put all of these things into a blender, and viola!  That’s it.  You’ll never want sour cream for your tacos again.  I promise.

Now, this makes enough to top all of your tacos, with enough left over to make slaw for your curry tacos.

But let’s start with the Lentil and Mushroom Tacos.  This is going to look stupid simple, because the only thing I was worried about was the “meat” base.  If you’ve got a taco seasoning mix or recipe you prefer, use it.  I’ve made my own taco seasoning before, and for the life of me, I just can’t compete with the 95 cent packets at the grocery store.  Or better yet, I just buy a taco kit.  Again, the only thing I worry about is the filling.

  • 2 cups prepared lentils cooked in veggie stock. (I won’t go into cooking details because different lentils cook differently)
  • 8 ounces portobello mushrooms finely chopped.
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp each soy sauce and vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • Splash of liquid smoke (optional)
  • Any extra veggie stock you didn’t use on the lentils
  • Packet of favorite taco seasoning

This is easy:

  • Sautee mushrooms in olive oil for 5-10 minutes (until they start to shrink)
  • Add lentils, tomato paste, soy, Worcestershire and liquid smoke.  (Stir this around and check the consistency.  You want extra liquid because it’s going to cook down, so if it looks stiff, add veggie stock.)
  • Slowly add seasoning mix, tasting as you go.  (I say slowly because all of these packets are different, and it’s easy to end up with a salt bomb)
  • Simmer for 15 minutes.  You’re looking for a semi-loose consistency, like beefy taco mix, so don’t be afraid to keep adding stock as you go.

Top those bad boys off with all the usual fixin’s using the tofu cream sauce instead of sour cream. The lentil and mushroom texture will more than fill in for the beef, and the flavor is more smokey and robust than any ground beef.  You’re welcome.

OK, so you’ve enjoyed your traditional tacos one night, but you still have a shit load of tofu and avocado sauce left over.  What do you do?  You make some Vegan Cilantro/Lime Slaw to go with your curry tacos, that’s what!

  • Buy a prepackaged bag of coleslaw veggies.
  • Add a handful of rough chopped cilantro, 2 tbs of lime juice – salt and pepper to taste.
  • Now mix in the left over tofu sauce until you get a good slaw-like mixture.
  • Cover and refrigerate for an hour or two.

The Tofu/Chickpea Curry Tacos are really the crown jewel of this whole thing, and they’re also the simplest thing to make.  There is really no heavy cooking involved, just mixing and simmering.  With my slaw premade, I had these tacos on the table in about 30 minutes.

  • 1 lb block extra firm tofu – well pressed and chopped into small cubes.
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped (optional)
  • I can prepared chickpeas – drained
  • 1 can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 tbs green curry paste (or more if you prefer)
  • 1 tbs brown sugar
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • handful fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 tbs lime juice
  • soft tortillas
  • roasted cashews, chopped

And the cooking on these is so simple, it’s ridiculous!

  • First, saute the onion and tofu on high heat for 5 minutes (use coconut oil if you have it)
  • Add next five ingredients and simmer for 15 minutes
  • Turn off heat and mix in the cherry tomatoes, basil and lime juice.  Cover and let sit for 10 minutes while you warm tortillas.

Pile that shit on!  The curry mix should stiffen a bit, but make sure you get enough sauce in each tortilla.  Then top it with slaw, more cilantro and lime juice, cashews, and of course Sriracha.

The taste is amazing!  It’s subtle enough for you to pick out every flavor, but balanced enough that they all sing in perfect harmony.  These are the best things I’ve made in  while.  Seriously.

Now go make tacos!

Sauteed Curried Sweet Potato

from: Daniel Larkin
to: Jamey Bennett

This is really easy, and I think you need to know.  I stumbled across the greatest method of making potatoes ever.  You can use regular potatoes with any savory spices you want, but I’ll used curried sweet potatoes as my example.

Cut two large sweet potatoes into 1/4-inch cubes — approximately.

Mix (and these are guesses on the measurements)

  •     1tbs red curry powder
  •     1/2 tsp cinnamon
  •     1tbs brown sugar
  •     Salt and pepper to taste

Toss the potato cubes in a bowl with oil (safflower is a good option) and all of the dry spices.  Bake in oven at 400º until almost done — maybe about 15 or 20 minutes.

Pull these suckers out the oven and sauté in butter until golden brown.

The baking cooks the potatoes and melds the flavors, but the sautéing really gives each cube a solid outside that you don’t get any other way.  Use them as a side, or add them to other dishes.

These go GREAT in stir-fry, or you can use Mexican themed spices and put them in tacos!  Or use this method with regular potatoes, but sub in some garlic and rosemary!  Just do it!  Whatever you do!

That is all.

World Peace Currywurst Tacos

from: Jamey Bennett
to: Daniel Larkin

Dude,

I think I may have just done more for world peace than any U.N. peace treaty ever could. I made a currywurst taco.

I don’t remember where I first heard about currywurst, but it’s important to note that I’ve never actually had currywurst until today. Even when I was in Germany, I had plenty of sausages, but never had currywurst. I guess that’s a sort of disclaimer, since I have nothing to compare it to. But if authentic German currywurst tastes like what I whipped up, I can see why it’s popular.

The legend of currywurst is that a simple woman in post-WW2 Berlin traded some booze with British soldiers for ketchup, curry, and Worstchestershire sauce. She threw them together in her kitchen with a few other spices, poured it over sausage and the rest is history. Now the stuff is everywhere over there.

Still, there’s plenty about the dish online, and I found this Wall Street Journal article quite enlightening. After scouring various articles and recipes online, it’s clear that few people agree on how to make the sauce that makes currywurst so delectable, and there appears to be some difference of opinion on what one should serve with currywurst.

Well, in adapting this for a taco, essentially I did this. For each taco: one Hofbrau beer brat from Trader Joe’s, served on a medium wheat tortilla, topped with a curried tomato sauce, and sauerkraut. It was amazing.

First the sauce. There are many simple recipes online that amount to essentially currying ketchup. I wanted something a little more refined than that, and I really didn’t want anything as sweet as ketchup. So here’s what I came up with. I found this recipe and made several twists and omissions, all changes I think were important.

I sauteed about 2/3 cup of chopped onions and 1 clove of minced garlic in oil for a few minutes, then I added a small amount of water and stirred to kinda clean up the pan. I turned the heat off, and added: 10 cherry tomatoes (sliced in half), 1/4 cup vinegar, 6 ounce can of tomato paste, 2 tbs. honey, 1/4 tsp of ground allspice, 5 tbs. curry powder (yeah, I said FIVE freaking tablespoons), 1 tsp. ginger powder, 1 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 bay leaf, and a little salt and pepper.

I turned the heat back on, and simmered, adding quite a bit of water, probably about 1-1/2 cups, but I only did it a quarter cup at a time. Over the course of 25 minutes or so of simmering and occasionally stirring, a lot of water dissipated. In the end, the consistency I wanted with a chunky, slightly thick ketchup. And damn, it was tasty.

Meanwhile, I browned the small wheat tortillas in a separate skillet, doesn’t take long, and set them aside. I threw the brats in the skillet, and ended up breaking them down by chopping with a knife and separating them with the spatula until it had the consistency of ground meat.

Once everything was cooked thoroughly, I removed the bay leaf, spooned the sausage onto the tortilla, topped with a generous helping of sauce, and sauerkraut. I served with a big glass of water, but a large mug of German beer would have been even better.

As far as quantities…I used about a full brat on each tortilla, though the Trader Joe’s brats are relatively small, and I think the amount of sauce would work well for 4-6 tacos of this size.

Who woulda thunk? India, Great Britain, Germany, and Mexico, united in one damn fine dish.

from Daniel Larkin
to jamey w. bennett

That looks thoroughly delicious.  And that’s something I could easily do camping – freeze and vacuum seal the brats ahead of time, and then dehydrate the sauce.  Either way, home or in the woods, this is happening.

from: Jamey Bennett
to: Daniel Larkin

It’s super good. I just had some leftovers, and it was great. I took the sausage out of the casing this time, and it was much easier to break apart (duh). Full disclosure: I actually wanted to slice the brats to give it a more traditional (German) appearance, but my cuts were ugly, so I decided to go with the ground meat look! I think that actually was better, especially because it created pockets in the taco for the sauce to fill, likely making it less messy.

These things are pretty juicy, between the sauce and the kraut. Take some big paper towels for a cleaner experience.

Thai Yellow Beer Curry

from Jamey W. Bennett
to Daniel Larkin

Dude,

So tonight when I was texting you about my yellow curry, I didn’t expect it to be as good as it was (though there is certainly room for improvement), so I didn’t expect to be writing this. But damn. It was good, and my secret is beer.

Since I’m not so experienced in preparing Thai food, I’ve picked up a few books, one of which is Quick and Easy Thai by Nancie McDermott. According to my friend Christopher, she is the go-to Thai food author. Since I had some yellow curry paste on hand, I decided to do a yellow curry. And since we are in the middle of a fast, it had to be vegan-ish. So I took two of her recipes, compared them, and made my own.

  • 1 tsp of each: cumin, coriander, cinnamon, curry powder
  • 2 cans of unsweetened coconut milk
  • Yellow curry paste (to taste)
  • Various veggies
  • Coconut oil
  • 1 lb. seitan
  • 1 lb. shrimp (tails off, pre-cooked)
  • Chicken bullion cube
  • 2 tbs. Fish sauce
  • 2 tbs. Lemon or lime juice
  • 1 tbs. brown sugar
  • Rice (I’m not going to tell you how to make rice.)

First, I took a teaspoon of cumin, ground coriander, cinnamon, and curry powder, and toasted them in a skillet. It didn’t take long, and I burned it a little. Turns out that wasn’t bad thing.

Second, I took a can of coconut milk and poured it into the skillet with the seasonings, then I added 3 tablespoons of yellow curry paste. As I stirred this in, I decided it needed more curry, so I think by the end of it I probably used like 8 tablespoons. Probably a bit too spicy for some….I maybe cooked this for 10 minutes and set it aside.

Third, I sauteed 1 medium chopped onion (big pieces) in coconut oil. I’ve been enjoying using coconut and macadamia oils for high heat cooking and a slightly different flavor. (Plus, when we fast in the Orthodox Church, we ditch the olive oil, too.) I love the flavor of the coconut oil, and figured that you can’t have too much coconut in this recipe. After a few minutes, I added a variety of vegetables, including bell peppers, peas, bamboo, mushrooms, and water chestnuts. Oh, and I had a handful of those long dried red peppers…but I soaked them in water for a couple hours beforehand, then chopped them up.

Fourth, once all the veggies looked good and delicious, I spooned most of them into the curry mix in the other skillet. I threw in a pound of Michael’s Savory Seitan and a pound of pre-cooked shrimp. I browned this just a tad, before dumping in some liquids.

Which brings me to five. Her recipes called for 2-1/4 cups of chicken broth or water. I opted for a chicken bullion cube. Mixed it with a cup of water, then I dumped a 12 oz. can of pale ale in with it…and transferred the liquid to the meat. No we’re cookin…let that boil for a while, bring down the volume a bit, then I added a second can of coconut milk and the vegetable-curry mix from the other skillet. Cooked for a few more minutes.

Sixth, I combined the fish sauce, lemon juice, and brown sugar in a cup and stirred it up until the sugar was disolved. Stirred this into the mix with everything else…

And finally, I put it on the table. Rice in a bowl, and curry dish in a separate bowl and enjoyed. Plenty for leftovers tomorrow, and I’m guessing it will taste even better then.

It kinda sounds complicated, but if you’ve got a decent spice rack and you keep veggies on hand, you really only need a few things. In fact, all I needed to buy was peas, bamboo shoots, and water chestnuts.

UPDATE: Upon further reflection, I think I used too much curry paste. It was delicious, but I might pull back a bit in the future.