Thursday, 10 May 2012

Black chickpea tacos with fresh salsa, guacamole and watercress

I am not one to impose my points of view on others. I am soft spoken, polite and the opposite of confrontational. One thing I do not really like to discuss is being vegetarian. It is hard to explain to people in a calm manner something that you feel very strongly about, that you know you cannot convince someone of, unless they are already open to your point of view. The truth is, I wish I could convince everyone to stop eating meat by using my sheer will power.

Instead of trying to control people with my mind, I thought I could use my one true super power - research - to sway people into believing that there are good reasons to decrease the amount of meat they eat. I want to convince you that a life without meat is a life with increased health, boosted energy, a cleaner environment and it may also save you from contracting a life threatening illness. Case in point, Mad Cow Disease. I should say right now, I do not want to scare you. I just want to tell you a little bit about a very interesting disease, because I am a nerd like that.

Why you should eat vegetarian tonight: Mad Cow disease 

Mad Cow disease, also known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy is a degenerative and fatal neurological disease in cattle. This disease is caused by a unique protein that, in the science world, is called a prion. Prions are a type of protein; they are not a bacteria or a virus but somehow, mysteriously, they are infectious.

As you may or may not know all of the proteins in our body are supposed to fold in a very specific way in order to work properly. For example, you have proteins in your body that release needed energy from fat or sugar molecules. For the proteins to do this, they have to fold properly first. If the proteins do not fold properly, usually, your cells have ways of recognizing and fixing them or getting rid of them.

Prions are unique in that, under the right circumstances, they can fold in such a way that when they touch other prions, they cause them to also fold incorrectly. There is a domino effect of incorrect folding and aggregation (sticking together) of these proteins that our cells cannot undo. The result is the formation of big balls of non-working proteins that build up in the brain. 

These aggregates sadly are toxic to the brain. This toxicity means that the cells in the vicinity of these aggregates die. Physically, the damage is that the abnormal prions cause little holes to form all over your brain, making it look like a sponge. The overall effect is loss of brain function and the manifestation of the characteristic symptoms of CJD.

Everyone has prion proteins in their brain. Some very unlucky people may have a genetic mutation in their prion gene (i.e. they are born with a certain version of the prion) that will cause their prions to fold incorrectly, leading to genetic or familial Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (fCJD) (the human equivalent of Mad Cow disease).

In the 1990s, scientists found a link between people who developed a disorder that resembled genetic fCJD and those that had eaten meat from cattle known to have Mad Cow Disease. They called this disease variant-CJD (vCJD). It appears that eating meat from an animal that has these abnormally folded prions, leads to the eventual misfolding and aggregation of the otherwise normal prion proteins in the consumer human's body which causes vCJD.

I will reassure you (because I am polite and not aggressive) that contracting this disease through eating contaminated meat is extremely rare, and only 2 cases of vCJD occurred in Canada over the last 15 years. I can also tell you that when I see the headlines of new cases of Mad Cow Disease being reported I can rest assured that this is one of those scary diseases that I never have to worry about. And I worry a lot. So the more things I can scratch off of my list, the better.

Meatless tacos are a perfect meal to make when you are trying to convince someone that meat is not required for a satisfying and amazing meal. Many options exist for replacing meat protein with other sources of protein. Legumes are definitely my favourite source but other good options include nuts, tofu and if you are not vegan you can incorporate organic dairy products and free-range eggs into your meals.

Both chickpeas and lentils (see this post) make an excellent taco filling. They can be seasoned in a variety of ways and mixed with an assortment of vegetables to keep things interesting. Other great options are black beans or navy beans. Adding a whole grain like quinoa or brown rice can make your tacos more filling and more nutritious.

At the end of the day, the most important thing for most people is that what they are eating tastes great. I realize this and I promise you these tacos taste excellent. Once you increase your delicious vegetarian meal repertoire with meals like this, cutting down and eliminating meat from your diet will become effortless.

Black chickpea tacos with fresh salsa, guacamole and watercress

Chickpea filling
1 cup dried, black chickpeas (or other dried bean such as black beans)
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 chopped shallot
1/2 red pepper chopped
2 chopped tomatoes
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp paprika
Pinch smoked paprika (optional)
Pinch cinnamon
1 tsp honey (agave or maple syrup for vegans)
~1/2 cup of water, more if needed

2 tomatoes
1/2 yellow pepper
1 small finely chopped shallot
Lemon or lime juice
Sea salt

2 ripe avocados
Handful of cilantro
Lemon or lime juice
1/4 tsp cumin
Sea salt

Corn tortillas
2 cups masa harina
1.5 cups water
1/4 tsp salt

Soft goat cheese, crumbled (optional - not vegan)
Water cress or lettuce

1. Soak dried chickpeas in water over night (in the fridge).
2. The next day, heat a pot of water (about 8 cups) to boil on stove. Add garlic, shallots, sea salt and soaked, drained, chickpeas.
3. Simmer chickpeas, partially covered about 60 minutes or until firm-tender.
4. While chickpeas are cooking, make salsa by mixing the salsa ingredients, making sure to toss well in lemon or lime juice. Season with sea salt and set aside until ready to use.
5. Make guacamole by mashing together avocado flesh with other avocado listed ingredients until chunky but evenly mixed.
6. In a large sauce pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Stir in chopped tomatoes, chopped red pepper and seasonings (coriander through honey).
7. Cook a few minutes, then stir in about 1/2 cup of water. Drain chickpeas (keeping onion and garlic) and reserving 1/2 cup of boiling liquid. Add boiling liquid and chickpeas to peppers and tomato mixture.
8. Simmer chickpeas in tomato mixture while you prepare the corn tortillas (about 30 minutes).
*If the chickpeas are already quite tender, leave uncovered and allow mixture to evaporate. If chickpeas are still quite firm, keep covered for about half of the simmering time.
9. Prepare corn tortillas by mixing masa harina with water and salt. Mix well into a smooth ball. Divide into 16 small balls.
10. Preheat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.
11. One at a time, press out corn tortillas using a tortilla press or rolling pin.
12. Cook tortilla on skillet (no oil required) about 45 seconds per side.
13. Keep tortillas warm on a paper towel.
14. Assemble tacos by adding chickpea filling, salsa and guacamole to the tortillas and top with fresh goat cheese or sour cream and water cress or other dark leafy green.


  1. Hi great post thank u, I wish I had avocado to follow your receipe dot-to-dot

  2. I wish I could help you with your avocado problem. I don't know what I would do without avocados, they are a very important part of my life and I am not sure what a good replacement would be. I have thought about maybe trying fava beans to substitute but havn't tried it yet.