Let’s Get This Plant-Based Taco Fiesta Started!
By Nancy Eisman
This month we’re celebrating Cinco de Mayo, to honor a victory by the Mexican army in the Battle of Puebla. So I’m putting the food focus on tacos and all their versatility, variety, simplicity, or complexity – the choices are yours to make. Now, let’s take a look at how far the classic taco has come over the last 50 years.
Back in the day, setting up a taco bar at a party was exotic and way cool. Crispy taco shells out of a box, cooked ground round, packaged seasoning mix, diced tomatoes, chopped iceberg lettuce, shredded orange colored cheese, and bottled or canned salsa. This was pretty much our experience with Mexican food, neatly lined up on the kitchen counter. Exotic, not so much.
Fast forward to today, when Mexican food traditions are an important part of our culinary consciousness, particularly where flavor and fresh ingredients are a priority. Taco times are definitely a-changing, truck-side to table-side, with ingredients both authentic and fusion to inspire your own taco eating experiences. While according to Wikipedia, a taco is a traditional Mexican dish composed of a tortilla folded around a filling, why not take today’s tacos a healthy, delicious step further, and let plant-based ingredients star in your flour or corn wrapped concoction.
Use beans, lentils, soy taco filling, tempeh, or scrambled tofu for protein. Roasted Sweet Potatoes (try yellow or Japanese purple flesh) or pan fried, breakfast-style DYP’s are two great additions for a bit of bulk. Caramelized yellow, roasted white or pickled red onions (in a splash of seasoned rice vinegar) add great flavor and texture. For some green add sliced chiles that you’ve charred stove-top, and strips of cooked nopales are quite tasty too. Shredded red cabbage, or any crisp, fresh leafy vegetable you like, kick the nutrition and crunch factor up a few notches from that old school iceberg. Avocado cream (avo + mayo), authentic salsa (Hatch would be very good), and fresh cilantro add some cool creaminess, zesty juiciness, and final freshness to your 21st century taco.
You can also add sautéed spinach, roasted radicchio, or fresh arugula for more color, fiber, and flavor. Veggie Sweet Peppers, cooked grains, other seasonal veggies, fresh picked herbs, and freshly ground spices are other add-ins you’ll be glad you added in. Fresh mango, absolutely, and yes, you can call me kooky.
My favorite taco foundation is a corn tortilla lightly charred on the burner of my stove, about 15 seconds per side, times 2, or until the fragrance is impossible to resist and if you don’t top your taco asap you’re going to eat that tortilla naked. So be disciplined and bring a stack of them to the table, along with your other ingredients, and don’t wait a second more to unleash your culinary creativity.
Here in California, and spreading to every coast, taco noshing is a way of life that clashes cultures in a very delicious way. Kimchee instead of salsa, anyone? So mix up Korean and Mexican, mash up Moroccan and Caribbean, and eat up tacos Southwest and Far East style - any fusion you like. Or keep it “traditional” Mexican with a twist, like my most recent taco table, and get your taco fiesta started.