Memorable tacos. Real Mexican style tacos, of softly fried and folded corn tortillas, filled with crumbly ground beef. Garnished with diced tomatoes, grated cheese and shredded lettuce. That’s how my mother and Mrs. Hills, my BFF’s mother, made them. Their tacos, for sure, were better than any taco a famous fast food franchise has ever made.
Engraved in my memory are vignettes of Mrs. Hills and Mom, in their respective kitchens, standing at the stove, frying tortillas one at a time. With lots of kids lined up, plates in hand, waiting for their next taco.
The tortillas, they were soft, a little bit greasy, and freshly folded in half. Before handing them over, the Moms spooned in cooked ground beef. Once at the table, we added we the cheese, tomatoes and shredded iceberg lettuce.
They were traditional tacos, made with love, and we ate our fill. While taco production was up, the mothers never sat down.
I’m excited about these meatless tacos. The filling looks and tastes much like the cooked ground beef filling of yesteryears, except it’s not. This filling is tofu, frozen tofu that is.
Freeze the tofu, right in the package, water and all. After the tofu has thawed and you’ve wrung it out like a sponge, the tofu’s texture is a lot like hamburger. You just have to remember ahead of time to put the package in the freezer.
Do you ever buy tofu and never get around to cooking with it until the expiration date approaches? I do. So I pop it in the freezer. Then I just have to remember to thaw it in time for dinner. For taco filling, almost like Mom’s.
Mom and Mrs. Hills fried the tortillas in a quarter-inch of hot oil. That’s not happening for me. The oven does my tortillas, sprayed with cooking spray or brushed with olive oil. Without the meat and all that grease, these veggie tacos are more healthful. And I don’t have to stand at the stove cupping paper towels in my hand, folding each tortilla as it comes out of the pan.
I also take garnishing liberties. Baja fish tacos come with finely shredded cabbage, so following that tradition; I add crunchy cabbage instead of lettuce. In the array of condiments at my table you will find sliced avocado, chopped cilantro and green onion. And salsa, red or green.
Your family and friends might want their tacos without all my fancy “parts” and that’s OK, garnishes are at the table for picking and choosing. I’m pretty sure Mom and Mrs. Hills would approve.
I am grateful for lifelong girlfriends, non-GMO corn, and family. What are you grateful for? Tell me in the comment section below this recipe.
These meatless tacos are a fun, self-serve dinner for family and friends.
- 8 corn tortillas
- Cooking spray or olive oil, as needed
- For the filling:
- 1 (14-ounce) package extra firm organic tofu, frozen solid
- ¼ cup chili powder
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon garlic salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 pinches cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- The garnishes:
- Chopped green cabbage, or shredded lettuce
- Avocado slices
- Grated Monterey Jack or pepper Jack cheese
- Chopped tomatoes
- Chopped green onion
- Chopped cilantro
- Green or red salsa
- Make the filling:
- Remove the package of frozen tofu from the freezer. Without breaking the seal, let the package thaw. The fastest way is under running warm water. If you plan ahead, thaw for a day on the kitchen counter or about 3 days in the fridge.
- When the tofu has thawed, break the seal and remove the tofu from the water. It will be very sponge-like. Squeeze the tofu well to wring out as much water as possible. Squeeze again—more liquid will release. Place in a bowl. With your fingers or a fork, break into small pieces.
- Mix together the chili powder, paprika, garlic salt, black pepper and cayenne. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium flame. Add the onion; cook and stir until the onion is translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another few minutes.
- Add the tofu pieces to the onions and garlic. Stir in the spice mixture. Cook, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes, until the spiced tofu is very hot--cooked through. Reduce the heat to low flame. Using a potato masher or a fork, mash the tofu and onions until the mixture looks like hamburger meat. Keep warm.
- To serve:
- Place the cabbage, avocado, cheese, tomatoes and green onion in separate bowls. Or all next to each other on one big plate. Estimate a small amount for each taco. (E.g. 2 tablespoons cabbage, 1 slice avocado, 1 to 2 tablespoons cheese, 1 tablespoon tomatoes, and a bit of green onion and cilantro per taco.)
- Heat the oven to 350° F. Arrange the tortillas on baking sheets, next to each other but not overlapping. Spray each tortilla with cooking spray. Turn them over and spray the second side. Alternatively, brush both sides lightly with olive oil.
- Heat the tortillas in the oven, 3 to 4 minutes, until they are pliable and warm. (Be careful to not let them get crisp—you want to be able to fold them.) Fold the tortillas in half to make taco shells. Let them heat in the oven another minute.
- Spoon about 1/3 cup of the tofu “meat” in each taco shell and arrange on plate.
- Allow each person to garnish their taco with their choice of condiments and salsa.
The filling can be cooked the day before. The garnishes prepped earlier in the day. Soften tortillas in the oven a few minutes before serving.