Wednesday, February 04, 2009

February 1, 2009: Tempeh tacos and black beans

The last week of January was not one for cooking. With a string of record-breakingly hot days and only myself to feed, I nipped into the kitchen only long enough to fetch crackers and cheese, fruit, or my umpteenth refill of iced water. By the weekend I was ready for cooking and company so I offered a vaguely Mexican-themed Sunday night meal to Mike, Jo, Marty and Alana. They responded enthusiastically with beer (some with chilli!) and in Jo's case, white wine sangria.

On Saturday morning I picked out some recipes and hit the markets. Beer-marinated tempeh, coleslaw, black beans, lime-yoghurt sauce and smokin' hot chipotle-onion sauce; all taken from Veganomicon. I was able to prepare almost everything in advance, just frying the tempeh, reheating the beans and chopping up the fresh stuff while my guests crunched on corn chips.

So, let's take it from the top with my latest love, tempeh. Unfortunately, this incarnation was merely meh. Though my tempeh had marinated for hours in a potent mix of beer, lime juice, soy sauce and spices, the freshly fried strips tasted of tempeh, nothing more. They still made a pleasant and mild taco filling, but I suspect I could achieve the same effect by just stir-frying the strips in a little peanut oil.

Its accompaniments fared better. The coleslaw seemed an odd choice and I was a little apprehensive that the other eaters might avoid it. (Let's face it, vegetables don't get much less cool than cabbage.) Yet it won the first favourable remark! To be fair, this recipe is no mayonnaise mush - the shredded cabbage and carrot are dressed more elegantly in apple cider vinegar, a couple of minced pickled jalapenos, and some salt and pepper.

The evening's cooling condiment was the lime crema. All it takes is plain yoghurt (soy for the vegan version), a handful of coriander, the juice of a lime, a dash of salt, and a hearty whizz in the food processor. Only the most committed coriander-hater could turn up their nose at this one.

These black beans were the first dish to be completely gobbled up; their flavour belies their simplicity. To make them, you bring two drained cans of black beans, 3 cups of water, a halved onion and 2 bay leaves to boil. Let 'em simmer for 40 minutes, fish out the onion and bay leaves and you're done! Actually I found that my beans didn't want to break down at all, so I gave them an encouraging little mash to get the thicker consistency you see above.

Isa and Terry must be made of sterner stuff than I; there is no way I could handle this quantity of smokin' chipotle-onion sauce on such a modest serve of black beans. Even so, it's a gem of a recipe (I've included it below) - smoky, savoury and super-spicy - and we all gleefully spooned it onto our tortillas, some with heavier hands than others.

Even with a little hiccup or two and a couple of tweaks on my part, it's those Veganomiconers who deserve mad props for another stellar line-up of savoury dishes. Methinks it's time to start trialling those cookies and desserts tucked away at the back of this book.

Chipotle-onion sauce

1 large onion, diced finely
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 chipotle chillis in adobo, minced
2 tablespoons adobo sauce (from the chipotles)

Put the onion, garlic and olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook them, stirring occasionally to prevent the onion from sticking, until the onion is very soft, about 10 minutes. Add the chipotles and adobo sauce, stir through thoroughly, and cook for just 30 seconds more. Allow the sauce to cool, then whizz it briefly in a food processor to obtain a chunky sauce.


  1. Now this I wish I was around for. Can't you spend the whole time I'm away eating bananas and canned mock duck?

  2. Just reading the ingredients of that sauce makes me break out in a sweat and reach for more iced water - I got chilli on my hand tonight and rubbed my face and got a red burning patch so am feeling a little anti-chilli - but the meal overall looks good - and I bet you were relieved to have some proper food after the heat!

  3. just wondering where you buy the canned black beans cindy? i've never had much luck finding them... except at an american food shop out near Box Hill....


  4. I've never had much luck with tempeh, either, though I added it to a ratatouille once and it wasn't TOO bad..

    also.. I hope you'll indulge me in some blatant self-promotion - I'm running a competition on my blog (, where you could win a print of one of my photographs. Check it out and enter!


  5. Shame about the tempeh! One of the guys I work with (not-vego) tried tempeh over Christmas, but didn't marinate it or anything, just threw it straight on the barbie. He didn't really enjoy that, and I've promised to bring him in some tempeh that's actually been marinated.

  6. Please tell me you have found cheap canned black beans, if so where exactly?

  7. Johanna, I was very cautious with the chipotle sauce! I actually used gloves while mincing the chipotles. :-D

    Christine, black beans are tough ones to locate, aren't they? I bought these cans from one of the organic produce stalls at the Queen Victoria Markets. I've also previously found them at Casa Iberica, Piedemontes and Clay.

    Me too, Theresa! I should make it more often.

    Thanks, Liz! I just cast my vote. :-)

    Steph, I'm not surprised that your colleague wasn't impressed! Tempeh needs just the right treatment to be really great, I think. (As does tofu, for many people.)

    Kristy, I can't remember how much they cost - from memory Clay is crazy-expensive and Casa Iberica is probably the cheapest, though their opening hours are limited.

  8. Enjoyed this post after searching for veg taco recipes.

    I definitely advise you to try these easy, delicious vegetable tacos -- so good you don't miss the meat (or meat substitute) one bit!

  9. Hi Jaxieb, and thanks for the recommendation. :-)

  10. I love Mexican food. Carrie is a good cook. I like tacos. Margaritas are pretty good too if they are strong. Why is it so dark in here? Hmm.