Note: For the 32 days between February 1st and March 4th, I'm adopting a completely vegan lifestyle. Every weekday I'll be updating my progress with a diary entry and a recipe. For past posts, check here!
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There is a demon inside me, and he can only be fed by delicious tacos. I'm a certified, card-carrying taco fiend, as anyone who's hung out around these parts has probably figured out by now. I can think of few things in the world that couldn't be made better by cutting into bite-sized pieces, stuffing into perfectly tender corn tortillas, and doused in salsa and condiments.* I've got a near constant supply of corn tortillas in my fridge along with a host of condiments, just waiting to covert leftovers into dinner.
If ever a hapless leftover chicken or a grilled steak falls victim to my chopping-and-stuffing, you can blame it on that demon who has a never-ending thirst for tortilla-clad sacrifices.
*Yes, even you, my dear wife.
Unfortunately, tacos are not generally the most vegan-friendly of foods, so I was a little afraid that I'd have to go through my entire Vegan Month with no spiffy taco jag. That is, until I remembered an awesome dish I had last year during a 12-course vegan feast at Craigie on Main in Cambridge. The dish in question combined grilled hearts of palm with avocado and olives. I'd had hearts of palm in salads before, but eating them hot and charred was a revelation. They take on a deeply nutty, sweet flavor that's almost like charred corn.
Just the ticket for my tacos, I thought to myself.
I tried grilling them plain, but was not particularly impressed with the results. GIVE ME ALL THE FLAVOR, grumbled the demon from the depths of my stomach. (You probably have one inside you too, just look for him). I had no choice but to attempt to appease him.
Marinating the hearts of palm in a mixture of lime juice, olive oil, garlic, and thyme went a long way, boosting that nutty flavor with a burst of herbal depth, but the real key turned out not to be what I cooked on the hearts of palm, but what I serve with them. My favorite homemade salsa verde was a good start, adding some moisture and brightness to the dish. The kicker was this Spicy Cabbage Slaw, flavored with habanero chili and a hint of allspice. It's essentially a quick-pickle recipe that comes together in minutes, but goes a long way to adding crunch, freshness, and heat to the taco (turns out it's a great topping for veggie burgers as well).
With the slaw in place, I downed the tacos as if my very life depended on it, or at least my stomach. Finally sated, the demon returned to his slumber, though I don't doubt he will once again awaken. God pity the poor tortilla that comes my way when he does.
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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.