A Post-Modern Cinco de Mayo Menu

Beet, arugula and crunchy tofu tacos, lentil chili with chocolate and a tall glass of cold horchata.

Cinco de Mayo is coming and we are going to go full-on with an off-the-meter, crowd-pleasing menu that’s surely a combination your friends have never had before. A taco and chili redux and a drink made with.....rice. Eat your salad with your hands, put chocolate in your chili and drink your rice. What?

Let’s start with tacos.

If greens are the new black then tacos are the new cupcakes. You remember. That seminal “Sex and the City” episode with Magnolia Bakery was an auspicious moment in cupcake history. Spawning ultra-expensive designer cupcake stores culminating in New York City's Babycakes – which in itself is a vortex of food trends (Cupcakes! Vegan! Gluten-free! Indie film stars!) I remember the lines snaking around the block at 10… p.m. ... on Fridays. Who knew cupcakes would ever be a legitimate stop on a weekend night crawl? I'll admit — I was a participant, too. A lemming paying $3 for a sugar high. And I look back with the same swell of pride I get when I remember my hair in the '80s. Food trends can be absurd. Many come and go. But the truly tasty will survive.

Now, next in the trend line are tacos. Taco shacks are all over the place now. If urban planners use bars as indicators of the “cool potential” of neighborhood blocks, pretty soon, taco joints will be a barometer for oncoming hipster onslaughts. Japanese tacos. Adobo tacos. Spaghetti tacos. Beer battered avocado tacos. Jackfruit tacos. I could go on.

What’s more, the proliferation of taco iterations has been buoyed by the concurrent upswell of food trucks (which I wholeheartedly support!) In fact, Pittsburgh already has one roving taco truck with another one coming in September. And if Kevin Sousa’s tweets are to be my local food oracle, then there may actually be a food truck court beyond the CMU and Pitt radius. It will take a MOVEMENT to circumvent our fair city’s arcane food truck laws. I’m in. (Get with it, city ordinance.)

I’m anteing up my contribution before "taco" becomes a four letter word. This was another one of those necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention concoctions that turned out so amazing that it graduated from leftover parfait status to a place on the Cinco de Mayo menu: A vegan taco that's just as good as a quick weekday lunch to an amazing handheld salad in a celebratory buffet. (Ooooh. Note to self: “handheld salad”: next food trend?)

This concoction was born from a beet salad recipe from my Turkmen friend Jennet, which I usually eat with Plov (a recipe featured on Oprah.com). Therefore, I call it Turkmen Tacos. I have to keep up with all this fusion.

Now what is up with putting chocolate in your chili? It's not new if you’ve had mole poblano, a very popular sauce in Mexico. Here we use it in chili to add depth to the flavors. Trust me, you will be surprised. It's guaranteed that anyone who tries it will try to figure out “what’s in it” that makes it so deliciously unique. But it'll be our secret.

You can finish your meal with some Horchata — a cinnamon-scented, sweet rice drink that's popular in Latin America. It's so light and refreshing you’ll wish you could have it everyday in the summer.

 Beet Tacos with Arugula and Crunchy Tofu

Serves 1 – can definitely be multiplied

1 medium cooked beet, small dice

1 clove garlic, pressed

1 tsp. mayonnaise or vegenaise

pinch of salt
pinch of pepper

Handful of arugula

1 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp olive oil

pinch of salt
pinch of pepper

4 oz. tofu cut into batons (smoked tofu would be great)

Olive oil – just enough to coat the bottom of pan
sliced green onions

2 soft taco shells or small tortillas, warmed

1. Prepare the beets – mix all ingredients together

2. Prepare the arugula – mix dressing ingredients, emulsify. Then toss with arugula.

3. Prepare the tofu – fry the tofu in the oil*

4. Compose – lay the the tortilla on a plate, place half the arugula, then the beets, tofu and green onions. Fold. Repeat with the other shell.

5. Yum

*Quick trick to make your pan “nonstick” – sprinkle some salt over the oil before you put in the tofu.



The recipe for Lentil Chili with Chocolate can be found here.

And David Lebovitz’ recipe for Horchata can be found here.

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