I’m happy to be hosting Jason Wyrick, author of Vegan Tacos, on his blog tour today. He’s here to share his tips on the essential components of a good taco as well as a cocktail that pairs well with any Mexican food. My son-in-law, a skeptic and omnivore, who LOVES chilies, didn’t believe a book on vegan tacos was possible. He looked at the cover, shook his head and said, “Well, ok, I give him credit but a whole book on vegan tacos?” I said, “Rob, not only is this book filled with vegan versions of traditional tacos, and unusual fusion tacos too, it’s a treasure trove of information about types of chilies and how to use them, the origins of this cuisine, and much more.”
What happened next was delicious weekend fun. I made the Grilled Lime Margaritas with Mesquite Smoked Salt--the optional chili in the glass for Rob but not in my daughter’s or mine. Rob took his margarita and the book to the porch and I watched him read it cover to cover. He asked if he could keep my copy! I directed him to the giveaway, as Jason has been kind of enough to share a copy of his book for one lucky blog reader. Just follow the instructions at the bottom of this post to enter for a chance to win.
The Four Essential Components of a Good Taco
When I talk about making tacos, I talk about building tacos. That’s because tacos are a multi-component dish. From the tortilla to the filling to the salsa to the toppings, each component is layered one on top of the other to create a complex, engaging experience with every single bite. Understanding what each of those components is and how they work will help you make your own killer tacos! While each of these components is important, some are more important than others. I’ve placed them in order of importance for you, so you can create the best taco experience possible. Now read on, taquero!
The Tortilla: The tortilla is the foundation of every taco. It’s the first component you hold in your hand and it’s the first component you taste. Without a tortilla, there simply is no taco. That’s why, unless I am serving a lot of people, I make my own tortillas. If you can find fresh masa (I purchase mine from one of my local Mexican markets), it only takes a few minutes to make fresh tortillas and it is totally worth the effort. There’s nothing like holding a warm fresh soft corn tortilla in your hand. You can also make your own masa from the dried ground corn called masa harina that is often found in big bags of many grocery stores and it doesn’t take that much longer to make your own masa than if you purchased it premade. If you need, or simply want, to purchase premade tortillas, look for ones that are made fresh daily (again, probably at a local Mexican market.) Trader Joe’s has a decent handmade white corn tortilla, as well. I just strongly urge you not to get those dried, cardboard tasting tortillas so common at most markets because then the foundation of your taco will taste like, you guessed it, dried cardboard. Not fun! If you are using premade tortillas, make sure you take the time to warm them so they become pliable and the flavor of the corn can develop.
The Filling: The next component is the filling, which is the heart of your taco. The filling should be the most substantive part of your taco and it should be the predominant flavor. When you are making your filling, think about all the ways you can add flavor to it. My favorite way to do that is by using chile sauces and powders, but I’m also a chile addict. Other great ways to get more flavor into your fillings is by grilling them, or browning them at a fairly high heat in a pan. I often gravitate towards mushrooms when making taco fillings because they absorb flavors well, they brown nicely, they’re hearty, and they can typically withstand the rigors of the grill or the high heat of a saute pan. When you are making your own filling, don’t be shy with the flavorings. If you’re not sure if you’ve got enough flavor in your filling, add more spices, add more salt, brown the filling more. It’s a rare instance when more flavor is a bad thing.
The Sauce: A few tacos have the sauce cooked right into the filling, like with BBQ tacos, but the sauce component is usually comprised of salsas, crema, guacamole, and other, well, saucy things. Sauces are important because they help tie all the flavors of a taco together. They also typically add acidity to a taco, whether that’s from the lime juice in guacamole or salsa, or the sourness from vegan crema. Most sauces are salsas, and they usually add heat, as well. My go-to sauces are salsa verde and chipotle salsa. These salsas are very versatile and it’s rare that a taco is not improved by a big spoonful of one of these delicious salsas!
The Toppings: These are the accent pieces of a taco and the right topping will take a good taco and make it a great taco. Toppings are the components that add little pops of flavor or texture, the ones that fill in the gaps in your taco experience. Is your taco missing some crunch? Add in a crunchy topping like peanuts or fried chiles. Does your taco need some heat? Minced serrano chiles are perfect for sprinkling on top. Acidity? A squeeze of lime or vegan queso fresco will bring your taco to life. A few cuts of cilantro, a couple slices of carrots escabeche, three or four slices of pickled onions, or even a couple cloves of roasted garlic are all examples of fine taco toppings.
Grilled Lime Margarita with Mesquite Smoked Salt
Margaritas are great when they are made with fresh lime and good alcohol. It’s a classic drink that’s now part of the Mexican experience. I wanted to change things up a bit and make something a little darker, a little more mysterious and alluring. That’s what the mezcal and the smoke are to me. It permeates the entire drink, from the char of the grilled limes to the smoky mezcal to the shot of smoked salt on the rim of the glass. You can, of course, forgo grilling the limes and just use regular salt and good tequila blanco to make the classic margarita, but I hope you find the smoky version I created here to a sultry companion to your tacos.
Makes 4 Drinks
- 8 large limes, cut in half diagonally (see note)
- 1/4 cup agave nectar
- 4 shots mezcal or tequila reposado or añejo (I used reposado tequila)
- 6 tablespoons (2 shots) Cointreau or other good quality orange liqueur
- Mesquite smoked salt
- Sprinkle coarse sugar
- Option: Make it spicy by placing a dried chipotle meco at the bottom of each glass
I cut limes in half diagonally because it exposes more surface area of the lime to be grilled and it also makes them easier to juice.
Grill the limes until they develop blackened char lines. This will take about 5 minutes. Ideally, you should do this over a wood fire, but you can still do it with a gas grill. Flip the limes over and grill the round sides of the lime halves. This will further cook the lime and mellow out the flavor. Juice the limes into a pitcher or a bowl. Keep the lime rinds Stir the agave into the lime juice until they are thoroughly combined. Mix in the shots of mezcal and Cointreau. Take the inside of the juiced lime rinds and rim 4 margarita glasses. Sprinkle mesquite smoked salt and just a touch of sugar around the rim of the glasses. Add the margarita mix to the glasses and serve. This should be served at room temperature and not over ice, which does not play well with the smoky components.
From Vegan Tacos by Jason Wyrick. ©2014 Jason Wyrick. Used by permission from Vegan Heritage Press.