Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Quick and Easy Vegetarian Tacos


You know when you get home from a long day and have no idea what to eat? You open the fridge and stare for a while, stumped. Then you spot that one magical ingredient and smile. For me, that magic ingredient used to be marinara sauce. We've all been there, right? Pasta. Night after night. No matter how much you love pasta and no matter how healthy you make it - you know, by throwing in tons of spinach, chick peas, whatever - it's still pasta and it's far from a perfect meal, especially when you have it more than once a week!

Enter my new magic ingredient: beans. Pinto. Kidney. Black. Lentil. Whichever I happen to have on hand work just fine in this tasty taco recipe! The best part is that you can keep most of the (cheap!) ingredients stocked and improvise based on what you have on hand. Oh, and you can whip these up using the microwave and toaster oven if you want! No need to heat stuff on the stove, though that does improve the end result!

What to stock:
  • Canned beans (dry are even better if you can plan ahead!)
    • Black
    • Red Kidney
    • Pinto
    • Vegetarian Refried
  • Taco Shells
    • Read the label to make sure they're free of nasty partially hydrogenated oils
    • Can you find a mult-grain version at your grocer?
  • Cheese!
    • Skip the pre-shredded stuff. It's loaded with preservatives and anti-caking agents, doesn't taste as good as the blocks, and is 2-3 times the price!
    • Go for a local organic Cheddar labeled "RBGH free"
    • Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack work too!
  • Spices:
    • Don't fall for taco seasoning packs. They're usually made from the same ingredients (but tend to contain fillers and extra sodium!) I've listed them in proportional order:
      • Chili Powder
      • Cumin
      • Paprika
      • Cayenne
      • Garlic Powder
      • Onion Powder
      • Oregano
      • Kosher Salt, Red Pepper Flakes, and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste
  • Taco Sauce
  • Salsa
  • Greek Yogurt 
    • Use this instead of sour cream!
    • My favorite is Fage 2%
  • Avocados!
  • Lettuce/Tomato/Onion/Sliced Black Olives
  • Tomato Paste and/or Diced Tomatoes are nice to have if you have time to heat stuff on the stove, but it's not necessary.
Super Fast Version (great for 1-2 people):
  1. Preheat Toaster Oven to 300. 
  2. Slice the cheese (and tomato if using) into small pieces and lay flat on inside of taco shells. 
  3. Pop them in the toaster oven for 5 minutes while prepping the rest. Keep an eye. Toaster Ovens can be finicky.
  4. Empty can of beans into microwave safe bowl. (Rinse and drain if desired)
    1. black, kidney, pinto, or vegetarian refried are my favorites!
    2. Season with spices listed above and stir/mash with a fork or potato masher until desired consistency (or don't - up to you!)
  5. Heat in microwave for 45 - 60 seconds, stir, repeat until warm throughout
  6. Remove taco shells from toaster oven 
    1. Add sliced avocado
    2. Spoon mixture into taco shells 
  7. Top with salsa, taco sauce, yogurt shredded lettuce, chopped red onion or scallions, and/or cheese
  8. Take a bite and smile because you just found your new favorite super fast dinner!
20-Minute Version (perfect for a fast taco night with friends!):
  1. Follow steps 1 - 3 above, but use the oven if prepping more than 3-4 taco shells
  2. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat. Add 1/2 a finely chopped yellow onion and 1 minced clove of garlic. Saute for about 5 minutes, until onions are soft.
  3. Add a can of beans and a couple tablespoons of tomato paste 
    • if you don't have tomato paste, you can substitute salsa or diced tomatoes
    • you can use lentils instead of canned beans, but you'll need to add more liquid (water, veggie broth, or water + liquid from diced tomatoes) and cook longer
  4. Season with spices listed above.
  5. Cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat, uncovered, stirring every couple minutes. 
  6. Remove taco shells from oven and add sliced avocado
  7. Spoon in heated bean mixture
  8. Top with salsa, taco sauce, yogurt, shredded lettuce, chopped red onion or scallions, and/or cheese!
  9. Enjoy!
Taco night with my roommate, Tandis!

PS: A side of quinoa or brown rice completes this meal nicely!