Let’s talk good food.
You and I both know that certain things are just good. Certain foods go together and like complimentary colors, they make each other sing out loud. I’m thinking peanut butter and grape jelly, peanut butter and chocolate, almond milk and chocolate chip cookies, macaroni and vegan cheese, and of course, sweet grits and hot ‘buttered’ toast.
Let me add another—avocado and lime. I know, it’s not that surprising; in fact, it is painfully common. But, we can’t deny the greatness of avocados covered in lime juice. At least I can’t.
That is where tonight’s dinner recipe started. Well, sort of. Yes, I have a short, mini story/anecdote. But let’s start at the beginning, or end, depending how you read it.
I have taken to trying to find any opportunity to eat avocados drenched in lime juice, since…forever. I simply cannot get enough. The kids cannot get enough of homemade pita bread. The little lady talks about them with goo-goo eyes and her hands clasped together in prayer beneath her chin. No, I’m not kidding. And the little guy, the eight-year-old foodie, he takes pictures of them, Instagrams them, and then stares at them, salivating and all.
So, when I begun to think about a good dinner recipe, I knew that it needed to include avocados, limes, and pita bread.
Now we are going to back up. When I had to adapt and change my eating, the first thing I learned to make over is tacos. E is Mexican and we love our authentic, Mexican tacos. Two of the first, most painful foods to leave my diet were onions and garlic. I know, depressing. There were many nights I cried, “what’s the point of eating” to E as I tried to relearn and reeducate my taste buds.
The first month I made a decided change was February (2005), my birthday month. I remember the night of my birthday I walked the aisles of Ralphs for what seemed like forever. Surely, there was something low fat, dairy-free, egg-free, that was sweet, tasty and resembled cake. I came home with a half an angel food cake.
Let me be honest. I took one bite, broke into tears, and went to bed. I was 27 and unable to eat a decent cake on my birthday. I begin to hate eating. Everything my doctor put me on was bland, tasteless, boring, dry, and quite frankly, sad. Eating depressed me.
One meal changed everything.
I got a pint of mushrooms, three different varieties of squash, a tomato, and some corn tortillas. No onions, no garlic, no Adobo seasoning, but I had a hunch I could still make something good. I had to. I looked at the ingredients in my favorite Mexican seasoning blends and identified the key spices I could eat (cumin, coriander, and oregano).
Well, a few hours later, we had the best tacos, ever. I knocked it out of the box and E kept going back for seconds and thirds. If memory serves me correctly, I had to stop him from hurting himself.
But most importantly, I loved it and so did my tummy.
Sunday afternoon, E and I were sitting in the kitchen eating a quick snack before heading back out to the backyard to prepare the garden for spring planting, when he mentioned the tacos in passing.
“Remember those mushroom and squash tacos,” he said while eating snap pea crisps. “Those things were good; we use to eat those every week.”
Just the mention of them, I swore I could smell them. The sautéed mushrooms, the warm, toasty smell of cumin and coriander. I was instantly taken back.
“You even made your own sauce, remember?” He was hinting, and I knew what would come next. “We should make those again.”
I wasn’t eating avocados or limes then. I was fairly afraid of anything remotely ‘exotic’ or basically not bland. The high fat in the avocados, the acid in the limes—I wasn’t sure my stomach could handle any of it. But now, with eight years of healthy eating and healing, I devour avocados and limes (but still no onions or garlic.)
“I can do that,” I replied.
And there you have it. My original intention was to make our corn tortillas and make them like traditional tacos, minus the frying. But, the kids begun to talk about pitas, and quickly they began to say they could and wanted to eat pitas with every meal, including breakfast. Peanut butter and jelly pita sandwiches, anyone?
So vegan veggie tacos became vegan veggie pita tacos with smoked black beans, jasmine rice, fresh salsa, guacamole, and vegan sour cream.
Eating just doesn’t get any tastier or healthier. And for the record, I love eating now.
Note: This meal includes three different recipes: smoky black beans, mushroom and squash filling, and a mild, fresh salsa. The pita recipe I used is from The Bread Bible, but you can purchase pitas, or try this or this recipe. (As a writer, I respect copyrights and would rather not publish Rose’s recipe as my own, or without her permission. I hope you understand.)
Vegan Veggie Pita ‘Tacos’
Smoky Black beans
1lb of dried black beans
1 piece of Kombu
1 can of broth
Seasonings to taste: Hickory smoke, cumin, coriander, old bay, oregano, salt, pepper, sugar
- The night before you plan to cook your beans, sort them, cover with cold water, and soak over night.
- In the morning, pour off the soaking water, rinse the beans, and cover with more cold water to continue soaking until you are ready to cook them.
- Pour off the soaking water; rinse the beans well. In a medium to large stockpot, cover the beans with the can of broth and enough liquid to cover by about 2 inches. Add the kombu. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Once the beans come to a boil, cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar, lower the temp to medium-low, and simmer for 1 ½ - 2 hours or until your desired tenderness.
- Once the beans have cooked and tenderized, season to taste. Add in a few dashes of the hickory smoke, adding more to your liking. Add in the seasonings and sugar, starting with 1 tsp. of each, and adding more to taste. Add in the salt and pepper to taste.
Mushroom & Squash Taco filling
1 pint of mushrooms
1-2 zucchini, Mexican squash, or yellow squash
1-2 tomatoes, seeded and peeled (optional)
2-3 Tbl. of tomato paste (depending on your preference)
1-2 ‘dashes’ of ketchup
Seasonings to taste: cumin, coriander, oregano, old bay, salt & pepper
- Wash vegetables well, pat dry. Chop into bite sized half-moon slices.
- In a large skillet, heat a couple of tablespoons of canola oil. Add in the mushrooms, and sauté until semi-tender. Add in the squash, and the seasonings (start with a tsp. of each, and increase to your liking.) Cook over medium heat, until vegetables are tender.
- Add in the tomato paste and ketchup. Cook over medium low until sauce loosens, adding more paste or ketchup to loosen or thicken. Once the sauce is to your liking, add in the salt and pepper, taste and adjust seasonings to your preference.
3-4 Roma tomatoes
1/3 large white onion, diced finely
Juice of one lime
1/3 bunch of cilantro, stem removed and leaves chopped roughly
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash of cumin and coriander to taste (optional)
- Wash and dry vegetables. Cut the tomatoes in half, width-wise, and deseed. Chop roughly, set aside. (Alternative: if you like a looser salsa, add 2/3 of the tomatoes to a blender or food processor and process until tomatoes release their juice and are finely chopped. Add this to the bowl. Then roughly chop the rest of the tomatoes and add.)
- Peel the onion, chop off a third, and mince finely. Add to the tomatoes.
- Remove the cilantro leaves from the stems, gather them into a pile, and roughly chop.
- Squeeze in the juice of the lime, and stir. Add in the salt, pepper, and seasonings to taste.
How to Assemble:
Smoky Black beans
Mushroom & Squash filling
Vegan Sour Cream
Quick Guacamole: One avocado mashed with salt, pepper, and the juice of half a lime. You can stir in some vegan sour cream if you like yours creamy. You can also add a chopped tomato, a small handful of onions, and a couple of springs of cilantro if you really want to fancy it up.
- Cut the pita in half, or alternatively, cut off the top 1/3. Open up the pocket.
- Add in a spoonful of beans, layer rice on top of the beans, and top with the mushroom and squash filling.
- Serve with toppings inside, on the top, on the side, or all three! Enjoy!
- You probably noticed that I am a bit dodgy on giving precise measurements for seasoning. There are two good reasons for this: 1) I don’t measure when I cook and I simply add till it smells, looks, and tastes right. I cook with my senses. 2) Everybody’s taste buds differs, and I respect that. I’d rather give guide points, and allow you to adjust and season to your liking. That way you are as satisfied as possible.
- Beans, beans, good for your heart, the more you eat them, the more you…? This is why I add kombu, a sea green that flavors and tenderizes the beans as they cook. It also makes the broth very tasty. This is also the reason why I soak them overnight, and continue to rinse and soak into the second day. Finally, sharp readers will notice I don’t have you add the salt to the beans till they are done. There is a reason for that. Salt toughens cooking beans, so don’t add them until the beans are cooked through.
- In the past I have added corn to the mushroom and squash filling and it only made it better. This is a personal choice; either way you can’t go wrong.
- Finally, there is little onion, and no garlic or chilies in these recipes. That doesn’t mean you can’t add them. If I could, I would add onions to the beans, filling, and more to the salsa, along with a clove or two of garlic here and there. But, I can’t. I also can’t add chilies because my children’s taste buds are not strong and/or mature enough to handle them. Neither is my tummy. So go ahead and spice this up, I promise it will be just as good.
The flavor of these 'tacos' are Mexican, though a bit untraditional. The cumin, coriander, oregano are quintessential Mexican flavors that pair well with the earthy flavors of mushroom and squash. But, what really makes this dish sing is the addition of the lime, fresh avocado and salsa. It adds brightness and depth, with the acid in the lime and buttery richness of the avocado doing a lot of flavor lifting. You could swap the lime with lemon, but limes have a more pronounced flowery undertone that I find compliments the other flavors well.
I know what you’re thinking; this recipe sounds so very complicated. Trust me, it is not. Sure, you have to soak your beans the night before, and they take a couple of hours to ‘stew’, but that is all hands-off time. If you prefer instant gratification, or hate planning meals ahead of time, use canned beans. I surely won’t mind. But, be sure to rinse them well, and season them. If there are two things I know about canned beans it’s this: they can be gassy if not rinsed well, and they don’t come seasoned. Neither of these bode well with me and mines.
In the many years that I have been making these tacos I have served them to omnivores who’ve loved them. In fact, I usually serve these alongside ground turkey tacos, and you guessed it, these are gone before. There is something about the combination of the vegetables that makes the dish sing out loud. I shouldn’t tell you this, but when E wants authentic Mexican tacos, like his mother makes, he fries these and man, lets talk heavenly foods. Those deserve a post all to themselves, so I’ll convince him to fry us up some soon!
Until then, I hope you’ll make these, enjoy them, and serve them to people you love.
Peace and love.