Friday, September 17, 2010

Best. Tacos. Ever.

As many of you know, I have not always been vegan. This is a relatively new change, and as such, I am continually bumping up against the walls of my old eating habits. Mexican food has long been a favorite of mine. I would wax poetic about El Patio’s chicken enchiladas to anyone who would listen. While living in Rome, I was blissfully happy on a diet of pasta twice a day, every day, with the single exception of Mexican food. I forced my family to take me to an exorbitant Mexican restaurant in Florence where the tacos were made with mozzarella cheese. It was totally worth it. On my first day back in the United States, I ate dinner at Chipotlé. This is all just a way of demonstrating my devotion to Mexican food. However, Mexican cuisine is dominated by its meats and cheeses: carne asada, barbacoa, carnitas, flame grilled pollo, queso fresco, jack, cheddar, cotija; what is a vegan girl to do?

So, one of my missions on this adventure has been to reclaim Mexican food for the vegans. One of the masters of Mexican cooking is Rick Bayliss, so it seemed only natural that I should turn to him for guidance in this endeavor. It was on his television show, “Mexico, One Plate at a Time” that I found real inspiration. He was demonstrating sauces, particularly a fire roasted tomato salsa, but the real genius came at the end. While he was puréeing the tomatoes, chiles, garlic and cilantro, he added a handful of peanuts. What was bright and fresh became rich and round. It is a kind of Mexican satay sauce. Bayliss recommended spooning it over cooked vegetables, so I took it one step further and made roasted vegetable tacos with fire roasted tomato peanut salsa. What makes these even more special are the home made tortillas. I know they sound daunting, but I promise it is as easy as making a batch of pancakes. 

From Scratch Corn Tortillas (These will change your life!)

2 cups Maseca (an instant corn masa flour)
1 ¼ cups water
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon vegetable shortening

With electric beaters, or preferably a stand mixer, combine the flour and shortening in a large bowl and beat until mixed. Slowly begin to add the water. This quantity of water is just a guideline as the individual characteristics of your home, city, and time of year will impact the consistency of your dough. Dough should be smooth to the touch, not sticky. If it’s sticky add more flour. If it crumbles in your hand, more water.

Heat a griddle or frying pan on your stove. Roll spoonfuls of dough into balls. I have a tortilla press, but you can also flatten them with your standard rolling pin. When the pan is hot, toss on the dough. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side. They may begin to brown and puff up, or not. These are all fine. Serve immediately, or keep warm in an oven set to 200º. They’re also good the next day, heated up in the oven, or on the griddle again.

Taco Filling

Use any kind of vegetables you want! I use carrots, bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini, sweet potatoes. It changes every time I make them!
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Ground Cumin
Mexican Oregano
(Quantities will vary depending on how many vegetables you’re roasting; go for a pinch of each in each pan. You can always add more later)

Heat oven to 425º. Slice vegetables into desired size and shape. I find long, thin slices works best for the tacos. Place in one layer in a pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Add salt, pepper, cumin, and Mexican oregano. Toss until all pieces are coated with olive oil and seasoning. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Fire Roasted Tomato Peanut Salsa

6 to 8 medium tomatoes (Alternatively you can use the canned fire roasted tomatoes)
2 jalapenos or 4 serranos
3 cloves garlic unpeeled
¼ cup white onion finely chopped
⅓ cup cilantro chopped
¼ cup roasted peanuts
The juice of 1 lime

Turn oven broiler on high. Place tomatoes on a covered sheet pan as close to the broiler as possible. Cook 5-6 minutes, or until they begin to blacken. Flip over and do the same on the other side. Meanwhile, cook chiles and garlic in a dry pan on medium high heat for about 15 minutes. Turn the chiles as they begin to blacken. When the tomatoes are done, remove the blackened skin and the cores. Add to the blender or food processor. When garlic is done, peel and add to the food processor. When the chiles are done, roughly chop them and add them to the processor. Blend until mostly smooth. Add the cilantro and peanuts and purée until smooth. Taste for salt. The required amount will vary depending on the peanuts. Add the lime juice and blend. Add the onions and mix briefly to retain some of the texture.

Finishing your tacos is entirely up to you. I added refried black beans and chopped fresh tomatoes. You can also try pinto beans, black beans or top them with a lime dressed shredded cabbage. The fun is in the flexibility, so make them your own!


  1. Oh, I'm so glad to get your tortilla recipe. I had no idea there was so little shortening in them! Almost healthy!

  2. Do you think that coconut oil would work in place of the shortening?

  3. Definitely! Coconut oil, and shortening have very similar textures, and this recipe calls for so little an amount. I'd love to know how it turns out!