At first glance, Jason Wyrick’s new cookbook, Vegan Tacos: Authentic & Inspired Recipes for Mexico’s Favorite Street Food, looks like – well, a cookbook. But even a quick glance through the opening pages reveals that it’s much more. It’s like a history of this humble yet delicious and infinitely customizable food. It’s obvious that Jason has made a thorough study of his subject matter – and we are the beneficiaries of his knowledge. To understand what I mean, read on below where Jason explains the Four Essential Components of A Good Taco. Also be sure to try Jason’s recipe for Roasted Poblano Guacamole – and then enter for a chance to win a copy of this well-researched and lovingly-written tribute to the taco. Besides copious taco recipes, Jason shares recipes for tortillas (like the wheat ones I made, pictured below), sides, beverages, guacamoles, and taco toppings. Thank you, Jason and Vegan Heritage Press, for giving me the opportunity to review and share Vegan Tacos with my readers.
All photos except mine of the “heretical” whole wheat tortillas, below, were taken by the author.
The Four Essential Components of a Good Taco
When I talk about making tacos, I talk about building tacos. That’s because tacos are a multi-component dish. From the tortilla to the filling to the salsa to the toppings, each component is layered one on top of the other to create a complex, engaging experience with every single bite. Understanding what each of those components is and how they work will help you make your own killer tacos! While each of these components is important, some are more important than others. I’ve placed them in order of importance for you, so you can create the best taco experience possible. Now read on, taquero!
The tortilla is the foundation of every taco. It’s the first component you hold in your hand and it’s the first component you taste. Without a tortilla, there simply is no taco. That’s why, unless I am serving a lot of people, I make my own tortillas. If you can find fresh masa (I purchase mine from one of my local Mexican markets), it only takes a few minutes to make fresh tortillas and it is totally worth the effort. There’s nothing like holding a warm fresh soft corn tortilla in your hand. You can also make your own masa from the dried ground corn called masa harina that is often found in big bags of many grocery stores and it doesn’t take that much longer to make your own masa than if you purchased it premade. If you need, or simply want, to purchase premade tortillas, look for ones that are made fresh daily (again, probably at a local Mexican market.) Trader Joe’s has a decent handmade white corn tortilla, as well. I just strongly urge you not to get those dried, cardboard tasting tortillas so common at most markets because then the foundation of your taco will taste like, you guessed it, dried cardboard. Not fun! If you are using premade tortillas, make sure you take the time to warm them so they become pliable and the flavor of the corn can develop.
The next component is the filling, which is the heart of your taco. The filling should be the most substantive part of your taco and it should be the predominant flavor. When you are making your filling, think about all the ways you can add flavor to it. My favorite way to do that is by using chile sauces and powders, but I’m also a chile addict. Other great ways to get more flavor into your fillings is by grilling them, or browning them at a fairly high heat in a pan. I often gravitate towards mushrooms when making taco fillings because they absorb flavors well, they brown nicely, they’re hearty, and they can typically withstand the rigors of the grill or the high heat of a saute pan. When you are making your own filling, don’t be shy with the flavorings. If you’re not sure if you’ve got enough flavor in your filling, add more spices, add more salt, brown the filling more. It’s a rare instance when more flavor is a bad thing.
A few tacos have the sauce cooked right into the filling, like with BBQ tacos, but the sauce component is usually comprised of salsas, crema, guacamole, and other, well, saucy things. Sauces are important because they help tie all the flavors of a taco together. They also typically add acidity to a taco, whether that’s from the lime juice in guacamole or salsa, or the sourness from vegan crema. Most sauces are salsas, and they usually add heat, as well. My go-to sauces are salsa verde and chipotle salsa. These salsas are very versatile and it’s rare that a taco is not improved by a big spoonful of one of these delicious salsas!
These are the accent pieces of a taco and the right topping will take a good taco and make it a great taco. Toppings are the components that add little pops of flavor or texture, the ones that fill in the gaps in your taco experience. Is your taco missing some crunch? Add in a crunchy topping like peanuts or fried chiles. Does your taco need some heat? Minced serrano chiles are perfect for sprinkling on top. Acidity? A squeeze of lime or vegan queso fresco will bring your taco to life. A few cuts of cilantro, a couple slices of carrots escabeche, three or four slices of pickled onions, or even a couple cloves of roasted garlic are all examples of fine taco toppings.
Roasted Poblano Guacamole
This guacamole is my secret weapon, a food ambassador for avocados everywhere. It has complexity and depth from the roasted poblano garlic paste, creaminess from the avocado, and brightness from the fresh lime. Whenever I serve this as part of a guacamole bar, it is always the first to go. – Jason
Makes 3 1/2 Cups
Heat Level: 2
- 1 poblano chile, pan-roasted or fire-roasted
- 6 cloves garlic, pan roasted
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- Juice of 2 limes
- 3 avocados
- 1 small firm tomato, diced
- Peel off the blackest parts of the skin from the roasted poblano. Remove the stem and seeds and discard them, then chop the poblano. Peel the roasted garlic.
- In a molcajete (or a mixing bowl if you don’t have one), mash the poblano, garlic, salt, cilantro, and lime juice into a paste. Pit and chop the avocado (this makes it easier to mash). Add the avocados to the molcajete and mash it. Don’t worry about getting it perfectly smooth. The avocado should still have some texture to it. Gently stir the paste, which should be mostly sitting at the bottom of your molcajete, into the mashed avocado. Top the guacamole with the diced tomato. I serve this directly in the molcajete.
From Vegan Tacos by Jason Wyrick. ©2014 Jason Wyrick. Used by permission from Vegan Heritage Press.
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