I still remember the first time I ever had a flour taco (i.e. puffy taco) from Tasty Tacos, a Des Moines institution. I was a preteen visiting one of my aunts and cousin. My cousin was older, and he’d just gone to pick up his dinner. I looked inside his paper fast food bag and inside there were tacos unlike any I’d seen before. They had fluffy, puffy shells that were entirely different from the hard corn shells or floppy tortillas I was used to seeing.
Noticing my increasing interest, he asked if I’d like to have one of them, and I quickly agreed. The warm, soft bread, fried and packed with taco fillings was an instant hit. It was love at first bite.
Now like I said, I was a preteen at that time. I didn’t have any access to a car, and furthermore, I didn’t even know the name of the restaurant where he’d purchased them. We didn’t see that cousin often, and so I began a blind search to find them again. I went to Taco John’s, Taco Bell, Taco Time… Nada. My parents hadn’t tried the tacos, and they were no help in getting me any closer to taco glory. If only Google had existed back then. I kept explaining the tacos to anyone who would listen… “See, it’s made of thick, fried bread…” But it was no use.
It literally took years until I found them – at a location just a few blocks from my high school. Inside, there were simple booths, and you paid at the counter. On all of their styrofoam cups were the words, “Nada es imposible.” During last year’s MoFo I wrote about their nachos, but this time I’m sharing a vegan version of the food for which Tasty Tacos is known – the puffy taco.
By the time I was a high school upperclassman, I was visiting Tasty Tacos multiple times a week to get my fix. My senior year, I was the food columnist for our school newspaper. My column was called Always Use a Condiment, and Tasty Tacos earned a four star rating. I’d become friendly with the owner, and he cut out my review and taped it to their window. I loved seeing it hanging every time that I visited. On my last day of high school, he treated me to lunch – two puffy tacos.
After I moved away from Des Moines, Tasty Tacos was a must visit on every return trip. If I was in the area for a week, I’d always go at least twice on a visit – once for the nachos and once for the puffy tacos.
I am so excited to share this recipe with you today. When I stopped eating meat (9 years ago this month!), Tasty Tacos was one of the things I felt most concerned about giving up. (They fry their shells in lard and have lard in the beans. So even a bean taco isn’t an option.) I wouldn’t say these shells are quite as puffy as those from Tasty Tacos, but they’re pretty darned close.
You start by making a simple dough, forming it into balls, and then pressing them in a tortilla press between two sheets of parchment paper. (I like to press them a couple of times, moving them slightly between presses, for a larger taco.) If you don’t have access to a tortilla press, just use a rolling pin and make them between 4 and 6 inches.
Then put a couple tablespoons of taco filling inside. I used a combination of Upton’s Naturals chorizo seitan and black beans. I tried it first with beans alone, but the seitan gives a wonderful chewiness and bite. If you’d prefer to do a bean-only version, just omit the seitan in the recipe and add another ½ cup of beans and a pinch of salt, keeping everything else the same.
The shells are then folded and lightly pinched closed, like an empanada, and fried. After both sides are brown, remove the shells to a towel to let them drain and cool.
Once a few minutes have passed, open the pinched area of the tacos and fill them.
Now obviously a meal of fried bread is an indulgence, but I highly recommend giving into the joy of it and doing it all with these – the seitan and beans, the non-dairy cheese, plenty of crunchy green leaf lettuce, and tomatoes. All of the components come together to recreate the experience so beautifully. Eating them made me feel all warm and squishy inside.
A vegan Tasty Taco? Aaah… Like the cup says – nada es imposible.