Thursday, January 30, 2014

Tofu Chorizo Tacos

TOFU CHORIZO ("SOYRIZO") TACOS

Chicago has a long and infamous history in the food production industry,  remnants of which hang around the hip meatpacking district and Vienna Beef factory that now cater to upscale restaurants and tourism.  When traveling I always end up preferring the cities that offer some grit behind a shiny facade (the outskirts of Paris and Berlin, Budapest, Istanbul, Marrakesh, Lima, Seoul...) and I think that comes from Chicago roots.  I know this is ironic, if not laughable to many, since I might be a photo in the textbook next to a definition of "gentrification," but I like the reminders that Chicago once was The Jungle.  My grandfather put down his own roots in this city in the scrap metal industry, and that was the family springboard to the North Shore.

Perhaps I'm also feeling a bit more sentimental on the topic as I dig into my current historical research project in U.S. immigration history.  I'm specifically examining reasons why European immigrants chose to return home, often faced with the brutality of Chicago's factories.  Those that stayed have left an obvious mark on our ethnic enclaves up to the present, and immigrant stories continue to be told through the food we make in those same factories (with better working conditions, I hope...).

"Soyrizo" tacos certainly blend a few of these themes.  First, and pretty obviously, they are a gentrification of immigrant food.  The luxury of replacing cheap ground pork sausage, which probably laid heavy on the spice to cover up some unpleasantness, with a highly refined soy product is really just a joke about gentrification in the making.  I'm OK with that because it really tastes awesome and very much like chorizo.   Second, tacos are a great Chicago immigrant food (home to the second largest Mexican population in the states outside of LA) and we are home to some fantastic local products, as a result.  In this case the El Milagro tortillas and Supremo queso fresco are made right here in Chicago.  We also make the absolute best tortilla chips - El Ranchero.  If you bring Tostitos to a party in Chicago, you need to get a clue.  Sticking with this theme, I wanted to avoid adding any other "fluff" elements to this taco besides what you would get on a standard chorizo taco out of a taqueria.  No fancy toppings, just the simple cilantro y cebollas.  Many would argue that I made a grave error not doubling up my corn tortillas, as is customary, but the recipe is pretty much grease-free and eliminates any need.

While I'm totally supportive of you locavores and farm-to-table advocates, here's a list of some significant Chicago-based food factories: Vienna Beef, Cracker Jack, Keebler, Hostess, Wrigley, Gonnella Bread, Morton Salt, Kraft, Tootsie Roll, Sara Lee, Nabisco, Fanny May, Quaker, and Turano Bread.


Ingredients (makes about 6 tacos):
  • 1 block (14 oz.) extra firm tofu
  • 1 small can (7 oz.) chipotles in adobo sauce
  • 2 small dried pasilla peppers
  • 1/2 tbsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tbsp. cayenne pepper (less if you have a low tolerance for spice)
  • 1 tsp. ground mexican chili
  • 1 tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes (less if you have a low tolerance for spice)
  • 1/2 tbsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. ginger
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. tahini paste (or peanut butter)
Other Ingredients:
  • soft corn tortillas (check the ingredients to ensure yours are gf if that matters for you)
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • crumbled queso fresco (farmer's cheese), for non-vegan option 

Both the tofu and dried pasillas need about fifteen minutes of prep to start this recipe.  First, the tofu needs to be drained by slicing it into about 6 slabs, and pressing the slabs between 4 sheets of paper towel on each side.  Let it sit to absorb as much liquid as possible from the tofu.  Opposite for the peppers: soak them in a bowl of warm water to reconstitute the flesh.  Remove the stems and seeds when soft.

To make the chorizo flavoring, blend together the reconstituted pasillas with the canned chipotles, spices, vinegar, and tahini paste.  
Crumble the tofu in a large bowl and coat with about 2/3 of the hot sauce you just made.  Let sit for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, make a quick topping by mixing the diced onion and chopped cilantro with lemon juice and a little salt. 
When ready to cook, sear the tofu in a hot pan until it develops a little crunchy texture.  Add the remaining hot sauce throughout the cooking process to keep moist and maintain flavor.  While that cooks, steam the tortillas in the microwave by covering them on a plate and heating for about a minute.  
When the tofu is done to your liking you are ready to assemble and enjoy.  If you aren't keeping these vegan, add some crumbled queso fresco or crema to help cut a little bit of the heat.

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