Culinary Expedition: Eggplant Taco
Disclosure: I loathe following recipes. I tend to look at recipes for inspiration and rough guidelines for portion sizes or potential spice combinations, but I rarely follow them. Sometimes this method yields unpleasant results, but most of the time I discover fantastic new dishes that I’d love to repeat (…if I were only to document & follow the recipe…).
I am aware that not all my patients share my adventurer’s enthusiasm for the kitchen pantry, but I’ve struggled to find what I consider a true solution. I want everyone I connect with to feel emboldened in their kitchens, but not at risk of becoming chained to specific recipes. I recognize that reaching the former occurs over time and after layers of experimentation and positive feedback from cooking tasty meals directly from recipes. I don’t anticipate my recipe-sharing will accelerate that process for anyone, per se, but maybe by putting up how I go about things it will inspire some creativity or reassurance for some.
I’m big on formulas - basic meal concepts that can be broken down into flexible steps so that you can easily vary the flavors without having to do a whole new dance every time. One of my favorite dishes that falls into this category is TACOS. I love tacos - you can mix and match all the fillings to suit your preferences and nutritional requirements, and if you need to keep your starches low, you can take the shell off and serve it in a delicious bowl! Last night, I made a fantastic and surprisingly exotic and rich eggplant-based taco that was a real winner.
Step 1: The “meaty” part:
For all intents and purposes, I’m vegetarian, so the “meat” will likely remain in quotes in my recipes. to me, the best ways to reproduce the satiating base that taco meat provides is to combine chopped mushroom and/or chopped eggplant, dump it into a frying pain with a liberal pinch of sea salt and sweat the vegetable until it cooks down. The simplest seasoning trick is to dump a packet of organic spicy taco seasoning (I use this one from the store because there’s no added sugar or weird additives) into the frying pan during the cooking process so that your vegetable of choice has the exact same seasoning blanket as your meat would. Tonight, I broke my rule of always having a taco seasoning packet on hand, so I substituted for organic cajun seasoning and liberally mixed my cubed eggplant in it as it cooked (aka “sweated”) and lit the house up with a lovely aroma.
Step 2: leafy greens:
It’s important to get leafy greens in anywhere you can, and especially if you aren’t having a salad with your meal, you’ll want to find a way to add ample greens to your dish in other ways. I chose baby arugula in this case because it has a little bit of a kick to it. I didn’t cook the greens, but I did grab a few large handfuls and placed them in the frying pan of eggplant (off to the side) only after I had removed the eggplant from heat. In this way, the existing steam softened the lettuce every so slightly to make it easier to wad into a taco but without actually cooking it or wilting it.
Step 3: some kind of topping:
I love salsa for this. Now you can easily get the fresh pico from the store which is basically a tasty, fresh, tomato and onion based pre-made mixture that is one million steps of effort less than what you would do in your kitchen. But, I had some vine tomatoes that were nearing the end of their shelf-life in the fridge, so I coarsely chopped two large tomatoes and added in 1/4 of a yellow onion chopped pretty fine, about 1/2 a bunch of fresh cilantro also chopped very fine, the tiniest bit of fresh ginger (just because it was lying on the counter), and topped it with sea salt and a quick squeeze of lemon juice.
Step 4: A sauce or a fat to meld flavors:
You could easily take a sliver of avocado to achieve this step, but I like to make quick sauces in my Vitamix blender because a quick blended sauce adds more depth of flavor to the dish as well as sneakily add in a few extra vegetables. My sauces often are a base of raw cashews, nutritional yeast and water. I use this base because the nutritional yeast adds a significant amount of protein to a plant-based meal, and both it and the cashews guarantee a creamy texture. I learned from the Forks Over Knives Cookbook that I can make a sauce from these two plus an onion and a bell pepper and be pretty darn happy with it. In tonight’s case, I omitted the onion and added only 1/2 a bell pepper plus a clove of garlic, a bit of sea salt and a Serrano chili pepper - - I wanted some spice!! I blended this with a little bit of water (just enough for the desired smooth consistency) and poured the final product into a little ramekin to pour over the tacos individually.
Step 5: The Wrap - optional
Any patient who is adhering to my Head-Start weight loss program should stay away from refined starches and grains for the first part of the program, so he/she would need to switch this over into a “taco bowl” which would be equally delicious. For every one else, my advice is to stick to ONE wrap only. It’s so easy to mow down on something this tasty and have 3, even 4 wraps! But why?? The consequences of that much extra refined grains/starches in the wrap is not worth it. But one is totally fine for most women, maybe 2 for men. I use gluten-free non-GMO corn tortillas and I look for the package that has the fewest ingredients listed without all the crazy, barely pronounceable additives. I warm them in a non-stick pan too before filling them which is often helpful for the gluten-free wrap options to make them softer/more malleable.
Remember that when you put your taco together, you’re only going to stick to one wrap (right?!), so make it count. Stuff it liberally with the veggies on the inside. If you know you won’t be full from just one, then have a taco bowl FIRST, and when you’re almost satiated, then have your tasty full-blown taco so that you end the meal with ultimate satisfaction. Once all the contents are in place, drizzle the sauce in zigzags over the top to allow for as much permeation into the rest of the ingredients as possible, and enjoy!
I adhered to the “one taco wrap” per night rule, but rather than a taco bowl, I started my meal with a massive serving of steamed broccoli with a bit of the spiced eggplant, and then went on to devour my epic taco.
I usually judge the quality of my culinary exploits by my husband’s report card of it. And he gave this one an A+. :) :D
1 whole eggplant, medium-large, cubed
1 packet of spicy taco seasoning OR 1-2 TBS cajun seasoning, and about 1 tsp or so of sea salt
2 large vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped finely
1/4 of a yellow onion, chopped finely
optional: 1/2 tsp of fresh ginger, minced
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
sea salt to taste
1/4 cup raw cashews
1 serrano chili pepper
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
1/3-1/2 cup of nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 bell pepper - I used an orange one
1/2 cup of water