This vegetarian recipe is based on the tacos I ate as a kid, the old-school tacos that came as a kit from the grocery store, with a seasoning packet and hard shells. Back then these were made with ground beef, but times have changed and I wanted to make something that captured the same fun (and messiness) with tofu for my vegetarian friends and loved ones. As always, the trick with tofu was figuring out how to get the flavor and texture to be satisfying in its own right. The flavor comes from a surprising ingredient, carrots, and a not-so-surprising ingredient, butter (more on this later), and the texture comes from a new speedy drying technique.
Here’s how you do it:
1) Prepare the tofu: Drain the water from a 1 lb. (500 gram) package of firm or extra-firm tofu. Now put a colander in the sink and line it with paper towels.
Crumble the tofu onto the paper towels…
…and then press it down with your fist to squeeze the water out.
Try to press out as much water as you can. There’s a lot, and you can’t get it all, but the more you can squeeze out, the shorter the cooking time will be.
2) Make the taco filling: While the tofu is draining, dice an onion and a carrot, and, if you like it hot, one or two diced chili peppers.
I have a fun trick for dicing onions that I learned from Julia Child. She used the layers of the onion to do a lot of the work for you. You first trim the top and peel the onion, leaving the root on, and then cut it in half, from top to bottom (through the root). With one half of the onion flat-side down on your cutting board, make length-wise slices, about 1/4-inch apart, that almost go to the root, but not quite. Then turn the onion 90 degrees and cut it width-wise, perpendicular to your first set of cuts. Voila! You’re done… with the first half. Now do the same thing with the other half of the onion. Here’s a video showing all of this in action:
Now sauté the onion and a pinch of salt in about 2 Tbs. of olive oil over medium heat until it is just starting to turn soft, about 5 minutes.
To dice the carrot, peel it, and then cut it in half length-wise. With one half of the carrot flat-side down, cut it into planks, then stack these planks and cut them into matchsticks, then cut the matchsticks into small pieces. Repeat with the other half of the carrot.
Once the onion is just turning soft, add the diced carrot (and chili peppers, if using), another pinch of salt and sauté for another 5 minutes.
Once the carrot is just starting to turn soft, add 5 Tbs. of butter to the pan and let it melt, stirring to coat the onion and carrot mixture. This may seem like a lot of butter, but keep in mind that when you were a kid, you used a pound of ground beef with 20% fat. Even with a full 5 Tbs. of butter, this recipe is leaner than what you ate when you were young. Once the butter is melted, add the tofu, 2 tsp. chili powder, 1/2 tsp. ground cumin, 1/2 tsp ground coriander and 1/2 tsp. salt. Stir to combine.
Cook, stirring occasionally until the tofu is brown and crispy, about 20 minutes.
3) Prepare all of the extras: While the filling is cooking, shred 1 cup of cheddar cheese, 1 cup of lettuce and dice 1 cup of tomatoes. For a tasty sauce, combine the following three ingredients in a small bowl: 1/2 cup sour cream, the juice from 1/2 lime and a dash of ground cumin. You didn’t eat it this sauce when you were a kid, but you will wish you did!
When the filling is done cooking, warm up the taco shells and serve! The easiest way for me to warm up the taco shells is to put them in the oven, turn the heat on and wait about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the heat off and your done!
To summarize the ingredients (you can also download the recipe):
- 1 lb. (500 grams) firm or extra firm tofu, crumbled and drained
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 1 large carrot, finely diced
- (optional) 1-2 chili peppers, diced
- 5 Tbs. butter
- 2 tsp. chili powder
- 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 10 hard taco shells
- 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 cup lettuce, shredded
- 1 cup tomatoes, diced
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- The juice from 1/2 lime
- a dash of ground cumin