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Chefs Serve Up Vegetarian Tacos

Chefs Serve Up Vegetarian Tacos

When you replace meat with plants and alternate proteins, there’s no reason  to miss out on all the fresh/fiery/smoky Southwestern flavor of a great taco.

Swapping out meat for mushrooms is a natural choice. The 'shrooms can stand up  to the bold flavors required for amazing tacos.
Swapping out meat for mushrooms is a natural choice. The 'shrooms can stand up to the bold flavors required for amazing tacos.

For a few ideas on vegetarian tacos, FM talked to some operators who are bringing the fire in terms of flavors and presentation.

"We have a new Tofu Taco Filling recipe that’s just a real winner with a nice flavor and it’s easy to prepare. It’s marinated in annatto, the reddish seeds of the achiote tree. (this adds a subltle flavor and also adds color to make the tofu look as good as it tastes)

The tofu is sautéed in pan with garlic and cumin to golden brown, placed on a warm tortilla and topped with pico de gallo (house-made of course).

“Our chef Ernest Owney of the Little Patio Cafe has done some great work on tofu recipe development, even though he is far from being vegetarian!

“We also cut portabella mushrooms into big strips and treat them just like fajita meat, paired with onions and bell peppers in a chipotle marinade.

“And we use pre-made analog chicken and beef strips, too, just seasoning them with my fajita spice blend and serving on flour tortillas with grated cheese, salsa, guacamole, sour cream. —Robert Mayberry, campus executive chef, the University of Texas at Austin

“There are many kinds of tacos in Mexican cooking, a lot of which aren’t made with meat.

“All food, whether it’s meat or vegetable, requires good flavor development. You use the same techniques to develop flavor in a mushroom taco that you would in a meat taco—authentic herbs, spices and seasonings (oregano, cumin, chili powder, garlic, lime).

“Also, think about the cooking technique: mushrooms, just like meat, benefit from searing and caramelizing, which browns their natural sugars. This technique boosts umami, the salty, meat-like flavor we crave so much. Nopale cactus is also an excellent meatless taco filling.” —Elliott Prag, Chef-Instructor at the Natural Gourmet Institute, a health-supportive culinary arts school in New York, NY


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Mushroom Tacos

YIELD: 6 servings

2 lbs. oyster mushrooms, shredded by hand
5 Tbsps. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. sea salt
2 tsps. chili powder
2 tsps. cumin
1 tsp. Mexican oregano
1 Tbsp. chipotle in adobo
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
juice of 3 limes
12 soft corn tortillas
3 hearts of Romaine, finely shredded
4 vine-ripe tomatoes, small dice
3 scallions, finely sliced
3 oz. Cotija cheese, crumbled
2 radishes, very thinly sliced
1 oz. cilantro leaves, picked and chopped,  or garnish additional lime wedges for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, toss together mushrooms, 3 Tbsps. olive oil and salt. Transfer mushrooms to parchment-lined baking tray and roast in oven, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms release all moisture and are well caramelized, approximately 30 to 40 minutes.

2. While mushrooms are roasting warm remaining 2 Tbsps. oil in 8” sauté pan. Add chili powder, cumin, oregano, chipotle in adobo, ½ tsp. sea salt, garlic and shallots. As soon as herbs and spices sizzle, turn down heat and sauté briefly, for 1 minute.

3. Combine mushroom mixture with sautéed spices in bowl. Add lime juice. Add more salt to taste if desired.

4. Heat separately, dry 8” sauté pan over medium-low flame. Warm tortillas on each side in pan.

5. To assemble: Arrange small mound of Romaine atop 2 stacked tortillas. Spoon ½ cup mushroom mixture atop Romaine. Garnish with tomatoes, scallions, Cotija, radishes, cilantro and a lime wedge.

Recipe: Chef Elliott Prag, Natural Gourmet Institute

Spicy Tofu Tacos

Spicy Tofu Tacos
YIELD: 12 small tacos

For chipotle tofu filling:
1 (14 oz.) package extra firm tofu
1 medium red onion, diced
1 Tbsp. onion powder
1 tsp. chipotle chili powder
2 tsps. liquid smoke
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. kosher salt
3 Tbsps. olive oil
2 Tbsps. ground cumin

For serving:
12 taco-sized soft corn tortillas
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
6 oz. 2 percent Greek yogurt
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced
1 small bunch scallions, finely chopped
3-4 jalapeno peppers, sliced

1. Remove tofu from packaging liquid and slice 1 cm thick. Arrange slices between 2 clean kitchen towels and place a heavy pot or cutting board on top for 15 minutes. This will remove excess water from the tofu and allow it to absorb the flavors of the dish.

2. Meanwhile, whisk the cumin, onion powder, chipotle chili pepper, liquid smoke, salt and minced garlic into 1 cup water. Set aside.

3. In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the minced red onion until it just starts to become translucent, about 5 minutes.

4. Remove tofu from towels. Place in a bowl and use a fork to crumble the slices. Add the tofu to the sautéed onions and cook about 5 minutes more, stirring frequently, until the tofu has browned and the onions are fully translucent.

5. Reduce heat to low and pour the water and spice mixture into the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the majority of the water has evaporated, about 5 minutes.

6. In a dry skillet or griddle, heat the tortillas for about 30 seconds on each side. Spread each tortilla with 1 Tbsp. Greek yogurt and top with about ¼ cup of the tofu and onion mixture. Top each taco with tomatoes, scallions, cilantro and jalapeno peppers.

Recipe: Diana Rice, registered dietitian for The Monday Campaigns

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