If you’ve been hesitant about trying tofu, this is your gateway dish. I can’t decide if I should call these “tacos” or “wraps” or “flatbread sandwiches” because they are pretty much all-of-the-above, and then some. It all starts out with handmade cornmeal flatbread, piled high with a generous serving of sweet and savory tofu “belly”, topped off with crispy pickled jicama, spicy cherry peppers, and a Pollock-eque drizzle of vibrant cilantro lime cream sauce. Folded or rolled, this taco-wrap-sandwich delivers all the food truck gluttony you crave.
I am constantly looking for inspiration in the works of great chefs and food innovators that have come before me. Recipes are not created in a vacuum; they are a result of collected inspirations that can come from a variety of sources. One of the most consistent sources of inspiration for me is the library. I love walking through the shelves of the cookbook section, checking out a stack of over-sized books, and then laying them out on my living room floor; thumbing through the pages, armed with a pad of Post-its to mark recipes that make my stomach growl.
I rarely check out vegan cookbooks unless I’m looking for particular techniques, like how to make gluten free scones. One of my greatest joys, and probably the thing that most led me to creating this website and YouTube channel, was my love of veganizing non-vegan recipes. As someone who hasn’t eaten meat or dairy in almost three years, I can look at a picture of food containing animal products, and be enticed. My flavor memory is strong, and I don’t think the love of flavors that I once loved will ever go away.
In those moments when I find myself drooling over the image a non-vegan dish, I don’t think, “Screw it, I’m eating meat”. Instead, I think, “How can I make this vegan?”. Where’s the fun in just making a the recipe as it appear on the page, using all of the unnecessary animal products?
I live for the challenge of engineering recipes that look and taste just like the “real” thing, but that are completely cruelty free.
When I see something I like, I mark it, take a picture of it, or type a few notes into my phone. I look at the ingredients that the recipe calls for, and one-by-one go through and make mental substitutions for the meat, egg, or dairy components.
Some recipes just need simple swap-outs of one or two ingredients. Others, I can tell just by looking at the picture, should be left alone. Whole roasted chicken? Bistecca Alla Fiorentina? Not only do these “foods” generally not look or sound appetizing to me anymore, but they are just just not worth my time to try to figure out what to replace “a whole chicken” with. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you’re craving a king-sized steak, and you’re instead served an equally sized portion of seitan. I’m not saying you should just get the steak, I’m saying you should just get over it. I mean, who really want to cook and carve seven pounds of wheat meat that’s been shaped into the for of a once-living creature? Not me.
As a general rule, as long as it’s not a whole animal I’m trying to replicate, I’m pretty much game for trying to make it work.
Eggs and dairy are easy substituted by their readily available vegan analogues, and other than cashew cream or flax eggs, I don’t really try to hard to make those products from scratch. The “meat” on the other hand, I try a little bit harder to find creative solutions.
Seitan is easily made with wheat gluten and water, seasoned in any direction; kneaded into varying levels of chewiness. Basic vegan meats like beefless crumbles and chick’n strips or nuggets are available in most supermarkets. There are a ton of easy, ready-made options out there, and they do a great job at taking the place of the animal proteins that are used in most dishes.
But sometimes I like to complicate things in an effort to make things simpler.
I know that I’ve written and talked about this before, but I really do try and search out new alternatives to vegan meats. There is something about using a single ingredient, such as a vegetable or fungus, in place of animal that really gets me going. Sure Gardein or Beyond chicken strips will fork fine, but if I can take something that’s not expressly a meat analogue, and make it taste supremely delicious, and deliver a pleasing “meaty” texture, then I’m choosing that over “fake” meat any day.
When I first saw the “PB&J” (stands for Pork Belly & Jicama) in the Mission Street Food cookbook, I have to admit that I was just mainly interested in the flatbread. A few months prior, I had gone to Smorgasburg in downtown LA, and tried this incredible vegan taco from a vender called Goa Taco. That taco was life changing. The filling was good and all, but that wasn’t what made my eyes roll back. No, it was the paratha flatbread that was used in place of a traditional tortilla.
Seeing a similar flatbread in the Mission Street Food cookbook brought back such a vivid flavor memory of that paratha taco, and calculating that I had all of the ingredients to make a vegan version of it on hand, I got up from my next of books on the living room floor, and made a text batch.
From the first bite, I knew that I held magic in my hands. But what should I fill it with? The search for the perfect “meat” was underway. For this flatbread, it needed to be special. Mission served pork belly and duck in theirs, but what on earth was I going to use to make vegan pork belly?
Admittedly, I had enjoyed my fair share of that particular cut of meat in my pre-vegan days, and I knew that was going to be a tough experience to duplicate. Seitan wouldn’t do it. Mushrooms might. Tofu? Definitely not.
My passion just as suddenly faded, and the hope of finding a suitable filling became more and more distant.
One of my many jobs at the moment is assisting Jackie Sobon of Vegan Yack Attack fame. For the most part, I assist her with emails and dishes, but on special occasions, I get to help her out in the kitchen, cooking up recipes while she shoots the final products.
Recently she was commissioned by Brian Patton (The Sexy Vegan) to shoot a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich for one of the single-recipe cookbooks he publishes through his company, 99 Publishing. I did the dishes while she sliced and cooked the tofu filling, and I helped stir The Wiz (his vegan version of Cheez Wiz) as it thickened up to ribbony-drizzle perfection.
The house smelled like a food truck (in a good way), as the finished cheesesteaks taunted me from across the room. I exercised all of the professionalism I could, keeping a safe distance between myself and the sandwiches as they posed for it closeup. Jackie is always generous with the food she prepares in my presence, but as they say in the business: The camera eats first.
My patience was rewarded with a sandwich at the end of the shoot. Before I could even finish saying “thank you”, my teeth had sunk into the soft hoagie, and my taste buds were registering the Wiz. As I finalized that first bit and began to chew the sandwich, I paused when my mouth recognized the tofu “steak”. What was this?! The texture. The mouthfeel. The everything! THIS IS TOFU! In that very moment, seared and simmered super firm tofu became my new favorite vegan meat.
And I knew just where to put it.
On the way home, I bought a package of super firm, high protein tofu to experiment with. I thinly sliced it, and followed the tricks that I learned from watching Jackie prepare Brian’s recipe. I thought of Goa Taco and of the flatbread and the Mission Street Food cookbook, and I concocted an Asian inspired sauce that I hoped would approximate the pork belly experiences of my past.
And of course I made a batch of that flatbread.
Everything about this recipe is my current obsession. The thing I love most about it, however, is the fact that the “meat” is just tofu. Humble ass tofu! And who knew that pickled jicama would be so easy and insanely delicious? Those pickles add just the right amount of acidity to cut through the unctuousness of the saucy sweet tofu. Every component plays a pivotal role, adding layers and layers of texture and flavor.
Check out the video below to see exactly how to make it, and then scroll down for the full recipe.
It all starts out with handmade cornmeal flatbread, piled high with a generous serving of sweet and savory tofu “belly”, topped off with crispy pickled jicama, spicy cherry peppers, and a Pollock-eque drizzle of vibrant cilantro lime cream sauce.
- Cornmeal Flatbread
- Sweet and Savory Tofu “Belly”
- Cilantro Lime Cream Sauce
- Jicama Pickles
- Store-bought sweet and spicy cherry peppers thinly sliced
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 1/2 cup soy milk, or plant milk of choice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1 to 2 tablespoons refined coconut oil or vegan butter
- 1 16 ounce block high protein, or super firm tofu
- 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
- 1/4 cup Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or low sodium soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons agave syrup
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 1 teaspoon “No Chicken” flavored Better Than Bouillon
- 2 to 3 dashes toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake
- 1/4 teaspon black pepper
- 1/2 sweet yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked and drained
- 1/2 cup water, or more to if your sauce it too thick
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, lightly packed (or just a small handful)
- 1/2 lime, juiced
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1/2 jicama, peeled, and cut into thin fries (think McDonald’s fries)
- 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup hot water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoon salt
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Combine the soy milk and the boiling water together, and then pour both into the dry ingredients. Stir with a fork until combined. Gently knead the dough together until you have a ball that holds together. If it won’t come together, add a tablespoon of water. If the dough is too sticky, add a tablespoon of flour.
Cover the dough, and let rest for about 1 hour.
Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. One at a time, roll each portion of dough into a 6 inch circle. Spread a thin layer of coconut oil over the surface of the dough. As if you were making mini cinnamon rolls, roll the dough up into a long snake, and then roll that snake up into a snail shell. Gently press down onto to coil to flatten it, and then gently roll the coil out into a 6 inch disc.
Heat a nonstick or lightly oiled cast iron pan on medium-high. Cook each flatbread for about 1 minute per side, or until there are golden brown spots covering the surfaces. Place cooked flatbread in a folded towel to keep them warm and soft while you finish the batch.
Cut your block of super firm tofu in half, and thinly slice your tofu into squares. You want your squares to be about ⅛ inch thick, but some inconsistency is fine. Slice your onion to about the same thickness as the tofu.
Heat a large nonstick pan or griddle to medium heat. If you think you need to use oil to prevent your tofu from sticking, do so. Sear your tofu squares on each side until they are golden brown. You will definitely have to work in batches to get the all done. Once all of your tofu is seared, cut each slice in half so that you have thin rectangles.
While the tofu sears, mix together the hoisin, Bragg’s, agave, warm water, oil, and bouillon. If you do not have bouillon, you can just use one cup of vegetable broth in place of the water.
To a large nonstick pan on medium-high heat, add the onions, seared tofu, and broth mixture. Cook, stirring often, until all the liquid is absorbed or evaporated, and you are left with a sweet and savory glazed tofu and onions. You really want the liquid to be bubbling and reducing, so don’t be afraid to go up to high heat, just make sure to keep an eye on it as it cooks.
For an extra layer of flavor and texture, spoon your finished tofu and onions onto a lined baking sheet and broil for a minute or two (WATCH CAREFULLY) until they are starting to char and sizzle.
Add the ingredients to a blender and blend until creamy. Add more water if your sauce is too thick to pour. Taste for salt and acidity.
Peel and cut your jicama. Combine the vinegar, hot water, sugar and salt in a bowl. Stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Add the jicama to the vinegar mixture and allow to “pickle” in the refrigerator for at least an hour; overnight is best.
Lay out your cooked flatbread, and top with a generous helping of Tofu “Belly”, about 4 or 5 jicama pickles, a nice drizzle of cilantro lime cream sauce, and then top with thinly sliced cherry peppers. Serve warm.