July 17, 2013

Recipe: Vegan Taco Salad with Tempeh Taco Meat

Cooking dinner in the summer is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I have access to ridiculous amounts of fresh, local produce, guaranteed to make any dish an extra 100% delicious. On the other hand, the last thing I want to do when I come home to my hot, un-air-conditioned house is heat it up further by turning on the stove (or worse, the oven). Maybe you feel the same way? Here are my three go-to solutions:

1. Cook when your house is cool - early in the morning or later in the evening. This works best on or before a day off from work, when I have more flexibility in my schedule. I can choose more time-intensive recipes or make double-batches of meals to re-heat quickly later in the week, which is a nice convenience for time-crunched weeknights.

2. Fire up the grill. Keep the heat outside of the house entirely. Daniel and I have a classic Weber Charcoal Grill that we absolutely love.

3. Choose recipes that require little-to-no cooking - we're talking a few minutes on the stovetop at most.

Taco Salad belongs in the last category - 15 minutes on the stove, a bit of raw vegetable prep, and you're done. The Tex-Mex classic might not be gourmet, but it's a truly fantastic meal when done well. For me, the perfect taco salad consists of crisp lettuce topped with sweet corn kernels, bright salsa, creamy guacamole, crunchy tortilla chips, and savory, spicy tempeh taco meat.

Making vegetarian/vegan taco meat is as easy as it is tasty. Tempeh is crumbled and browned briefly in a skillet, then braised in a bubbly bath of Mexican beer seasoned with soy sauce, ketchup, and taco seasoning. That's it! You'll have tender, super-savory ground "meat" that packs a protein-rich punch of flavor to your taco salad without a trace of the grease so often found in its beef equivalent. The resulting salad is simultaneously light and hearty - a meal that promises to fill you up without weighing you down, all the while keeping your kitchen cool as a cucumber.

Vegan Taco Salad
serves 4-6

This salad has a few components but comes together quickly, especially if you prep the guacamole and vinaigrette while the tempeh taco meat is on the stove. Two personal preferences: First, I like to mix together the salsa and the corn before putting them on the salad, but you can absolutely leave them separate if you'd like. Second, I am a weirdo who likes a "dry" - as in dressing-free - taco salad, but I've included a recipe for vinaigrette should you be a normal person who likes a little dressing on their salad greens.

8 ounces chopped lettuce or mixed greens, washed and patted dry
1 cup prepared salsa
1 cup corn kernels (raw, boiled, grilled - all delicious, choose your favorite)
1 batch Tempeh Taco Meat (recipe below)
1 batch Simple Guacamole (recipe below)
6 ounces tortilla chips, crushed into large pieces
Optional: Chili-Lime Vinaigrette (recipe below)

To assemble each serving of salad: Place a bed of lettuce (dressed with vinaigrette if you prefer), on a large plate or salad bowl. Top with generous scoops of salsa, corn, tempeh taco meat, guacamole, and tortilla chips. Dig in!

Tempeh Taco Meat
serves 4-6

2 (8 ounce) packages tempeh
1 tablespoon olive or grapeseed oil
1 cup Mexican beer (I like Dos Equis Amber or Lager) or water
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 package Trader Joe's Taco Seasoning (about 2 tablespoons of seasoning)

Crumble the tempeh into small pea-sized bits. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add the crumbled tempeh and cook until golden brown, about 3-5 minutes. Add the beer, ketchup, soy sauce, and taco seasoning, stir to combine, and reduce heat to low. Simmer the tempeh for 10 minutes, or until most of the sauce is absorbed, creating a thick tempeh mixture that is just saucy enough to hold together.

Simple Guacamole
serves 4-6

2 large or 3 medium avocados, pits removed and flesh scooped from skin
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lime, halved
Tabasco sauce

In a medium bowl, mash the avocados with the garlic, a squirt of lime juice, a pinch of salt, and a few dashes of tabasco. I like my guacamole on the chunky side, but you can mash it as smooth as you'd like. Taste for seasoning and adjust to suit your taste, adding more lime juice, salt, and/or tabasco.

Chili-Lime Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon agave or sugar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
2-3 tablespoons olive oil

In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, agave, mustard, chili powder, cumin, and a pinch of salt. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking to emulsify the dressing. Taste for seasoning, and adjust if necessary.

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