Saturday, March 15, 2014

Vegetarian Baja Fish Tacos

Vegetarian version of Baja Fish Tacos
For a short while, when we lived in Downtown Brooklyn, there was a great little restaurant / art space called the Loading Dock. It was a combination of permanent indoor space and temporarily sheltered space on the actual loading dock of the apartment building next to us. The most unique feature of the venue was that the kitchen was actually just a mobile food cart. It was manned by a guy named Choncho, and Choncho made the BEST TACOS.

Being a newly residential neighborhood at that time, there were no other restaurants nearby, and only a few that delivered. The manager of that building, a now friendly acquaintance of ours, had a vested interest in the area and opened both the restaurant and the highly successful wine shop on the block. There was such excessive demand for Choncho's tacos that some days we would wait over an hour for our tacos. And waited we did, because they were DELICIOUS.

I have not had standout Baja fish tacos, in my limited space of New York, that compared to Choncho's. The Chilean Sea Bass was grilled or deep fried in batter, surrounded by purple cabbage, onions, and simple white sauce and lime on a fresh corn tortilla. I tried the asada, carnitas and chicken tacos too, but you just can't beat a Baja taco. The texture of the fried fish, with crunchy cabbage and cool, creamy sauce and acidic lime was just to die for.

The Loading Dock was only open for a short time, maybe a year or two, I can't remember. I am not alone in my pining for those delicious Baja Fish Tacos, years later. They probably exist out there, beyond the back yard, I just never knew where to look. And the other problem is that my husband, a vegetarian, could never appreciate a Baja taco. It's not like you can just substitute beans in there, although I think he did order his bean and cheese taco with cabbage sometimes. He was never as excited to wait an hour for tacos as I was.

This week, on my visit to the natural food store in my town, I found some vegetarian fried fish fillets by Sophie's Kitchen. So I decided I could finally introduce my vegetarian husband to Baja Fish Tacos!

Vegan fish fillets 
Interesting facts about Konjac root, a key element of these fillets
I have to admit, I did fry the healthy little fillets in oil, rendering them less healthy. But the bet part of the taco experience is crunch, so I wanted to make sure we had good crunch. As usual, my husband will ask "So is this what fish tastes like? Isn't fish more flakey?" No, these fillets didn't really taste like fish, but at least they were a little sea-ish tasting and different than the other faux meats. And yes, fish flakes, and is moist. These are the consistency of a processed chicken nugget and a little dry - definitely not bad, though! They did the trick for these tacos, surrounded by cabbage and delicious crema.
Crema Mexicana from a local distributor
I wanted to get my taco experiment as close to authentic as possible, so I bought Mexican Crema I chose the one with the first 3 ingredients: heavy cream, cream cheese and sour cream. Oh lovely, fatty deliciousness! Any recipe that tells you to substitute sour cream for Mexican crema will not be as yummy. The crema is absolutely key to the Baja taco.

I did find these tacos more filling than real fish tacos. Maybe because the Trader Joe's corn tortillas have some whole wheat in them, or the veggie "fish" is more dense. But, we just had to have 3 each, they were so good, but those last few bites were challenging to pack in!

Trader Joe's corn and whole grain tortillas
Baja Taco bar

Key toppings for Baja style tacos

Vegetarian Baja Fish Tacos

6 tacos (2-3 servings)

6  small corn tortillas
4 vegetarian fish fillets (approx. 2 oz each), cooked and cut into strips
3 C shredded purple cabbage
1 lime, cut into wedges
1/2 C onion, thinly sliced
1/2 C cilantro, chopped

Sauce:
1/2 C Mexican crema
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/8 tsp cayenne powder
1/8 tsp white pepper
1 tsp lime zest (zest of 1 lime)
1 T lime juice

Hot sauce, for serving

1. Mix together sauce ingredients and set aside.

2. Prepare all toppings and set aside, then cook the fish. Meanwhile, warm the tortillas through one at a time in a dry, hot skillet, and set aside. 

3. Top each tortilla with "fish", cabbage, cilantro, onion, sauce and a sqeeze of lime. Finish with your favorite hot sauce.

*For low carb (approx 40g-50g per serving) or gluten-free, use regular yellow corn tortillas with no wheat.




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