This recipe is one of those which may look a little messy when put together and is certainly going to be messy to eat but I promise you it’s worth the sticky fingers and (in my case) ruining the odd t-shirt.
Mexican flavours are some of my absolute favourites and these tacos are packed full of rich, smokey and spicy tofu mince, lifted with the zing of lime and the sweetness of the charred salsa, and topped off with cool and creamy avocado. What more could you want? Well maybe a margarita but that really would be all my dreams come true.
This recipe came about after I accidentally bought medium-firm tofu from an oriental supermarket, which is kind of half way between firm tofu and silken. Not being entirely sure how to use it up, I decided to freeze it and see what happened. Freezing firm tofu changes the texture considerably – it becomes more tough and porous and some think it has a meatier texture, though I tend to think it’s quite dry and spongy. Medium-firm tofu on the other hand has a similar fibrous texture when defrosted, but is a bit more delicate and moist; perfect for tofu mince. That said, you can just as well use fresh firm tofu in this recipe, but we often keep some medium-firm in the freezer in case we are overwhelmed by the desire for tacos.
This recipe has a few different stages but is surprisingly quick to knock up, facilitated by generous use of a food processor. You could make it without but this would require a significant amount of very fine chopping and I’m not sure my feeble arms could cope.
Firstly, defrost your tofu and then squeeze out any water, smooshing the tofu into a chunky mince texture as you go. If using firm tofu straight from the fridge then you can get straight to the smooshing.
Toast the whole spices in a large dry pan to release their heady aroma then tip into a pestle and mortar and bash to a coarse powder (if you don’t have whole spices you can always used ground I would suggest 1½ tsp of ground cumin and 1 tsp of ground coriander – in which case you can skip this first step). Put the pan back on the heat with the oil, then whizz the red onion and garlic cloves in a food processor until finely chopped – you can see in the second picture in the gallery above the sort of texture to aim for. Fry the onion mixture over a medium heat for 10–12 minutes until it starts to smell sweet and browns slightly.
While the onion is frying, add the red pepper, red chillis, sun-dried tomatoes, sugar and salt to the food processor (there’s no need to wash the bowl in between) and whizz to a coarse paste – you can add a little water if it’s not looking much like a paste. You can go smoother or more chunky depending on your preference but I like to keep a bit of texture. Once the onion is browning add the bashed cumin and coriander and the remaining spices, stir fry for a couple of minutes then add in the red pepper paste. Cook for a few more minutes before adding the tofu and a few tablespoons of water.
I let the mixture cook for 15–20 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a few more tablespoons of water when it’s starting to look dry. I like to let it catch a little at the bottom of the pan before adding more water – that’s where the mixture is starting to caramelize adding even more depth of flavour.
This also provides the perfect amount of time to prepare the charred sweetcorn salsa. A lot of recipes require you to use corn on the cob, which is great if it’s in season and you can get your hands on it, but it is so much easier to have a few tins of sweetcorn in the back of the cupboard for moments like this. Now to warn you, we have a pan in our house that it now the ‘sweetcorn charring pan’ because I ruined it by charring sweetcorn. I maintain that it was a bad pan. So I just use this pan without oil and get it super hot, then throw in the sweetcorn for a couple of minutes, stirring once to turn the kernels. However, if you do not have disposable pans lying around then I would suggest getting a heavy-bottomed frying pan really hot, then adding a little oil along with the kernels, stirring frequently until they are blackened in places and smelling smokey.
While the sweetcorn is cooling, finely chop the remaining red onion half, the tomato and coriander, then mix into the sweetcorn with the rapeseed oil, lime juice and a big pinch of flaky sea salt (or a smaller pinch of fine salt). Add the kidney beans to the tofu mince to warm through, heat the taco shells, smoosh some avocado – coconut yogurt or vegan crème fraîche also works really well – artfully scatter some coriander leaves and you’ll have a mouthwatering Mexican feast on your hands!
Vegan Mexican Tofu Tacos with Charred Sweetcorn Salsa
Rich and spicy tofu tacos with a zingy charred sweetcorn salsa
For the taco filling
- 400g firm tofu (or medium-firm tofu frozen and then defrosted)
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 heaped tsp coriander seeds
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1½ medium red onions (reserve the additional half for the salsa)
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 large red pepper
- 50g sun-dried tomatoes*
- 1 red chilli
- 1½ tsp smoked paprika
- ½–1 tsp chilli powder
- 1½ tsp sugar
- ¾ tsp salt
- Black pepper to taste
- 400g tinned red kidney beans (drained weight 240g)
For the salsa
- 400g approx. sweetcorn kernels (370g drained wieght)
- ½ a red onion
- 1 large tomato
- 25g coriander (small bunch)
- 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
- 1 lime, juiced
- Big pinch of flaky sea salt (or a smaller pinch of fine salt)
- 10-12 Taco shells
- 2 Avocados
- Vegan crème fraîche or coconut yogurt
- In a clean dish, use your hands to break up 400g tofu into a chunky mince texture and set aside.
- Heat up a large frying pan over a medium heat and dry fry 2 tsp cumin seeds and 1 heaped tsp coriander seeds for a few minutes until they’re fragrant. Tip in a pestle and mortar/spice grinder and bash into a coarse powder.
- Peel 1½ red onions and add to the food processor. Peel and roughly chop 4 garlic cloves and whizz with the onion until very finely chopped (you may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few time to ensure it’s chopped evenly). Put the frying pan back over a medium heat with 2 tbsp oil and add the onion and garlic mixture. Cook for 10–12 minutes, stirring frequently, until the mixture is browning and smells deliciously sweet.
- While the onion is frying, roughly chop 1 red pepper, 1 red chilli, and 50g sun-dried tomatoes, and add to the food processor along with 1½ tsp sugar and ¾ tsp salt. Whizz to a chunky paste. Once the onion mixture is cooked add the cumin, coriander, 1½ tsp smoked paprika, and ½-1 tsp chilli powder (I use 1 tsp of hot chilli powder but you may prefer a little less!) to the pan and stir fry for a couple of minutes, then scrape in the red pepper paste. Cook for another few minutes to heat through then add the tofu along with a couple of tablespoons of water and a good pinch of black pepper.
- Cook the tofu mince for 15–20 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a couple of tablespoons of water if the mixture starts to look very dry.
- While the mince is cooking, start the salsa. Put a heavy bottomed pan on a high heat. Once very hot add 1 tsp of the rapeseed oil and 400g sweetcorn kernels. You want a single layer of kernels so they all char so you may need to do this in two batches. Cook for a minute then stir and cook for a minute more, until the kernels are blackened in places. Set aside to cool.
- Finely chop the remaining ½ red onion, 1 large tomato, and 25g fresh coriander. Mix into the sweetcorn along with the remaining rapeseed oil, juice of 1 lime and a big pinch of salt. Drain and rinse the tin of kidney beans and stir into the tofu mince to warm through.
- Heat the taco shells, pile in the tofu mince with a generous dollop of guacamole or crème fraîche with a heap of salsa on the side, and enjoy!