Vegetarian Cooking: Tofu Tacos!

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Since I moved back to DC, I’ve started eating vegetarian again (with fish and seafood on occasion) and taking a more comprehensive approach to being healthy by working out and cooking the majority of my meals. This Tofu Taco recipe is one of my favorites and tastes better than any beef or chicken tacos I’ve ever had, although I can’t compare it to my favorite dish in the world, fish tacos. This is an extremely easy recipe and makes enough to feed 4-6 people (or yourself for days) and can easily be adjusted to fit vegan diets.

An aside, most vegetarians and others seem to have strong opinions on tofu and soy and its health benefits/environmental impact. I enjoy soy as a nice protein boost and meat substitute, but I suggest only buying organic because non-organic soy has been processed with a controversial solvent called hexane.

Tofu Tacos

Cooking Time: 45 minutes to press the tofu, 15 to cook

Ingredients:

1 package Organic Extra Firm Tofu
1 can corn
1 can black beans
1/2 onion, diced
1 bell pepper, sliced (I use one half orange and one half red)
1/2 bag spinach (or more depending on preference)
Cumin to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste
Chili powder to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Corn tortillas

Optional:
Greek yogurt
Avocado
Salsa
Hot sauce
Mexican cheese blend

Preparing the Tofu:

If you’ve never made tofu at home, the first thing you need to know how to do is press and dry the tofu. You can do this for 30-45 minutes before cooking, but sometimes I will leave it out for an hour or so if I have the time.

I use Trader Joe's Extra Firm Organic Tofu

I use Trader Joe’s Extra Firm Organic Tofu. Slit open the sides and drain the water out.

Slice the tofu into 1/2" slices in the container

Slice the tofu into 1/2″ slices in the container.

Put down a cloth towel on a hard surface (I use a baking sheet) and lay paper towels three thick on top. Place the tofu slices on top of the paper towels.

Put down a cloth towel on a hard surface (I use a baking sheet) and lay paper towels three thick on top. Place the tofu slices on top of the paper towels.

Place three more paper towels on top of the tofu slices and cover with the other half of the cloth towel.

Place three more paper towels on top of the tofu slices and cover with the other half of the cloth towel.

Put a hard, flat surface on top of the towels (I used a wooden cutting board) and place heavy objects on top to press the tofu. This will help the towels soak up the water.

Put a hard, flat surface on top of the towels (I used a wooden cutting board) and place heavy objects on top to press the tofu. This will help the towels soak up the water.

Replace the paper towels after about 30-40 minutes. I may do this twice if I am frying the tofu, but it isn't completely necessary with this recipe.

Replace the paper towels after about 20 minutes. I may do this twice if I am frying the tofu, but it isn’t completely necessary with this recipe.

After about 30-45 minutes, the tofu should have lost a lot of its moisture and is ready for the recipe.

Cooking the Taco Filling:

Grill the veggies in oil until lightly browned.

Grill the veggies in oil until lightly browned.

Ground up the tofu and mix in with the grilled veggies.

Ground up the tofu and mix in with the grilled veggies.

Open and drain your beans and corn. I use Trader Joe's Whole Kernel Corn and Cuban Style Black Beans.

Open and drain your beans and corn. I use Trader Joe’s Whole Kernel Corn and Cuban Style Black Beans.

Add the beans and corn.

Add the beans and corn.

Add in a handful or two of spinach. You can really go crazy with it because it cooks down so much.

Add in a handful or two of spinach. You can really go crazy with it because it cooks down so much.

Continue mixing the ingredients together.

Continue mixing the ingredients together.

Add seasoning to taste. You will probably use more than you think you do so don't be shy, especially with the cumin and chili powder. This really gives it that tex-mex taste. You can also use a package of pre-made taco seasoning, but I like knowing exactly what ingredients I am using.

Add seasoning to taste. You will probably use more than you think you do so don’t be shy, especially with the cumin and chili powder. This really gives it that tex-mex taste. You can also use a package of pre-made taco seasoning, but I like knowing exactly what ingredients I am using and premade seasoning may contain additives, etc.

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A blurry, up-close photo of what your taco filling should look like when done.

Assembling the Tacos:

So far, the recipe is totally vegan. You can leave out the Greek yogurt and cheese if you want to keep the recipe free of animal products.

Clear the pan (or use a new one). Take a corn tortilla and cook it on one side for a minute or so before flipping. Add cheese and cook until the other side starts to brown and the cheese begins to melt.

Clear the pan (or use a new one). Take a corn tortilla and cook it on one side for a minute or so before flipping. Add cheese and cook until the other side starts to brown and the cheese begins to melt.

Add the taco filling on top of the cheese.

Add the taco filling on top of the cheese.

Add a dollop of salsa and Greek yogurt and a couple of slices of avocado. I also use hot sauce.

Add a dollop of salsa and Greek yogurt and a couple of slices of avocado. I also use hot sauce.

Final product! You can make the toppings look like the Hungarian or Bulgarian flag if you wish (this one is Hungary)!

Final product! You can make the toppings look like the Hungarian or Bulgarian flag if you wish (this one is Hungary)!

You can also use the filling on nachos or add it to mac and cheese or any other dish you like. Hope you enjoy these tacos as much as I do!

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My Weekend in the Concrete Jungle

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The group.

Although living in a hoarder house was one of the more memorable and unique parts of my recent trip to NYC, there were many more adventures had.

Highlights include:

  • Wa Jeal Sichuan Chili House, the best General Tso’s Chicken in NYC (well so said Yelp, and I’d be hard pressed to find any better).
  • Bagelsmith, my first delve into New York bagels, which are certainly the best around.
  • Smorgasburg, a food flea market in Williamsburg, Brooklyn featuring a fantastic view of Manhattan and some incredible food. My friends and I decided to split our food so we could try as much as possible. This included a delicious BBQ brisket sandwich, a lobster roll that was to die for, frozen s’mores, a frozen Arnold Palmer with mango and a Dulce de Leche donut.
BBQ sandwiches at Smorgasburg.

BBQ sandwiches at Smorgasburg.

Sarah and me sharing a lobster roll.

Sarah and me sharing a lobster roll.

The view of Manhattan from Brooklyn.

The view of Manhattan from Brooklyn.

  • The great markets and thrift shops throughout NYC, including Artists & Fleas and Chelsea Market. I found a really awesome Hawaiian shirt at a thrift shop in Brooklyn (so hipster) and bought a few prints from an awesome an art booth called Leroy’s Place. The artist buys old (and sometimes lame) landscape paintings from flea markets and draws monsters on them with a paint pen. You should check out the online shop here. I also met a fellow Arkansan in Chelsea Market looking at an Arkansas pendant. He was from Batesville and knew someone I used to do theatre with!
One of the prints I bought.

One of the prints I bought.

  • A lot of fun dive bars (especially in Williamsburg).
  • The Brooklyn Brewery, where you can drink some great beers and take a free tour!
Us at the Brooklyn Brewery.

Us at the Brooklyn Brewery.

  • The High Line, a garden/park on top of an old elevated rail line. There’s some cool food booths, including the best iced coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee and a popsicle stand where I bought a mango chile popsicle that was actually spicy (and tasty!).
Polaroids on the High Line.

Polaroids on the High Line.

  • Calle Ocho, a fantastic Latin fusion restaurant with a brunch that includes eight different flavors of all-you-can-drink sangria with purchase of entree. We ate here right before catching the megabus back home.Needless to say, we went out with a bang.
Brunch at Calle Ocho.

Brunch at Calle Ocho.

I left New York with much unexplored and will be returning at the end of August after I finish interning!

Porto, Portugal

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After finishing The Great Gatsby on the plane to Portugal, I made significant progress on 1984 on the three hour train ride from Lisbon. A young Portuguese couple snogged obnoxiously across from me – I wonder what Big Brother would think about that…

I arrived back in Porto at noon, where Connie and her dad picked me up from the train station. I’m pretty sure we hugged for a solid five minutes; the three months since we’d seen each other had been too long. It’s pretty amazing how quickly we picked everything back up, mouths constantly chatting a stream of gossip and updates in the car on the way to her house.

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Connie’s mom was in Brussels during the week, so their housekeeper cooked our meals while she was away. Every meal was served with warm soup, hearty traditional Portuguese food, fruit and dessert. We only had to eat out once, and it was to try a traditional sandwich called a Francesinha. My favorites included a dried and salted codfish called bacalhau that the Portuguese prepare in many different ways (ours was in a delicious casserole with gravy served over a smashed potato), a sweet mango mousse and a baked milking (or baby) pig served with rice and some kind of soft, roasted nuts. Eating with Connie and her family was one of those situations where I was constantly being encouraged to “have some more” – and that I did. I may or may not have had to let out my belt a little bit after each meal.

IMG_4702The milking pig dish, made by Connie’s mother at their farm.

We spent my time in Porto sleeping in, eating late, long lunches, exploring the city and catching up after a long time away. There’s something very special about our friendship, two people from totally different cultures and continents who have never had friends from the other’s respective country before. As different as our lives had been before our chance friendship, we both have a zest for life and love for each other.

IMG_4506Connie and me inside the Clérigos Tower.

Aside from getting a good tour of the city – seeing where Connie shopped, where she went out and where she went to relax – we did see a lot of the tourist spots, many of which Connie had not been to herself. I’ve actually had a similar experience taking friends around Little Rock and Chicago; it’s quite fun to be a tourist in your own city. We toured the Palácio da Bolsa (their historical stock exchange building), trekked up the Clérigos Tower for a view of the entire city, saw the amazing stairs of the Livraria Lello bookstore (click here for some Google photos – visitors were not allowed to take photos inside), visited the Serralves modern art museum and gardens, peeked inside the Sandeman Port wine caves, visited Foz (the posh area of Porto where the Douro river meets the Atlantic Ocean) and got the best view in all of Porto (which is actually in the city of Gaia that lies across the river, accessible by any of Porto’s famous six bridges). We even went out with her sister and her boyfriend in the lively, young bar district.

IMG_4642Me in the gardens at the Serralves during a light rain.

Because of the money I saved on food, I was able to buy a lot of presents and souvenirs for myself. This included a few bottles of the famous Port wine for my family and friends (and one just for me). There are many competing wine houses in Porto and Gaia that get their grapes and wine from the Douro valley to the east of Porto. Connie’s farm has a vineyard that makes other kinds of wine, and on my next visit I may get to help with the wine making (yes – that means stomping on the grapes with my feet!). Connie’s family told me they would take me to the valley next time, as it is supposed to be absolutely breathtaking.

IMG_4583Two bottles of Port wine.

Connie’s mom is a politician and both of her parents are economists, which allowed me to learn a little bit about the economic crisis in Portugal and Europe. I think it’s important as an American to realize that economic problems are not just in our country but throughout the world. It’s a tough problem with no foreseeable solution that will likely be left in the hands of my generation. We had long talks at dinner about the history and current events of Portugal, something I was lucky to hear as a tourist. It is a rare opportunity to actually get to talk about these things with people that have an inside perspective.

IMG_4617An elderly Portuguese woman leaning out of her apartment.

Connie and her family kept telling me how sorry they were for the weather – it rained lightly for a lot of the trip and was often cloudy. I did not mind at all; it put me in a pleasant, pensive mood and allowed a lot of self-and-world-reflection (as often happens to me in my travels). At one point, however, the sun peaked out through the clouds, gleaming on the rooftops of Porto.

“See what we mean about Porto in the sun?” said Connie’s mom.

I did. There was magic coming from the orangey glow of the roof tiles and the bridges (one designed by Eiffel himself) casting shadows on the river – but not for a moment did I felt cheated of Porto’s beauty, not even on the rainiest, greyest day. Whether rain or shine, economic crisis or wealth, Porto will always be beautiful.IMG_4608

 

Smooth(ie) moves

I had two midterms yesterday, so the entire last five days have actually consisted of nothing but me studying. I’ve never studied so much in my life, but it was definitely worth it. Gotta keep up that GPA if I wanna go to grad school!

Aside from studying, well, I haven’t done really anything outside of my normal routine. So I’m gonna talk about part of that!

I make at least one smoothie every day because 1. they’re delicious and 2. they’re cheap and 3. they make me feel healthy. So here are some pictures of one of them. This one has frozen mango, frozen berry blend, a banana, and yogurt. I also really like one with OJ, banana, and frozen mango in it. You don’t ever have to add ice, just buy frozen fruit (or freeze your own). I use a hand blender because it’s easy to clean and really quick.

Experimenting with new flavors is always fun too. Woo!

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Putting in the fruit.

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Adding in some yogurt.

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My favorite college purchase – a Cuisinart hand blender!

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Pure deliciousness.