After years of working in food service, I’ve learned one thing: on the whole, people are seriously picky about their food.
It’s incredibly rare that someone wants to order something the way it’s listed (myself very much included!). And most houses are the same. Someone wants extra tomatoes, someone doesn’t like raw mushrooms, and someone puts Sriracha on – literally – everything.
In our house, there’s one recipe that’s always the guaranteed crowd-pleaser – tacos. Now, our tacos are not the traditional food of the indigenous peoples of Mexico. They’re actually sort of a bastardization of tacos, fajitas, and salad, depending on who’s eating them at that particular moment.
Our tacos usually consist of a base (such these hearty spiced lentils), grilled bell peppers and onions, and a variety of additional chopped vegetables and sauces. The most common add-ins for us are chopped tomatoes and onions, cubed or sliced avocado with fresh lime juice and salt, salsa, and chopped romaine. Sometimes we use jarred salsa. Sometimes I make fresh pico de gallo, minus the chilis because I’m a wimp. Sometimes we have both! I’ve been known to add fresh shredded red cabbage to mine, which my husband is less enthusiastic about. He eats his as a taco salad – all tossed together in a bowl with crushed up hard taco shells. I prefer mine wrapped up in soft butter lettuce leaves or fresh, warm corn tortillas, which our local international market makes daily on-site!
Tacos are a great meal because you can just put everything out on the table and let each person build their own dish. No playing short-order cook – let them do it themselves!
FOR THE LENTIL TACO ‘MEAT’
– 1 cup uncooked lentils
– 1 vegan bouillon cube (optional)
– 1 small onion, minced
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1/2 tsp dried oregano
– 1.5 tsp ground cumin
– 1/2 tsp ground coriander
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 3 tbsp tomato paste
– chili powder, cayenne, chipotle powder, Sriracha, or hot sauce (optional if you like things spicy)
FOR THE REST
– 2 yellow bell peppers, sliced into strips
– 1 red bell pepper, sliced into strips
– 1 medium-to-large onion, sliced into thin half-rounds
– 1 head romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
– 2-3 roma tomatoes, diced
– 1 avocado, diced
– 1/2 small onion, diced
– salsa, vegan sour cream, and/or anything else you like
– hard taco shells, soft flour and/or corn tortillas, and/or more lettuce for taco salads
Rinse and pick through your lentils to remove any small stones or debris. Put the rinsed lentils in a small sauce pot with four cups of water and the bouillon cube, if using. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower hear and simmer for about 20 minutes, until lentils are quite soft. Drain and set aside.
When the lentils are close to done, preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the minced onion and garlic (you can use olive oil, canola oil, any variety of pan spray, or steam-fry them with vegetable broth) with a pinch of salt for about 3 minutes, until lightly browned. Add all the spices and toss them together for about 30 seconds to toast.
Lower the heat to medium and add the lentils in the pan, along with the tomato paste. Use a spatula or the back of the tablespoon to mash the lentils and mix in the tomato paste as they cook, until it holds together. Do this for about 5 minutes, adding splashes of water if it seems too dry (I actually prefer the texture a little drier, so I let them go for a while!), stirring frequently to keep them from sticking. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed – you may want more salt or heat.
This can be made ahead, allowed to cool, and stored in containers in the fridge for a few days, or in the freezer for a few months.
While the lentils are cooking (or afterwards in the same pan), saute the sliced onions until they start to soften. Add the pepper slices, and a bit of salt and pepper, and let them cook until soft and slightly caramelized.
Wash and chop your lettuce, tomatoes, and onions and place them each in small bowls for serving. Carefully open and dice your avocado and place in another bowl. You can toss it with a little lime juice and salt for extra flavor and to help keep it from browning, if you’d like. Feel free to skip anything you don’t like, and to add what you love – there’s no right or wrong way to eat these.
Serve everything family style, with each ingredient in a bowl for self-serve ease.
Storage & Freezing
Store leftover in separate containers for easy reheating. Lentil ‘meat’ can be frozen in an air-tight container for up to three month to speed up weeknight meals. Use it anywhere you might normally use ground meat!