Hold the phone, is this seriously a post for tacos? Are you trying to tell me there’s some grand secret for browning some ground beef in a skillet, adding some spices and then piling it into a crunchy store-bought shell with lettuce, cheese and salsa? Look closer, my friend. That there taco isn’t a standard issue Taco Bell remake. So what gives? It’s a pre-Taco Tuesday Taste-Off.
Now, don’t go foodier than thou on me. Picadillo is legit for tacos, though it usually has potatoes in it. Around here, we call the bastardized version Taco Packet, though ever since Alton’s Taco Potion #19, there’s no packet involved, and it’s almost always eaten in a burrito, but that’s just us.
This taste-off was born of my dabbling with reducing or replacing the meat in the foods we eat most. It’s worked out because as Wolf’s been training for his triathalon(s), he’s being pretty vigilant about diet and he’s been open to more beans and legumes. We usually don’t eat crunchy tacos, half the time they’re broken in the box, and between the two of us, we usually don’t finish off the box before they go stale, so it’s either soft tacos or burritos. For the purposes of this exercise, you needed to be able to see the results, so crunchy it is.
My goal was to vegetarianize the Taco Packet without resorting to faux meat products. Could you get roughly the same texture and flavor? A quick google suggested lentils and cauliflower (hat-tip to Fat Free Vegan Kitchen). You have that same skeptical look on your face that I did. But look: the taco on the left, turkey. The taco on the right, lentils and cauliflower. You didn’t see it before though, did you?
To keep it same-same, the taco on the left is ground turkey made with ½ a batch of Taco Potion #19 and 2/3 c. beef broth. The taco on the right, lentils and cauliflower with ½ a batch of Taco Potion #19 and 2/3 c. water. The only extra nudge the lentils got was 1 clove of sliced garlic tossed in during cooking.
Visual: Neck and neck. If you’re not looking for it, you probably won’t immediately notice one is meat and the other is not. I’ll chalk that one up to years of Taco Bell conditioning and possibly the ones I ate in school lunch. A pile of lettuce, cheese and salsa also helps to divert attention.
Taste: Neck and neck. I think I actually prefer the lentils and cauliflower. The spice mixture gets in there and you get a more concentrated pop of flavor than with the turkey. Fair disclosure, I made the turkey a couple of nights before, so it was slightly disadvantaged by leftover status.
Texture: Advantage turkey. The lentils and cauliflower don’t quite match the bite of the turkey, but compensate with better flavor distribution.
Versatility: Neck and neck. Both the turkey and lentil/cauliflower will work in multiple form factors. In a burrito, you’re already used to the idea of beans, even if they’re usually an accompaniment to chicken, beef or pork. These days, you could easily take the lentils and cauliflower, hit them with an Indian curry spice mix, roll it in a tortilla and call it a wrap.
And with that, yeah, let’s call it a wrap.
Vegetarian Crunchy TacosPrint Recipe
- 1/2 c. brown lentils
- 1 1/2 c. water
- 1 clove garlic, sliced
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 a medium head of cauliflower, broken into florets
- 1 T. olive oil
- 1/2 a batch Taco Potion #19 (see post for link)
- 2/3 c. water
- 8 taco shells or 4 tortillas
- lettuce, cheddar cheese and salsa to serve
In a sauce pan, combine lentils, 1 1/2 c. water and garlic. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer on low until tender, about 20-25 minutes. If using pre-cooked lentils, you want 1 1/2 cups.
Meanwhile, in a food processor fitted with the chopping blade, pulse the cauliflower until it's roughly the texture of rice. It should yield about 2 cups of cauliflower.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil. When the olive oil is starting to be fragrant, add the cauliflower and cook 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the lentils, Taco Potion and 2/3 c. water. Bring the mixture to a simmer and then reduce heat to low, cover and cook until the cauliflower is tender, about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be thickened and reduced.
Fill taco shells or tortillas with lentil and cauliflower and top with lettuce, cheese and salsa, as desired.