Sunday, 23 October 2011

Spiced lentil tacos with fresh salsa, fresh corn tortillas and beet-cabbage slaw

Everywhere I go, people are sniffling, sneezing and coughing and I am not exempt. I have diagnosed myself with some form of Rhinovirus as my cold is limited to my sinuses, but I am also extremely tired and achy. I have been trying my best to fight this cold by taking vitamin D, echinacea and vitamin C every day. Also I have been drinking green smoothies, green tea with astralagus and trying to get lots of rest. Is it working? I have no idea but I still have just enough energy to get through my scheduled lab work and fit in some cooking then need to sleep for at least 12 hours before starting all over again.

Unfortunately I am quite stuffed up and could not properly taste what I made last night. Mike seemed really impressed, although I am starting to wonder if he would ever tell me if something I made was not very good. He is usually quite honest but I have a sneaking suspicion that he would eat anything I put in front of him.

Today I made a recipe that I have had on my list for ages and ages: lentil tacos. I think some form of tacos are a common menu item in many families. In mine, as a child, we ate regular, old el paso, ground beef tacos, with lettuce, tomato and cheddar cheese. I loved those things. Even before turning vegetarian I loved the veggie ground round version my mom started to make. When I moved out on my own I often made shrimp tacos with grilled onions and peppers and all the fixings.

My friend Emma revolutionized tacos for me when she showed me how to make my own corn tortillas which is amazingly easy and a million times better than any store bought tortilla I have ever had. Once I discovered these corn tortillas I started to dream up all sorts of taco fillings I could use. My favorite to date is the sweet potato ones I made awhile back. I also tried a tofu version when my vegan sister was in Vancouver for a visit.

I have been planning all sorts of bean and chickpea recipes and wanted to try a lentil filling after seeing the chubby vegetarian's Smoky lentil taco meat. I used his recipe as a guideline for my own lentils, but suited it to my own taste using balsamic vinegar and cinnamon. I guess you could say these are a good substitute for meat, Mike said they reminded him of pork tacos. I personally could care less what their resemblance to meat is. 

Lentils are so yummy, I love them because they are lentils. Seasoned with balsamic vinegar, chilis and sesame oil gives them a deep, savory satisfying flavor that contrasts nicely with cool sour cream and goat cheese. Crunch and tang are added by serving them with a grated beet and cabbage mix tossed in lime juice and a homemade fresh tomato salsa. Cradled by your own, homemade, corn tortillas these tacos are highly likely to satisfy, even if you can't taste them.

Spiced lentil tacos with fresh salsa, fresh corn tortillas and beet-cabbage slaw
Start by making the salsa and shredding the cabbage and beets and mixing with lime juice. They will have time to meld while you make everything else. The lentils will take about 30 - 60 minutes to cook so you can start preparing the corn tortillas when your lentils are simmering. To make this recipe vegan, serve with a vegan cheese and/or sour cream.

Corn tortillas (see below)
Spiced lentils (see below)
Homemade fresh salsa (see below)
Goat cheese (or feta or Mexican cheese) to garnish (not vegan)
Sour cream to garnish (not vegan)
Chopped avocado to garnish
Shredded beets and cabbage tossed in a generous amount of lime juice and seasoned with salt

Fresh Tomato Salsa
Mix of yellow, green and red tomatoes, finely chopped
1 green onion chopped
1/8 cup yellow onion finely chopped
1 clove crushed garlic
1/2 jalapeno
1/4 cup finely chopped yellow pepper
chopped cilantro
lime juice
Salt and pepper

1 - Rinse and drain well chopped tomatoes in a colander.
2 - Mix all of the ingredients and keep in fridge until ready to use.

Corn tortillas
2 cups Masa harina (Maseca)
1.5 cups water
1/4 tsp salt

Tortilla press is handy but you can also roll with a rolling pin, it just takes more time.

1 - Preheat a well seasoned, cast-iron pan to medium high heat. You should not need any oil to cook the tortillas.
2 - Combine the 3 ingredients starting with a fork and then using your hands to make one firm dough ball. The dough should just come together i.e. if there was even 1 tsp less of water the dough would crumble apart. So, you do not want the dough to crumble and you do not want it to be sticky or it will be difficult to roll.
No kneading required.
3 - Place a piece of plastic (I use a cut open produce bag from the grocery store) cut to the size of your tortilla press, on the tortilla press. Break off a piece, about 2 or 3 tbsp, of dough and roll into a ball. Place on the tortilla press and flatten. Rotate and press your tortilla 3 times so it is evenly flattened then carefully peal off of plastic and place in pan. 
4 - Cook about 1 minute each side. When done place in a towel or aluminum foil.
The tortillas are best when they have had a few minutes to rest, as a bundle, this allows them to soften up.

Lentil taco filling
1 cup dry green lentils, then soaked in water for several hours in the fridge
1/2 yellow onion
1/2 jalapeno pepper
2 regular sized tomatoes, skin peeled
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 - 2 tsp salt
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp cumin
chili powder - as much as you like (i.e 1 tsp)
dash cinnamon

1 - Start by sauteing garlic and onion in a large pan, add chopped jalapeno near end. I added the seeds from my jalapeno for extra spice.
2 - Process peeled tomatoes in a food processor until pureed. 
3 - Drain your soaking lentils and add them to pan with about 1 cup of water and the pureed tomatoes.
4 - Add the rest of the ingredients to pan and let lentils simmer until softened, stirring often.
Note: I simmered my lentils uncovered, adding extra hot water as needed. You can also cover the lentils and let simmer. Just keep in mind that you want the water to be absorbed by the end and that the lentils should be soft. So if there is no moisture left while your lentils are cooking and they are still firm, you should add more water. You can add more of any of the spices but I noticed that the flavor of my lentils did not come together until the very end when all of the liquid was absorbed and I had allowed them to cool and rest a bit. So resist the temptation to over season.


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