Here in Southern California, Mexican food is everywhere, and frankly, we love it. There are a few transplants from the east coast who do not like cilantro (or coriander, for my UK readers), which in my book is sacrilege. My favorite cuisines are the ones that use cilantro, like Thai, Vietnamese, Indian and Mexican.And we must love alliteration with our Mexican food, as Taco Tuesday is a weekly fixture, certainly in the Orange County culinary sphere. Like we need an excuse to eat tacos—I mean, c’mon. I’ve featured about three taco recipes in this blog already!
Well, get ready for another one.
Although, this one is very versatile and can be used for more than just tacos. This recipe gave life to three different recipes: a taco, a tostada and a breakfast burrito. Yes, go ahead and make the joke that a tostada is just a taco that someone forgot to fold, if you must. And that a burrito is just a bigger taco with a better-wrapped package. Ha ha ha.You know the phrase “Don’t mess with Texas”? Don’t mess with my Mexican food. Although I can understand why the British think it’s a disgusting mess—all they have is places like Taco Bell and something called Chiquita on Leicester Square (I think it’s still there) where everything comes out of a can or a bag. The place should be burned down for its heinous crimes against Mexican cuisine.
I will say that after 10 years of living in the United Kingdom I finally found a real Mexican restaurant run by real Mexicans. (Whatever possessed them to go to London, I’ll never know!) I found it thanks to online dating, and an ex-pat (we shall call him “Scott”, because that is his name) living in London invited me to try it with him. My other ex-pat friends in London loved me for it, and not only did we all get a fix for real Mexican food, I gained a wonderful friend from that first dinner. And, I’m happy to report that the restaurant, Mestizo, is still alive and fighting the good fight for Mexican food in an otherwise desert of tasty south-of-the-border delicacies.A selection of taco toppings: Crema, lettuce, cilantro, red cabbage, avocado, homemade salsa and radishes.
And this recipe is for my vegan friends! And before I hear all you carnivores chorus in an “EWWWW!”, I have to tell you that The Husband loved it. He loved this recipe so much that he took back the “EWWW!” he exclaimed when he saw me making it. He said “Lentils? You know I don’t like lentils!” I just smiled and carried on.
He had seconds. So: In your FACE, carnivores—neener, neener, neener. Try them. You just might like them.
This is Isa’s recipe, for sure. The only difference I did was to use a dried ancho chile that I ground up with a coffee grinder (and nearly stopped breathing from all the chili powder in the air—please be careful if you grind chilis yourself! It’s like mustard gas.), with toasted coriander and cumin seeds.
Also, I cooked 1 cup of dried lentils in 2.5 cups of water seasoned with a teaspoon of “No-Beef Beef Broth” from Better Than Bouillon. I don’t know how they do it, but it is some tasty stock.
I also used Valentina sauce instead of Cholula, as the former was in the pantry. It worked well. We also added some Ghostly Garlic sauce from Scotty B’s, a local producer here in South County. This stuff rocks my world. (It’s available at the Whole Foods in Laguna Beach! Go buy some now!)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups cooked lentils (from about 1 cup dried)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons hot sauce (preferably Cholula)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground ancho chile
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
First combine all of the ingredients for the spice mix and set aside. Also, keep a cup of water within reach, you’ll need to add splashes as you cook.
Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sautee the onion and garlic in the oil with a pinch of salt for about 3 minutes, until lightly browned. Add spices and toss them for 30 seconds or so to toast.
Lower heat to medium, add lentils, a few splashes of water, tomato paste and hot sauce; use a spatula to mash them a bit as they cook, until they hold together. If your spatula isn’t strong enough to accomplish this, just use a fork. Do this for about 5 minutes, adding splashes of water as necessary if it appears dry. Taste for salt and seasoning; you may want to add more spices or hot sauce.
Then I added some crema that I found in a recipe from Food & Wine magazine. Of course, I had to change it up:
1/2 cup raw cashews
2 Tbs fresh lime juice
2 tsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbs soy or coconut milk
Cover the cashews with hot water and let stand for at least two hours. Drain and transfer to a food processor or blender with the other ingredients and puree until smooth and creamy, adding a little more milk or water to get the consistency you’d like. Ours was about as thick as mayonnaise.
And now for photos of the other incarnations of this delicious taco filling!