Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Taco Tuesday! Quinoa 'Meat' Tacos

It is weird that I have been waking up each morning, hoping every day that it was Tuesday since last Tuesday? Thanks, Taco Cleanse

Taco Tuesday's Quinoa 'Meat' Tacos
I have always loved tacos. Straight up, nothing fancy, hard shell tacos were my favorite. When I stopped eating meat I would just use some taco seasoning on some veggie crumbles and get my taco on. Then I ventured into other faux meats like LiteLife Chik'n Strips and chik'n tacos with other processed stand-ins were the staple.

As a vegan, I had to rethink things. Tofutti made it easy to sub sour cream. Have a Heart gave me Cheeze I could live with on tacos, but overly processed replicas of dairy taco fixin's got old. And expensive.

Wanting to recreate my beloved tacos with vegan, wholesome, real food ingredients, this taco was born. Quinoa is a protein-packed base. Combining it with beans gives you the mouth feel that beef tacos always gave and deliver the flavor of taco seasoning perfectly. I even started making my own taco seasoning. It's so easy to do I don't know why I ever bought those little packets in the first place!
Old Jar with stubborn lable and Long, lost Vegenaise lid? check!

Now, I throw all the spices in an upcycled jar, top with the lid, shake, and have taco seasoning whenever the taco craving strikes. Or Tuesday. 

One of my favorite things about taco night is that it lasts for days. One evening of prep and I can feast on tacos for many meals.

I love that these tacos have everything I always loved but in a healthier, vegan way. Hard, corn tortillas baked to crunchy taco shell perfection are where I start. The quinoa base is super simple to whip up in no time, especially if you're using canned or pre-cooked beans and frozen corn (I keep a few cans of beans in the pantry and a bag of organic frozen corn in the freezer at all times. It doesn't have to be Tuesday to make tacos!).  

The taco seasoning can be made ahead and keeps well, you decide how much you want to add to your base. I use a tablespoon for my pan of quinoa/beans and have about 9-10 tacos from that pan. Not at one sitting. That would be crazy. :)

A quick marinade of the tomatoes gives them a salsa-esque flavor without all the fuss. (though if you want to make salsa and keep it on hand, use this recipe while the tomatoes and tomatillos are still plump and gorgeous before fall really sets in). 

Slivered red onion adds a bite without adding too much more heat and really help to round out the flavor. 

Iceburg lettuce seems a tradition in America, romaine is nice, but we always keep butter lettuce on hand so that's my go-to. Any favorite leafy green will do. I think next I may try these with clover sprouts.

Lastly, you can certainly just top with avocado but if you have cashews on hand, Dreena Burton inspired in me a long time ago to make cashew cream in seconds to drizzle on top using cashew butter in Vive Le Vigan. It's creamy and flavorful and light and will cause any wish for sour cream or some processed vegan variation of to disappear the minute you taste it topping your tacos. I don't often keep cashew butter around anymore, but she's even shared a similar version made with pre-soaked cashews (I've linked to that recipe of hers below, under my version). Those I always have on hand lately.

Oh, and fresh cilantro. If you love cilantro, pile it on. If not, you won't miss a thing.
Simple, marinated tomatoes by bad kitchen light still taste amazing
Marinated Tomatoes

This is a super simple treatment that really brings out the flavor of tomatoes. I like to chop and mix up my tomatoes before I do anything else so they have some time for the flavors to all meld together. I even do this to tomatoes and use on salads at times in lieu of any real dressing. It's so basic, I can't really call it a recipe, but here's what you'll need:

1 large, ripe tomato (I'm a fan of the Ugly variety), chopped*
red wine vinegar
sea salt

Place your chopped tomato in a bowl. Splash with red wine vinegar. Maybe a tablespoon. Add a pinch of sugar, a healthy pinch of salt, and sprinkle with oregano. You don't really need more than a teaspoon. Toss and set aside until your tacos are ready for fixin's.

*I like to use fresh tomato for each meal (refrigerated 'maters are not for me) so one tomato at a time is all we ever need.

You can make the taco seasoning in advance and keep it stored in an air tight container for months. I batch cook quinoa most weeks so I can just scoop some into a pan on Tuesday (or any day!) to make the base. You can even make the avocado cream a day ahead. It will brown slighly if you choose to, I just lay saran wrap on top of the top of the cream and give it a good stir before using.

Taco Seasoning:
I get 4T of seasoning & use 1T per batch

2T chili powder
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Mix well and store in an air tight container. This has a bit of heat.  I like it, but you may want to adjust chili and pepper to your liking if a milder seasoning is what your after.

Quinoa 'Meat' Taco Filling
Makes a lot, freezes well. (or you can just eat tacos for days like we do ;)

2 c. cooked quinoa (I use a blend of white, red, and black)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 c. corn, frozen or fresh
1 T taco seasoning (or more/less, to taste)
3-4 T water

Heat tsp of oil in pan on med hi heat. Add quinoa, beans, corn, and taco seasoning. Stir well to combine ingredients. Add water, one tablespoon at a time, you want just enough to make it a bit wet, but not saucy. Cover, lower heat to simmer for 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Avocado Cashew Cream

1 ripe avocado
1/4 c. cashews, soaked in water for an hour or more
1 T lemon juice (or lime)
1/4 c. water 
sea salt, to taste
1/2 tsp agave nectar
1/8 tsp chipotle powder

Drain cashews and place in tall container if using immersion blender or in food processor. Add remaining ingredients and blend until combined and smooth.

To quote the Cap'n, 'There are so many things going on there. They hit you at different times. First it's like Mmmm, avocado, that's good. Then it's That's cashews...why?. I'm not sure how I feel about it. I don't feel bad about it. I'm just not sure. There's a flavor there. It must be the cashews.'

Dude is honest. I love him. He's right. This stuff is not sour cream. Throw a scoop of Vegenaise in there and it's WAY more 'comfort foody'. I'd bet  money. I won't do it tho, because I really want this to be all whole foods, these tacos. I added a little more salt and let it sit. When asked to taste it again he agreed it was good, really good. Not enough to add some to his tacos though, I noticed ;)

Upon tasting the avocado scraps on my cutting board it occured to me that the flavor he couldn't place that was making it taste a bit 'off' was the avocado itself. While the flesh had great consistency and was near perfect, it had a bit of that 'not quite ripe' flavor that avocados eaten a day too early are wont to have. Eureka! Omnis. Why are they so leary of the vegan genius that is the cashew nut? 

Another reason I love that guy? When I pointed it out to him he laughed, agreeing that it was totally the faint taste of an unripe avocado and also willingly agreed that I was spot on when I said, 'I saw that look when you saw cashews were in it. You right then and there decided it would taste odd'. Omnis have bacon. We have cashews. And coconut oil. 

While I have made that avocado cream plenty in the past, never with the Chipotle addition. That's new to me. Dreena knows her stuff. Her version uses Chipotle hot sauce. I don't keep any on hand but had powdered Chipotle in my spice pantry so I used that. At first I didn't taste it but then realize it was there at the finish. Very nice indeed.

These Quinoa tacos won't win my any awards for originality, but they hit the comfort food spot this evening all around AND did so without a processed faux product in sight. Happy Taco Tuesday!

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