Vegetarian Tacos Al Pastor
Mexican cuisine is surprisingly diverse, with a variety which reflects not only regional favorites, but also the influence of the immigrants who have settled in the country other than the Spanish European immigrants, including Russians, Swedes, Italians, and Turks have all made their contribution to the culture and cuisine of Mexico. However, one especially happy meeting of old and new world cuisines followed the arrival of a large number of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants in the early 20th century: tacos al pastor.
A sandwich so popular that there are taquerias in Mexico and many US cities which make only this dish, al pastor is a Mexican adaptation of the shawarma sandwich (a close relative of the Greek gyro and Turkish doner kebab). In Mexico, pork took the place of lamb, corn tortillas the place of pita and salsa took over from tahini – but the result is something very special indeed.
Traditionally, al pastor is grilled vertically on a spit, just as gyros and doner are. This vegetarian version of this popular Mexican recipe uses seitan in place of pork, but keeps the pineapple, citrus, and hot peppers of the traditional recipe. If you have never had al pastor, you are really in for a treat! This recipe freezes well, so feel free to double or triple the recipe, and save the rest for later.
Plan to make this dish well ahead, because the seitan benefits from overnight marinating, or at least all day marinating. Seitan is great at soaking up flavors, and it offers a simple, neutral taste which works will all kinds of marinades. We have chosen it here over tofu because the texture of seitan is more ‘meaty’ and it works better with a taco dish.
The exciting ingredients used in this dish include everything from citrus and pineapple to herbs, smoky spices, and quite a lot of chili, although as the cook it is your choice whether to follow our recipe to the letter or deviate from it a little and reduce the amount of chili.
[b]Summary:[/b] Like this recipe, many Mexican dishes can be traced back to Europe, Africa, and other areas where settlers came from, and this seitan taco al pastor is exotic and delicious.
- 6 guajillo peppers and 6 pasilla peppers (sold dried at Mexican groceries Chile de Arbol is also good)
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 cup vinegar – white vinegar is traditional, though red (but not balsamic) will do in a pinch
- 4 whole cloves (or a little less than ¼ tsp ground cloves)
- A pinch of Mexican oregano (regular can be substituted)
- Salt, to taste
- 2 lbs seitan, drained and sliced very thin
- ½ pineapple, cut into chunks (about ½ cup)
- Juice from 1 orange (or a splash of orange juice)
- Juice of 2 limes (fresh only, it’s better to omit this than to use the bottled stuff)
- One white onion, halved and sliced very thin
- 12 corn tortillas
- Fresh cilantro and onions for topping, minced
- This recipe must be made ahead of time, since the seitan needs to marinate at least 6 hours, preferably overnight. Start by removing the stems from the peppers (if you would like your pastor a little milder, you can shake out the seeds as well) and simmering them in vinegar, covered until they soften; about 8-10 minutes.
- Pour the vinegar and peppers into a food processor and add all of the other ingredients for the marinade and puree. Taste and add salt as needed (the marinade will be spicy, so be brave or ask a more heat-tolerant friend to taste for you if you’re not up to the task).
- Return your marinade to a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring regularly to prevent burning and splattering.
- Once it reaches a boil, remove from heat, and set it aside to cool. While your marinade is cooling, slice your seitan and onions as thin as possible.
- If you have one, a mandolin is a great tool for this. This is also a good time to juice your citrus and cut pineapple.
- Place the sliced seitan to a bowl with a tight fitting lid and add your marinade. Close and shake vigorously to cover, and then add the onion, pineapple and orange and lime juices. Give it another shake to coat and refrigerate.
- The rest is easy.
- Heat a skillet on medium-high heat and add just a little bit of oil or cooking spray to prevent sticking. Add seitan to the skillet, just enough to form one layer. Cook for 1-2 minutes per side to give the seitan a little bit of a sear on each side, then repeat until all of the seitan is done.
- Serve immediately with warm corn tortillas, chopped onions, cilantro, and the salsa of your choice.
- This is one of those recipes which takes a lot of preparation, but once you have tasted it you will agree that it was more than worth the effort.
- You may want to make extra; this will disappear fast!
Tacos el pastor are traditionally made with meat carved from a spit, in the Lebanese style, but this recipe features seitan rather than meat, for a vegetarian take on this south of the border treat. Initially introduced by immigrants, and then taken to Mexican hearts and modified for the local palate, this is a full-flavored dish which is not shy with the spices. The photo shows a small boy munching on this tasty taco, but if you are cooking for someone that young you might like to take the chili amount down a notch!
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