Baja Cauliflower Tacos
Kansas City is known for good barbecue, so of course, when I was in Kansas City I ate barbecue. Lots of it in fact.
I’ll be honest, when I went to my first bbq joint I was a bit nervous being that I was the only vegetarian in a group of omnivores – who were all very ready to dig into some burnt ends and short ribs. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised when almost every restaurant I went to had at least one vegetarian option! Some of them were good, some were OK, and I’ll be honest, one of the veggie ‘burgers’ I had was just plain awful, but all-in-all I enjoyed the vast majority of the bbq that I experienced in K.C.!
After sampling the meat-free fare of several restaurants, I started to see a common trend. Here in Minnesota, vegan and veggie dishes contain a variety of plant based options to round out a dish. In K.C., where the majority of the dishes are very meat centric, there was really just one veggie that was used: cauliflower.
Now I’ve known for awhile that cauliflower is a versatile plant. I’ve used it for rice, stir fries, crudites, biscuits, and smoothies. However, I’ve never been able to successfully turn it into a hearty ‘meaty’ element. I’ve seen (and had) amazing cauliflower steaks, but it wasn’t until Kansas City that I was inspired enough to try my hand again at turning cauliflower into the meaty, crispy, battered delicacy that it can be.
A few months back (OK, like 6 or 7) I did actually try to bread and deep fry cauliflower. It was a horrible failure. Like a failure of epic proportions to be honest. The flour sluffed off, the cauliflower didn’t cook through, everything was greasy and what did survive tasted like burnt oil and raw cauliflower. After that experience I was discouraged enough that I put my cauliflower experimentation on the back burner to work on other things. It wasn’t until I had the amazingness that was the baja cauliflower tacos at this one little bowling alley/pool hall/dive bar that I knew I needed to suck it up and try to make my cauliflower ‘meat’ again.
This time I had a plan though. Like a mad scientist, I had carefully tore my tacos apart and analyzed what it was that made them amazing. It looked like the breading wasn’t just a simple egg and panko dip like I’d been trying earlier. This works ok for a fast dip on fish and chicken because the meat already has a certain level of ‘moistness’ but it didn’t work on the cauliflower, instead the breading just fell off, the eggs alone weren’t enough to adhere it. What I needed was a good old fashioned breading station. I know it’s more work, but if you want perfect juicy cauliflower that’s evenly breaded, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, you need to do this. I found that by concentrating the spices and mixing them into the eggs not only do you save a step, but you also get ultimate flavor trade off.
I used regular old flour and bread crumbs for this, but if you are gluten free, they could both easily be traded out for GF variations. I do recommend sticking with eggs, they lighten the coating a bit, and work amazing at adhering everything. I haven’t tested any egg substitutes, but if I do, I’ll make sure to update this recipe with the vegan version as well!
I used almond milk for my milk in here. Since I avoid dairy in general, I really can’t say how cow milk would perform, but I can’t imagine it would make too much of a difference!
I’m going to be experimenting with new flavors for these in the future, but until I get those up let me know what you think of these Baja inspired nuggets of goodness, and tell me if you come up with any other flavor combos for me to try!
- 1/2 cup Cherry Tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cup Cilantro, chopped
- 1 Mango
- 1 Jicama
- 1 large Shallot
- 2 small Jalepenos
- 1 small Lime
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1/2 tsp White Pepper
- 1 tsp Cumin
- 1 cup Almond Milk
- 1 cup Panko Bread Crumbs
- 3 Eggs
- 1 cup All-Purpose Flour
- 2 tsp Chili Powder
- 1 1/2 tsp Oregano, Mexican if you can find it
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Cumin
- 1 tsp Smoked Paprika
- 1/2 tsp White Pepper
- 1/4 tsp Cayenne
- 8" flour or corn tortillas
- 1 small Head of Cauliflower
- 1 large Avocado, removed from skin and pitted
- 1/2 cup Cashews, soaked at least 8 hours
- 1/4 cup Cilantro, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup water, room temp
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1/4 tsp White Peper
- 1 small Lime
- 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
Uniformly dice the jicama and mango into 1/2" cubes. Slice the jalepenos into rings, halve the cherry tomatoes, and finely dice the shallot and cilantro.
Toss all ingredients together and set aside to meld.
Add all ingredients except the oil to a blender and pulse until well combined.
While the blender is running, slowly pour the oil in through the top until a smooth emulsion is made. The crema can be made a day or two in advance, but the color will get funky. It still tastes great thought!
Preheat oven to 375 F and coat a sheet pan with parchment.
Core the cauliflower and cut the florets apart into bite sized pieces. Keep the stems as well, they're just as good breaded!
Place the flour, milk, eggs and panko in four separate bowls. The shallower and wider the better.
Add the spices and salt to the eggs and whisk thoroughly to combine.
I've found it's easiest to do this by designating one hand as your 'wet' hand, and the other as your 'dry'. Only handle wet and dry ingredients with the respective hands, and you'll make much less mess!
Taking a handful of cauliflower pieces at a time (I did it in four batches) drop them into the milk. Toss them around, then shake them off a bit and drop into the flour.
Using you other hand, toss the cauliflower in the flour, then shake it off and drop into the eggs.
Use your 'wet' hand to fully coat it in the seasoned egg mixture, shake them off and then drop them into the panko.
Use the hand that you handled the flour with the thoroughly coat the cauliflower with bread crumbs, pressing to adhere. Remove the cauliflower from the panko and set on prepared sheet pan.
Place the cauliflower into the oven and bake for 15 - 20 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through.
Take the tortillas and either microwave a stack of four, wrapped in paper towels for 15 seconds, or toss over a flame (if you have a gas stove) flipping every few seconds, just until they start to develop brown pockets and are very warm, but not crispy.
Place a small handful of cauliflower florets into the taco, add a dollop of salsa, and finish with a drizzle of avocado crema. Enjoy!