Friday, August 7, 2009

tempeh tacos

The exact history of these tacos is difficult to recall (and would require venturing into the uncharted realm of ex-stepparents); I'll just say that one day, many years ago, through some combination of serendipity and vegetarian intervention, they came into our family—and our hearts.

Really, their origins are not important. What is important is that these may be my favorite tacos ever. And no, I do not mean favorite home-cooked tacos, or favorite tacos showcasing a meat substitute. I mean favorite. tacos. ever.

I lack the anthropological evidence to back this up, but when the Javanese invented tempeh, a nutty, almost mushroom-tasting brick of fermented soybeans, I can only assume they intended it to be simmered in taco seasoning, spooned into steaming tortillas, slicked with sour cream and sprinkled with cheddar cheese. If not, they were missing out.

Tempeh Tacos
Adapted from Regina's Vegetarian Table, by Regina Campbell

It's up to you whether or not to fry the tortillas; I've come to prefer the pliancy of soft tortillas, but a lot of canola oil can go a long way.

Serves 4

2 (12-ounce) packages tempeh, thawed and cut into large chunks
1 envelope taco seasoning, or your favorite taco spices
¼ cup canola oil
¾ cup water
½ pound Cheddar or Jack cheese, grated
2 tomatoes, diced
Lettuce, shredded or chopped
1 avocado, sliced or guacamole
Sour cream
Taco sauce (optional)
12 corn tortillas
1 cup canola oil
Chopped cilantro, for garnish

1. In a large non-stick pan over medium heat, crumble the tempeh into chunks with the back of a fork. Saute tempeh in ¼ cup oil until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. [Optional: You could also saute some chopped onion along with the tempeh.]

2. Sprinkle in seasoning packet. Stir tempeh until seasoning is mixed in. Add water; stir and simmer until water is absorbed (add more water if needed to get a moist, tender texture). Set aside on very low heat.

3. To steam the tortillas, wrap them in barely damp paper towels and microwave on high for 30 to 45 seconds. To fry the tortillas, Heat 1 cup canola oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When very hot (but not smoking) place corn tortilla in the oil. It will puff up in 15 to 30 seconds. Fry for another 10 seconds or so, until just starting to get golden spots. Flip tortilla carefully with tongs and fry another 20 seconds or until starting to brown. Using tongs, remove to paper towel. Quickly blot excess oil with a folded paper towel and fold in half before they start to cool. Keep finished tortillas warm in covered dish in low oven.

4. Assemble tacos with tempeh mixture, cheese, and desired condiments. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro.


  1. can we please make these an annual birthday tradition? my love.

  2. If we were ruled by philosopher-kings, tempeh would be outlawed for all uses apart from tempeh tacos. Those would receive a national holiday.

  3. I wonder what those philosopher-kings would have to say about pre-shredded cheddar cheese...

  4. At the risk of sounding diplomatic, one possible conclusion from this, my second tempeh taco experience, is that the COMBINATION of freshly grated and pre-shredded cheese may well achieve the ideal mix of sharp flavor (the former) and elastic texture (the latter). On a semi-related note: has anyone ever experimented with flashing a cheese-showered tempeh taco under the broiler for 30 seconds to achieve full melt? Perhaps that starts to take us into the realm of tempeh enchilada, decidedly less alliterative.