For my fourth taco recipe, I decided to get adventurous. I chose tempeh as my protein. If you've never had tempeh, it's a crumbly kind of patty made from fermented soybeans. It probably doesn't sound that great, but it can be pretty tasty. It has a neutral flavor, so you can do a lot with it. I definitely developed an appreciation for it during my eight years as a vegetarian. Yes. I fell off the wagon.
The inspiration for the flavors in this recipe came from some of my favorite Thai recipes, but you'll notice that the herbs, spices, and other ingredients that I used appear in many types of food. These tacos don't taste particularly "Thai". They are kind of hard to pin down. They're good, though! So, here we go:
4. Ginger-Garlic Tempeh Tacos with Tomato and Red Pepper Pico de Gallo, Almond-Brazil Nut Cream, and Coconut
Makes about 10 tacos, serving 3 to 4, with leftover almond Brazil-nut Cream
For the pico de gallo:
3 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 red pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
¼ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup chopped basil
2 Thai chiles, seeded and finely chopped
½ tsp. salt
Juice of ½ lime
For the almond-Brazil nut cream:
½ cup raw almonds, presoaked in water for a few hours and then drained
½ cup raw Brazil nuts, presoaked in water for a few hours and then drained
¾ cup plus 2 tbsp. water
¼ tsp. salt
For the tempeh filling:
8 oz. tempeh
1 tbsp. peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
½ tsp. each cumin seeds and coriander seeds, ground in a spice grinder
1 tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
2 tbsp. coconut oil
Small flour tortillas (street-taco size)
½ cup toasted unsweetened coconut
toasted sesame seeds (optional) and lime slices, for garnish
1. Combine the pico de gallo ingredients in a small bowl. Taste, adjust seasonings, and set aside.
2. In a heavy duty, high-speed blender (I used a Vita-Mix), blend the almond Brazil-nut cream ingredients until fluffy and smooth. This could take several minutes. Be ready to scrape down the inside of the blender as needed. Adjust the amount of water to your liking. I started with ½ cup and continued to add water until I was able to make the mixture smooth. The texture of mine was somewhere between sour cream and finely-textured ricotta cheese. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
3. Shred the tempeh with a box grater. It will sort of half shred and half crumble, but that's OK. This is how mine looked:
Yes, that's a Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter IPA in the background. Don't put that in the tacos. Ha ha. Heat the coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Watch it carefully so the garlic doesn't burn. Add the cumin, coriander, and crushed red pepper, and cook and stir for another minute. Add the tempeh and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5-6 minutes. It will get a bit dry during this time, but the coconut oil should ensure that it doesn't stick too much. Let it cook and heat through, and even brown a bit, but don't let it burn or start to stick excessively. Add the tamari and stir. Cook and stir for another minute or two. Set aside and keep warm.
4. Heat the tortillas. This is a quick step. You could do this (gently) in a microwave, but I prefer to heat them one by one in a dry cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Using this method, these heated much faster than my usual corn tortillas. I stacked them up on a sheet of foil and had them done in no time. Since this was my last step, I didn't need to keep them warm in the oven.
5. Assemble the tacos: For each taco, place a tortilla on a plate and spoon a small amount of the almond-Brazil nut cream down the center. Top with a small amount of the tempeh mixture, some pico de gallo (using a slotted spoon to avoid excess liquid), and a little more of the cream. Garnish with toasted coconut, sesame seeds if you have them, and a squeeze of lime. Enjoy!
OK - now it's time for the verdict. These were very different! We both liked them and ate three of them each (as pictured above). It's funny - I mentioned to my husband that they were vegan, and he said "How can they be vegan with this cheese?" I told him the cream was actually made of nuts and he was surprised. He said they were delicious, especially since they were vegetarian, but he admitted that he might have preferred the same recipe with shredded chicken substituted for the tempeh. I agreed with him that that would have been great, but these were also pretty solid tacos. We both liked the fact that they were satisfying, but still rather light. Neither of us felt overly stuffed after eating them. That's always a plus!
The tempeh filling was a bit on the dry side by itself (it had kind of a fried rice-like texture), but it was perfect with the pico de gallo on top. The pico de gallo was outstanding just by itself. I would make it again to put on . . . whatever. Pancakes. Nachos. ALL THE THINGS. That was probably my favorite part of this recipe.
The almond-Brazil nut cream was an improvisation. I was going to make a cashew cream, which I have never made before, but our local grocery stores are not particularly vegan-friendly. I couldn't find any raw cashews. We recently ran out of them at home, but we DID have raw almonds and Brazil nuts. I have a feeling that my version was not quite as smooth as what you might get with cashews, but it was pretty tasty. The recipe made a lot, though, so you might want to consider halving it if you have a smaller blender that is up for the job. On that note - this would be tough without a heavy-duty blender. If you want to try it with a food processor, just be aware that it will have a slightly different texture.
Overall, I was pretty happy with the flavor combination. It was fun to take the "What is a taco?" question even a bit further. I love using flavors that are kind of ambiguous. You can find cumin, coriander, basil, cilantro, coconut, and ginger in so many cuisines. These tacos had kind of a hybrid vibe. I dug it. Those salmon brunch tacos from Sunday, though . . . MAN. Those are tough to follow!
Until next time! Thanks for reading! :)