Wait, omnivores, don’t leave! I know tofu gets a bad rap because, if seasoned improperly, it can taste like soft cardboard, but hear me out on this one. Jonji, who’s one of the biggest fans of consuming meat-based protein and who has consistently been underwhelmed by tofu, spreads the good word about this dish far and wide. For once I’m not the only one defending a vegetarian dish—hallelujah! So please, give this one a read and, better yet, try it out yourself.
My mom was mostly vegetarian until I was about 15. A parade of her best hits come easily to mind: tabouli tacos, speckled with herbs and feta. Calzones, little doughy crescents that were simply not as good as pizza (no offense to yours, mom, but in general I think we can all agree pizza is superior). Minestrone soup, swimming with kidney beans, tomato, and greens, eaten with cornbread slathered in butter and dripping with honey. Tofu tacos, a bunch of tortilla hugs around flavorful, moist cubes of tofu, beans, guacamole, onions. But once Mom reintegrated meat into our daily lives, most of those meals faded into memory. Until a few years ago when my aunt Paddy made the tofu for a gathering and, completely forgetting, I texted her afterwards to ask her where she got the recipe. “From your mom!” she wrote back. Since that palm-to-forehead moment, these tacos have been a part of our monthly meal rotation. And if we ever have vegetarian friends coming over, Jonji immediately lights up and exclaims that I simply must make them tofu tacos for dinner.
A note on nutritional yeast: most health food stores should carry it (and many do so in bulk, which is ideal). This recipe makes extra seasoning mix, so the next few times you make this recipe it will be an even quicker meal.
for the seasoning (makes 1 cup):
1 cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried dill
for the tofu:
3 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
28oz extra-firm tofu*
1/4 cup seasoning mix (see above)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 large red onion
2 tbsp butter
*If you’d like the tofu to feel closer to ground meat, use silken tofu and either crumble it or mash it up in the pan when sautéing with the garlic.
Drain the tofu and press hard between a folded kitchen towel (or paper towels) to get some of the water out. Slice into 1/2 inch cubes.
Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a large (ideally 12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, sauté the sliced garlic and tofu cubes until golden, about 10-15 minutes. Stir in the 1/4 cup seasoning to coat, then pour in the 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup soy sauce. Stir occasionally until most of the liquid is absorbed (it will cook off a little more as the tofu cools).
While the tofu cooks, peel the red onion and slice in half, then into thin half moons. Heat 2 tbsp butter and a glug of olive oil in a medium-large pan over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onion slices. Stir in 1/2 tsp fine sea salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and quite brown, about 15 minutes or longer. Turn the heat to medium-low if the onions are burning at all during the process.
Heat your corn tortillas one or two at a time in a lightly oiled skillet.
Serve these tacos with sliced or mashed avocado, caramelized onions, sour cream, black beans, chopped cilantro, and the hot sauce of your choice. Enjoy!