Every day can be Taco Tuesday
As a settler in the southwest, I've become obsessed with the food & flavors. I grew up in California as a kid but I've been living on & off in Phoenix, Arizona for the past decade. Typically, Arizona is often seen in negative light (what with unethical immigration policies and other not-so-great political past-times) but Phoenix is a beacon of hope for this state. The city is growing and the food scene is very underrated my friends.
Being a red-blooded Italian woman, I mesh well in the southwestern/Mexican culture. When I started wearing many hats in the restaurant industry, I began using more and more native ingredients; even foraging for prickly pears & nopales in the desert. However, for this recipe, we won't be sweating in the usual 100+ degree weather to create the dish. Although, it does make the end product taste that much sweeter, or so I tell myself to feel better about my questionable decisions.
Final note before we dive into this recipe, we have many yerberias, carnicerias and other speciality stores in Arizona to find nopales, but if you’re located anywhere else, try calling your local speciality stores or even Wholefoods for some cactus.
Nopales & Mojo Tofu Tacos
Ingredients (Yield: 8-10 tacos):
Firm Organic Tofu (half a package or about 2 cups medium dice)
Nopales (1-2 paddles)
Corn tortillas (I used blue & yellow for variety)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño, minced
1 TBSP black cumin ( nigella sativa) or cumin
1 tsp chili powder or paprika
1 TBSP Mexican oregano or marjoram (dried)
1 large handful fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 limes, juiced
1 orange, juiced
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 cup avocado oil
***garnish: pickled shallots, queso fresco, seared limes & fresh cilantro
*** pickled shallots instead of raw or grilled onions because it does something, I promise
*** queso fresco instead of typical cotija because the texture is so much nicer
*** seared or fresh limes... both work but the seared limes gives a little extra depth and looks great on a plate IMHO
1. In a mortar and pestle (or if you're like me, you can use a muddler & bowl because I forgot I don't own a molcajete) mash garlic, jalapeño, cilantro, salt and pepper to make a paste. Put the paste in a glass bowl big enough to make your marinade. Add seasonings, lime juice, orange juice, vinegar and oil. Whisk it to combine and get rid of clumps.
2. Dry fry (starting searing it in a non stick pan or seasoned cast-iron until moisture has evaporated) or squeeze & pat dry the tofu before dicing. Choose whichever method you like best. I personally just dry with paper towel, pressing on tofu so the moisture comes out.
3. Marinate the tofu in the mojo for a minimum of 1 hour; best to throw it in before you head to work so when you're back, you're all set for dinner.
4. If you've never worked with nopales, don't fret, it's easy. Scrape off the little nubs that hold the spikes with a pairing knife or peeler. It is slimy once you cut into it but nothing off-putting. Season whole nopales paddles with salt & pepper and sear in a cast iron skillet, getting a nice char. Let them rest & slice into 1 inch long strips before serving.
5. Sauté marinated tofu until they turn golden brown. I put the tofu in the cast iron and toward the end of their cooking time I add the tortillas. You can heat the tortillas in the oven or directly over heat on the stove if you prefer. Totally your choice.
6. Now you're ready to ASSEMBLE! Layer tortillas if you use the smaller corn tortillas to avoid breakage. Place nopales and tofu in the middle and top it will diced pickled shallot, queso fresco, cilantro & a squeeze of lime.
Now you're eating good.
DISCLAIMER: My Mexican roommate told me these are mildly white-washed because, "Mexicans aren't familiar with tofu." Granted, she's Mexican & loves tofu but I mean, if you marinade it like carne asada, who will really know the difference, right?
I really hope you love this recipe as much as I do. It's truly quite simple as great tacos should be. The flavors are really bold but fresh which I love about this style of cuisine.