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GIVEAWAY and Review of Vegan Tacos by Jason Wyrick

If you follow my Instagram than you’ve seen that the last few weeks I’ve been pretty consumed with making vegan tacos. It isn’t the first time I’ve dedicated my life to tacos and, I can tell you, it won’t be the last. I’ve had so much fun and I’ve learned a ton from Jason’s wonderful book Vegan Tacos. I love his infectious enthusiasm for tacos. In fact, when I read the way that he described eating a fresh tortilla for the first time I kind of fell in love with him. He’s a kindred spirit. The book is filled with pictures of him making tacos for his friends and family in his lovely backyard kitchen and you can really see that he wants to spread the gospel that tacos are life, or the best parts anyway.

Vegan Tacos starts with a history of the tacos, including Jason’s own family’s brushes with Mexican culinary legends. He then goes into all the different special ingredients so you can tell your cascabel chile from a habenero and then talks about tools that you might invest in like a comal or a molcajete. Won’t someone out there please get me a molcajete? I have to make my guacamole with a potato masher like some sort of philistine! It then gets into the most important chapter, the tortilla. I’ve long been a tortilla snob at restaurants but for my own taco making my tortilla press was stored on top of the refrigerator and neglected to very special occasion status. I was perfectly happy to get tortillas, still warm mind you, from Fiesta or Central Market. But, with Jason’s encouragement, I’ve gotten into the habit of pressing out tortillas every day. I even broke my old aluminum tortilla press and sprung for the cast iron version. It’s true what he says, the cast iron one presses out much thinner tortillas. Now that it’s habit and I’ve gotten good I can make quite a few in no time. Making your own tortillas makes all the difference in the world and is the only way you will ever get to the perfect taco.

Purple Potato Tacos with roasted Hatch Peppers, Queso Fresco, and Salsa Verde on homemade Corn Tortillas

The next chapter has other essential skills and recipes to elevate your taco making. Jason uses mojo de ajo in most of his recipes and though I had never heard of it before I knew I’d have to make up a batch to fully enjoy the book and I’m glad I did. This garlic and citrus infused oil has made all the difference in sauteing. I love it and it will become a kitchen staple. There are also recipes for pressed seitan, achiote paste, chorizo, and techniques like pan roasting vegetables. Not in this chapter but towards the end of the book with the condiments are some recipes for vegan cheese, a fermented Mexican Crema, Queso Fresco from homemade tofu, and Queso Oaxaca which is a melting cheese based on a Miyoko recipe. Having all of these base recipes and techniques has definitely elevated my taco making and having all these components on hand makes dinner tacos a snap to prepare after work.

Vampire Tacos with Queso Oaxaca

After that we get into the main part of the book, the taco filling recipes starting with Tacos de Asador or “Tacos with fillings charred over an open flame.” I sadly don’t have a grill anymore so I couldn’t fully utilize these but Jason does give directions for cooking them on the stove top or in the oven. You can see my Vampire Tacos above didn’t quite curl up like bat wings without the heat of the grill. I really want to try the Tacos with Smoked Mushrooms, Jalapeño, and Lime from this chapter and the Yucatecan-Style Barbecue so maybe I will just bite the bullet and get a grill.

The next chapter is Tacos de Guisados “Tacos made with stewed fillings” and these tacos made good use of vegetables in recipes like Tacos with Sweet Potato & Chard or Mole Tacos with Seared Zucchini, Wilted Chard, and Pepitas Chard but there are also “meat” heavy recipes like Tacos with Vegan Sausage, Seitan, and Chorizo or the Tacos with Hot Dogs in Tomato Salsa. I made the Tacos with Pintos Borrachos, Poblano Strips, and Queso Fresco except I was out of peppers and I added avocado and green chile peanuts and they were so so easy and delicious. Jason always gives tips to make short cuts in recipes or tips to make them more healthy too.

Next is Tacos de Comal “Tacos made with sautéed fillings.” which are probably the tacos that most non-Mexicans are most familiar with except with vegan spins like Baja-Style Tacos with Lobster Mushrooms and Ten-Minute Seitan Carnitas it also has traditionally vegan tacos made from Cactus (nopales) or Potato and Peppers (rajas) which is what I usually get a Mexican taco stands around Austin that use lard in the beans. I’ve never gotten one with purple potatoes though! It’s pictured up top. Tonight I am going to make Tacos with Huitlacoche and Fresh Corn from this chapter. Jason gives plenty of tips throughout all the sections like how to remove cactus needles or make sure you wash your huitlacoche from its canning liquid if it isn’t fresh. This kind of stuff is so helpful for a newbie and so often left out of cookbooks.

Tacos Dorados “Rolled tacos, fried golden and crisp.” which are more like flautas or taquitos are in the next chapter and I do want to try both the Tacos Dorados with Plantains, Black Beans, and Roasted Garlic and the Tacos Dorados with Squash Blossoms and Potato. The former is one of my favorite non-fried tacos so I can’t imagine how good it will be in dorado form! The latter will have to wait for next spring when squash blossoms are in season. Or maybe I could plant some right now…I could probably harvest the blossoms before the winter.

Then next is Los Otros Tacos “Other tacos in a class by themselves” which include the vegan mainstay they Guacamole taco and a recipe for Michoacan-Style Carnitas which I plan to make this weekend. There is a discussion for the latter of whether seitan or jackfruit make for better vegan carnitas so you can decide which is best for you.

Chapter 10 is Tacos de Canasta “Classic breakfast ‘basket’ tacos, sauced and steamed.” which I had never heard of but sounds super interesting. Basically you dip tortillas in a sauce, stuff them up with the different fillings, fold them, add them into a cooler or crockpot and then layer with caramelized onions and then parchment paper and keep alternating layers until you are all loaded up and can “sweat” the tacos. Whoa! I have to try these the next time I have overnight guests cause what a brunch would those make!

Chile Rellano Tacos

Next Chapter is the kind of breakfast tacos I’m used to, Tacos Mañaneros “Breakfast tacos from both sides of the border.” I tried the Chile Rellano with Hatch Peppers above. They are stuffed with a cream made from toasted pepitas, roasted tomatillos, and garlic but the recipe doesn’t call for the deep fry that I am accustomed too. Somehow they reminded me of the tacos I first had as a young’un at my beloved Jolly Tamale. Next time I’ll deep-fry them though using his tempura batter as suggested.

I also tried the Hash Brown and Black Bean Tacos with Tomatillo Avocado Salsa which were easy peasy since my salsa was already made.

He does have a recipes for tofu scramble too in the Breakfast Tacos with Poblano Strips, Mojo Scramble, and Pinto Beans which sounds delicious and I will surely try that soon.

The next couple of chapters are dessert tacos, think Spicy Cinnamon Tacos with Salted Coconut Cajeta Apples and Agave Crema and then Fusion Tacos but I haven’t tried any from either chapter yet. I don’t think I’m ready for Kimchee tacos YET!

The next section is “Toppings, Sides, and Drinks” which starts with traditional toppings like Taquería-Style Carrots Escabeche and Pickled Red Onions, moves into a whole chapter of salsas, hot sauces, and guacamoles like Toasted Pepita Sun-Dried Tomato Guacamole, and then continues with rice and bean recipes and other sides like Fruit with Chile, Lime, and Salt. And, then ends with a chapter on drinks that includes tons of aqua frescas, a discussion on pairing beer, tequilla, and mezcal, a recipe for a Grilled Lime Margarita with Mesquite Smoked Salt and even ends with a port. I am going to make the Watermelon Cactus Fruit Agua Fresca with Tequila Añejo Shots as soon as I can.

So you can see it’s very comprehensive. I think people who are willing to dive in and take on all the projects are going to get a lot out of this book. I also think that people who haven’t ever had a good taco could really get into this although it might seem a bit overwhelming. I think if they take advantage of the shortcuts and see the substitutions it should be pretty easy to follow though. Jason’s friendly approach and love of tacos really comes across so that should help quite a bit. This book seems terrific for folks on specialty diets as well. It would be easy to omit all the soy out of the recipes, Jason even gives directions for using peanut milk in the homemade tofu for the queso fresco recipe. Omitting gluten should be easy too, all you have to do is use beans for seitan or any of the other ingredients he always recommends like eggplant, mushrooms or sweet potatoes depending on the recipe.  This goes for people following a whole foods based diet or an E2 diet as well. Since Jason started his road to veganism eating a health food diet and co-authored the book 21 Day Weightloss Kickstart with Neal Barnard, MD he has a lot of experience in that area. The only people who might struggle with this book are those unfortunate to not have a well stocked Mexican Market in town. Although there are plenty of substitutions offered I fear it might be really frustrating to not be able to use basic authentic ingredients like poblanos and masa.

So have I sold you yet? Are you worried I’m a shill? I’m not although they did give me a free review copy I am just an extreme lover of tacos! If you aren’t so sure yet here is the recipe for Hominy and Seitan Tacos 
in Roasted Garlic Cascabel Sauce which I made last night.

Hominy and Seitan Tacos 
in Roasted Garlic Cascabel Sauce from Vegan Tacos by Jason Wyrick

Tacos de Pozole y Seitan en Salsa de Chile Cascabel y Ajo Asado

I love using cascabel chiles in this taco for their pure red chile flavor. They are a nice looking chile, so I always put a few on the plate for presentation. The contrasting flavor of the hominy (aka pozole), with the chewier seitan, all work together to make a very rustic-flavored taco. This is one of my favorite taco creations. Make them low-fat by simmering the seitan and hominy in the sauce instead of sautéing in oil. If you don’t want to use seitan, substitute potatoes, zucchini, chayote, mushrooms, or any vegetables that will provide a substantial texture. Just sauté the vegetables at a medium heat long enough to brown them before adding the sauce. You can even use pinto beans (but don’t sauté them).

REGION: CASA DE JASON | HEAT LEVEL: 3 | MAKES 8 TACOS

The Filling (choose either seitan strips or portobellos)

10 cascabel chiles or 4 guajillo chiles

1/2 cup rehydrating liquid (after rehydrating the chiles)

10 cloves garlic, pan-roasted

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

2 cups seitan strips or 2 portobello mushrooms, cut into 1/2-inch thick strips

1 cup cooked, rinsed hominy

8 thick (5 to 6-inch) corn tortillas

Rough Salted Chile Powder

A sprinkle of chopped roasted and salted peanuts per taco

1. Bring a small pot of water to a simmer, add the cascabels, and simmer until soft, about 10 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the simmering liquid and remove the stems from the chiles. In a blender or food processor, puree the chiles, roasted garlic, reserved simmering liquid, oregano, and salt. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the seitan and sauté until lightly browned, about5 minutes. Add the reserved sauce and hominy and simmer until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.

3. Warm the tortillas. Fill them with the seitan hominy mixture and finish them off with a rough salted chile powder to taste and a sprinkle of chopped roasted salted peanuts.

 


THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED

If you got to the end of what is probably the longest review I’ve ever written than surely you are interested in winning a copy of Vegan Tacos please have a US address and a valid email that you check and comment below with an answer to this question: An extraterrestrial lands in your backyard and says, “take me to your taco”, what do you do?

 

 

 

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Syrian Split Peas with Chard

A couple of years ago I just go so sick of the holidays, not because they are all are inherently shitty holidays, but just the fact that they are the same thing every year. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Serbian Christmas, and Martin Luther King Day all go down exactly how they always have. Well, New Years changes the location quite a bit but you know what I mean; we are still celebrating the same damn holidays every year. Recently Mr. Smurf found out that he is technically Jewish and I thought it would be nice to start celebrating some of the Jewish holidays. And so I got “Olive Trees and Honey“, a book about Jewish cuisine from all over the world, which I have wanted for a while because it gets really positive reviews.

I have quickly fallen in love with this book. Every recipe is a history lesson about a particular tradition, how Jews came to live in a certain place, how cultures mingled, or even how people started to eat a certain type of food. The recipes are all clearly written and, like my other recent favorite, Viva Vegan, the book has many regional adaptations and variations after the recipe. Sometimes the variations are kind of funny, like if you want to make something Hungarian omit the other spices and add paprika. God, those Hungarians must really love their paprika because this seems to be true of every recipe I have ever read in my life. What the hell is going on over there? As someone of Serbian background I also think it is pretty ridiculous that the author always lumps the former Yugoslavia together as “The Balkans”, not really because it isn’t quite accurate but because a certain TV show that I love right now has a bad guy called “The Balkan” so I can’t help but laugh.

The only other issue that I have with the book is that, I would say, 95 percent of the recipes have eggs in them. Sometimes eggs are easy enough to get around, like if one is used as a binder in a dumpling or if they are in a pasta dough. But, other times eggs are impossible or at least very difficult to substitute for. [If you need help veganizing something with eggs check out this post on My Vegetarian Recipes”.] Someone somewhere said if a recipe calls for more than 3 eggs to not even bother veganizing it and many of the recipes call for 6!  Certainly they are not as simple as subbing for meat or cheese or milk.  But I still love the cookbook and I can easily enough make most of the recipes. So far everything has been fantastic.

I recently tried the Syrian Lentils with Chard, it is a fantastic recipe because it is totally lazy cooking but healthy too and very tasty. Also, I finally got to use my Pomegranate Molasses that I bought at least a year ago and immediately forgot what I bought it for so it has been sitting in the pantry ever since. Luckily it keeps forever so if you have been wondering what to do with yours try the recipe! I also switched it from lentils to split peas and cut wayyyy back on the oil.

Syrian Split Peas with Chard

1 TBSP olive oil
1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped

6 cups water
2 1/3 cups split peas
1 lbs chard, shredded
1 bay leaf
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

3/4 cups cilantro
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses

Heat up the oil and toss in the onion and garlic. Once the onion has become translucent add the water, split peas, chard, salt and pepper. Simmer until the peas are tender and the water has mostly evaporated. Add in the cilantro and pomegranate molasses, mix and enjoy!