When I first saw Jason Wyrick's new cookbook, Vegan Tacos, I thought, "What am I going to do with this? I'm not a taco person, I'm not that into Mexican food, and how could anyone write a whole cookbook about tacos anyway?"
I was wrong on all counts.
First, I am a taco person. Gluten free tortillas wrapped around just about anything are a staple of my diet. I call them sandwiches, but they are tacos by any other name.
Second, it's an outright lie that I'm not that into Mexican food. The influence is too strong. Who among us hasn't eaten burritos, quesadillas, tostadas, guacamole, fried rice and of course - tacos? I just haven't eaten any authentic Mexican food, and I've always been curious about it.
Third, Vegan Tacos is an amazing cookbook, a labor of love, and obviously it could have been much longer. Jason Wyrick is a passionate taco lover and an expert on authentic Mexican tacos.
I always thought that tacos were some kind of American bastardization of Mexican food, but I was wrong about that too. According to Chapter 1, Tacos 101, everything you need to know about tacos, corn tortillas folded around beans and squash, a.k.a tacos, have been a mainstay of the Mexican diet since the Mayans.
And tacos have always been mostly vegan, because until recently, meat wasn't a mainstay of traditional Mexican diets, so Vegan Tacos are as authentic as can be.
Onto the Cookbook:
I've always disliked the corn tortillas you can buy in grocery stores. Even the organic ones taste boring to me. Corn tortillas are best eaten fresh, and the tastiest ones by far were made for us by a Mexican raised friend who knew how to flatten them by patting them with her hands, a vanishing skill. I wanted to do that, but it seemed too esoteric for me.
Happily, Vegan Tacos goes into great detail on making your own fresh corn tortillas, with pictures. Jason Wyrick even shows how to make them from your own homemade Nixtamal by grinding dried corn.
I decided to stick with masa harina, since I didn't want to buy a grinder, but I ran straight out to buy a tortilla press, a tortilla warmer and some masa harina corn flour. I'm now in love with my tortilla press and fresh corn tortillas, which aren't hard to make. I can easily see how someone could live on tacos.
My problem with that is that I've cut nightshades out of my diet - that means no peppers, tomatoes or eggplant, I don't like hot spicy food, and the idea of adding 2 Tbsp of chili powder to anything blows my Anglo-Saxon mind!
But still, I appreciate Jason Wyrick's chapter on essential ingredients and equipment, in which he covers everything you might need to know about chilis, dried and fresh, and what to do with them, along with all the other ingredients used for tacos, and authentic equipment.
But you don't need to go 100% authentic with Vegan Tacos. How you use this cookbook is up to you and your comfort level.
At the bottom of Page 7, there's a note about authentic food. "Real authentic food doesn't care what the experts say... It is, at its heart, eminently practical. Iconic dishes are influenced by immigration, emigration, trade, conflict, tourism, regional produce, weather patterns, and even changes in technology."
There is loads of fascinating historic and cultural background in Vegan Tacos, and an entire chapter on making your own corn tortillas, with variations such as chili flavored, garlic, and black bean tortillas.
The taco and chili lovers among you will adore the many authentic recipes for taco fillings, divided into categories:
Bonus tips and asides are scattered throughout the book, e.g. 'How to Host a Taco Party' on Pg. 112.
Vegan Tacos is a thorough, detailed, authentic but relaxed and happy tour of the best of the best loved Mexican food - tacos. Even though I'm not a chili lover, and chilis are central to Mexican cooking, there was plenty for me to chew on in this cookbook.
The recipe for Mojo de Ajo - olive oil, garlic cloves, sea salt and sour orange or lime juice inspired me to add a little of each ingredient to stir fried greens, making them into an ideal taco filling paired with guacamole. I want to make flattened seitan, vegan chorizo, pan roasted and flame roasted veggies, red achiote paste, and even chipotles in adobe (for my heat loving sons-in-law). And the dessert tacos, of course!
One Minor Quibble:
I want to try the Mole Tacos with Seared Zucchini, Wilted Chard and Pepitas on Pg. 103. Of course, one of the ingredients is mole, which could be any sauce used in Mexican cooking, but most likely refers to Poblano Mole, mentioned on page 23 under Fresh Chilis | Poblano.
In the Mole Tacos recipe, Jason Wyrick urges his readers to make their own mole at least once, but there is no mole recipe in the book. It's possible that there was originally a recipe for mole, which disappeared in the editing process.
OK, I'm done venting. I'm sure I wouldn't have made my own mole anyway, and I'm still going to make the recipe. I'll just find some kind of chili sauce at the store.
One Minor Triumph:
Recently I posted a simple guacamole recipe on social media - avocado, lime juice, salt & pepper. Many commenters insisted that this wasn't authentic guacamole, and I disagreed. Jason Wyrick backs me up: "At its heart, a guacamole is just a thick sauce of avocadoes with salt and lime. Everything else is a bonus."
I'm thrilled to have a copy of Vegan Tacos, and now I know that I can still make authentic tacos without eating chilis or tomatoes. I'll just serve them on the side.
If you're a taco lover, buy Jason Wyrick's excellent Vegan Tacos cookbook. You'll be glad you did.