“Immortalists with points to prove, I put my trust in you.”
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I wonder if Joy Division is the soundtrack for most carnivores attempting to eat vegetarian tacos.
My fondest memories of Joy Division are my record store clerk days in college. There was no greater joy during a busy holiday season than seeing the expressions on Midwest moms & dads shopping for Christmas gifts while Ian Curtis sang as only Ian Curtis could. I actually had one mom ask me if I liked what was playing. I said “yes” and she seemed nervous. It is truly sad we lost Curtis’ genius so early though, much like Kurt Cobain, I’m not sure I would have wanted to find out what a 50-year-old Ian Curtis would be like. (I’m looking at you, Morrissey!)
This recipe name has been on my To-Do list for over a year. I even discovered it was the name of a now-closed vegan joint in Scotland. Clearly, it had to be a tofu recipe. I’ve made more than a few tofu sandwiches and stir-frys but had never really made a tofu taco. Cherie (of We Can Tour That fame) agreed a taco would be an excellent way to demonstrate the Unknown Pleasures of tofu and using a Baja fish taco technique would bring it Closer to something that would satisfy both vegetarians and carnivores.
I have a long and somewhat disappointing history with tofu. For many years, I welcomed the concept of tofu as a protein substitute but always hated the final product. No matter what seasoning or cooking method, it always came out as mushy meh surrounded by whatever tasty vegetables finished the dish. To be fair, my experiments in tofu often occurred perhaps once a year and with marginal research. I would just grab a recipe from the internet, make said recipe, and usually end up disappointed.
I recently had a tofu breakthrough when I realized what I had been doing wrong all these years. I spend a great deal of time and effort to squeeze the moisture out of tofu only to then plunge it into a marinade thereby rehydrating it. That inevitably leads to the mushy meh-ness I hate. The better method is to coat the tofu in cornstarch, shallow fry it to get crispy, and glaze with a sauce to add flavor. This was what I did for The Suntoucher and it was spectacular.
Wanting to expand on that technique and as I was making a taco, it struck me to treat the tofu like fish in a Baja taco. The result was far better than I could have hoped. Any residual moisture in the tofu vaporizes like the moisture in fish causing a crisp crunch crust. The tofu even takes on fried fish flakiness. This simple taco now has me thinking a vegan remix of my fish & chips recipe is in order.
SOY DIVISION TACOS
Batter-fried tofu, pickle slaw, sambal cashew sauce, and scallions on flour tortillas
Makes about 6 tacos
Baja-style fried tofu (see recipe below)
Pickle slaw (see recipe below)
Sambal cashew sauce (see recipe below)
3 scallions, sliced
6 Flour tortilla
Toast the tortillas in a skillet over medium heat until golden or over an open gas flame if you like to live dangerously. Set aside.
Drizzle a bit of sauce on a tortilla, place a piece of tofu on the sauce, and top with slaw, more sauce, and scallions. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Serve with some fresh guacamole and chips.
BAJA STYLE TOFU
1-pound extra firm tofu pressed and dry as possible in 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup flour, divided
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 cup seltzer water
Vegetable oil for frying
In a shallow bowl, whisk 1/4 cup flour, cornstarch, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt, and baking soda. Place the remaining 1/4 cup flour in a separate, shallow bowl.
Fill a small pot with 2 inches of oil over medium heat and bring to 325°F.
Whisk the seltzer and hot sauce into the seasoned flour-cornstarch mixture. Combine into a smooth batter.
Dip each tofu cube first in the plain flour, to coat, then dip in the batter. Carefully drop the battered tofu cubes into the hot oil and let fry until golden-brown, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Serve immediately or the tofu will lose its crisp battered crust as it sits.
Makes about a quart
10 ounces green cabbage, shredded fine
1 medium carrot, shredded
1/2 cup chopped Rock Candy Jalapenos (or pickled jalapenos)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons pickle brine
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
In a medium bowl, toss cabbage, carrot, and pickles together. In a small bowl, combine vinegar, pickle juice, sugar, garlic powder, salt, and pepper and whisk until thoroughly combined. Pour dressing slaw mix and toss to coat. Place in an airtight container and let rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour before using it.
SAMBAL CASHEW CREMA
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1 cup raw cashews, soaked for 4-6 hours
1 tablespoon sambal oelek
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup of water
Soak the cashews in water for 4-6 hours. Drain the cashews and add them to a blender along with the sambal oelek, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and water.
Blend the cashews until completely smooth. This will take a few minutes. If the mixture is still grainy continue blending until the cashews are smooth. Add the additional water, 2 tablespoons at a time, if needed.
Store in a jar with a tight-fitting lid in the fridge to use throughout the week.