Spring is so near I can taste it! All around Sacramento the trees have big, bulging white blooms, everything is green and growing, people are out reading on blankets in the park....and I want food that is fresh fresh fresh!
I am ready. Ready to buy a fridge full of produce for new salad experiments....ready to cook less and gnaw down on some raw veggies. But then the sun goes down....and it's COLD.
By the time Ty comes home from practice, the sun is gone, and our poor little downstairs hallway of an apartment has become a frozen icicle of a room, so I'm driven into the kitchen to find SOMETHING to cook because I sure as hell am not going to turn on the tiny wall heater that smells like burning dirt and warms only the top 6 inches of our vaulted ceilings....the only resort is our gas oven, which makes the kitchen nice and toasty. And I'm going to spend the next hour there anyway, so why not....
So to find the perfect balance between winter and spring, the crispy fresh cravings of sun-kissed veggies paired with warm sauteed nostalgia, tonight I turned to one of the comfort foods of my childhood: Tofu Tacos. This was my dad's invention, presumably at my mom's insistence to eat healthier when we were younger....and they are delicious. The tofu is seasoned just like taco meat, but the texture is much lighter and fluffier than beef or chicken. I love love love this recipe. However, a fair warning to you all- I don't have any measurements for this one. Dash and dump the seasoning as you will, glug the oil as you see fit....you really can't mess this one up (unless you accidently grab the curry powder instead of the chili powder and don't realize until it's too late.....but even that one ended up ok- Curry tacos....who'd a thought?). Adjust the seasoning as you cook and taste taste taste till you get it right!
Dad's Tofu Tacos
1 or 2 packages of firm tofu (I like to use two for leftover taco salad)
1 small yellow onion
salt and pepper
Tapatillo or other hot sauce
grated pepperjack and/or cheddar cheese
chopped lettuce (romaine is best)
sour cream (if you like)
First, drain tofu and squeeze out excess moisture, then chop into roughly 1/4 inch squares. Coat a large non-stick skillet with olive oil and turn the fire up to med-high heat. When the oil is hot, drop in the tofu carefully- there will be some sizzleage and sparks when the moisture from the tofu hits the hot oil, so watch out! Allow all the water to cook out of the tofu for about 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, dice the onion, then add it to the tofu.
Once the tofu begins to brown a bit and the water looks to be all cooked out, you can add the seasoning. I reccommend a very healthy dump of both the garlic and the chili powder, then a lighter dusting of paprika. Add salt and pepper to taste, and as many glugs of hot sauce as you can handle, mixing it in. Turn down the heat to med-low and continue cooking until the tofu has some nice, browned color on the outside and is still firm, yet moist on the inside (maybe another 15 minutes or so, depending on your stove range and desired consistency). Cover, and keep on lowest heat setting until you are ready to build your tacos.
While the tofu is cooking, prep the rest of the fixins. Chop the lettuce, dice the tomatoes, pick off the cilantro leaves, peel and slice the avocado, drain the olives, and grate the cheese.....yum.
Take a small skillet and fill about a half inch with vegetable oil. Turn on med-high heat until the oil is hot (you can test it with a small strip of tortilla- it should bubble and sizzle). Place one corn tortilla in the oil, allowing to cook on each side about 10-15 seconds. Then, using tongs, fold the tortilla in half, into a taco shape. The tortilla should start to stiffen a little when you fold it, but still be flimsy enough to manipulate. A tip to shaping tacos: While one half of the fold is in contact with the oil, use your tongs to lift the other half up, creating more space for toppings. If you allow it to just fold over and cook, the crispy shell will break and crack when you try to open it up and add your filling. Once one side is cooked, you can flip the other half into the oil and it should hold it's shape while it cooks. Cook on each side about 30 seconds, or until the taco shell turns golden brown. Place on a plate lined with paper towels to drain. For a little extra yum factor, you can dust shells with parmasan cheese while they are still hot (a la Jimboys).
A final note on building: order is very important (to me). I know many people don't really care, but I do. So you can take it or leave it- I am not going to go into the reasons and explanation for it right now, but this is my preference of taco filling order, and I'm sticking to it:
sour cream (if you like)
The lettuce is on the side. This is very important. It simply will not fit in the shell, and thus must be added by hand to each delicious bite. Also, you're sure to have lettuce leftover to catch all the taco goodness that falls out of the shell, saving you a trip to the kitchen, because once you have finished your tacos, you have a taco salad ready for your second helping. It's all a matter of efficiency.....although you may have to get up to get a second beer anyway, in which case, grab an extra shell and the salsa from the kitchen to really complete the meal. You'll be happy you did.
(Tahoe didn't help at all.)