This is my vegan take on the Tasty Taco recipe in Des Moines, Iowa. Get ready for some serious indulgence with these fried puffy tacos filled with seitan chorizo and black beans.
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. 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. 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.”
Last year I shared a recipe inspired by Tasty Tacos for fried vegan 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. 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.
Vegan Tasty Taco recipe
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 veganized Tasty Taco recipe with you today.
When I stopped eating meat back in 2005, Tasty Tacos was one of the things I felt most concerned about giving up. (They fry their shells in lard and have lard and cheese 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.
How to make vegan fried puffy tacos
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.
In a skillet, make your taco filling mixture by sauteing onions and garlic. Then add seitan, beans, and spices.
Put a couple tablespoons of taco filling inside of the flattened dough.
Then fold the shells and lightly pinch them closed, like an empanada.
Fry in a skillet with oil, stopping once to flip.
After both sides are brown, move 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.
Do it up right with the toppings
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.
Fried Puffy Tacos – Seitan Chorizo & Black Bean
- 1 teaspoon organic canola oil
- ½ cup yellow onion chopped small to medium
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 8 ounces chorizo seitan I used Upton's Naturals.
- 1 cup black beans drained & rinsed
- ½ teaspoon ancho chili powder
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ¼ teaspoon paprika
- 2 Tablespoons water
- Toppings: Chopped tomatoes, green leaf lettuce, non-dairy cheese I used shredded Follow Your Heart cheddar. Daiya cheddar would also work.
For the flour shells
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder with a fork until evenly mixed. In a small separate bowl, combine 1/2 teaspoon canola oil and 1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon of water.
- Pour the water mixture into the mixing bowl, and combine with a fork until a dough begins to form. Then use your hands to fully combine the dough. The dough should be dry with no additional leftover flour at the bottom. If needed, add one to two more tablespoons of water to form the dough. Remember, you don't want it to be wet and soggy, and so splash lightly.
- Break the dough apart and roll into four even-sized balls and set aside while you make the taco filling.
For the taco filling
- In a large skillet, bring oil to a medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic a few minutes, until soft, translucent, and fragrant.
- Add seitan to the pan and sauté for a couple minutes more.
- Add the beans to the skillet along with the ancho chili powder, cumin, paprika, and water. Fully combine until the spices are spread evenly throughout.
Putting it all together
- In a large, deep frying pan, fill the pan with at least a half inch of oil or more. It needs to be deep enough to immerse at least half of the taco. Bring the oil to a medium-high heat.
- While the oil is heating, between two sheets of parchment paper, press each dough ball one at a time in a tortilla press. (I like to press each tortilla twice - picking the tortilla up and moving it slightly between presses.) If you don't have a tortilla press, roll each tortilla with a rolling pin until it's 4 to 6 inches in diameter.
- Put 2 tablespoons of taco filling in the center of each tortilla and fold it closed, as if you were making the letter D (like the shape of an empanada). Lightly pinch the edges of the taco to seal it. Once all four taco shells are filled, move onto the next step.
- Test the oil to see if it's hot enough. Pinch off a little piece of dough from one of the tacos and put it into the oil. If bubbles immediately form around it, the oil is ready.
- Put all four tacos into the oil and fry until toasty brown, flipping once when necessary.
- Once both sides are brown, remove from the oil and onto a towel-lined plate to drain. Allow the tacos to cool for a couple of minutes.
- Carefully open the closed off section of the tacos and fill with toppings. Serve immediately.