I’ve been seeing recipes for raw tacos around the Web for years, but I never felt at all compelled to try them. I mean, tacos are perfect the way they are, right? It’s not like you have to do anything special to make a delicious vegan taco.
I’ve also historically been highly suspicious of any recipe that tries to replace a carbohydrate with a lettuce leaf. This is such classic “I’m on a diet” behavior, which has absolutely no place in my kitchen. People who try to convince you a lettuce leaf is an ideal substitute for a corn taco shell (“you won’t even miss it!!!”) are the same kind of people who try to convince you that raw, spiralized zucchini is “guilt-free pasta!!!,” and that if you close your eyes and hold your breath while balancing on your head and counting down from 1000, mashed chickpeas combined with stevia and mini chocolate chips tastes “exactly like cookie dough!!!” No, dude. Just no. Seriously, crawl back into that weight loss infomercial you leapt out of.
But oh, how wrong I was (– about raw tacos, that is)! I celebrated my birthday in June with dinner at G-Zen, a fancy-schmancy vegan restaurant just down the road in Branford, Connecticut. I’m a compulsive planner, and I scanned the Yelp reviews in advance just to make sure I wouldn’t overlook any standout menu items. Sure enough, the most raved-about dish was a plate of raw tacos.
I was seriously skeptical about dropping serious cash on a plate of food that might seriously suck, but I decided to take the risk and put myself in G-Zen’s capable hands. Chef Mark Shadle has culinary powers that are straight-up transformative. G-Zen’s broccoli bisque, for example, definitely sounds like something worth skipping, but it might actually be my favorite food of all time (more on that in an upcoming post!).
Long story short: I got the tacos. I ate them. I almost died of ecstasy.
Then I went home and concocted a recipe of my own so I could make them myself and avoid ending up in the poorhouse due to my new-found addiction to raw tacos.
Seriously, you should try these. They’re other-worldly. Ground up with sun-dried tomatoes and spices, walnuts make a surprisingly delicious stand-in for taco meat, and fresh, crunchy veggies are topped off with a hearty dollop of cool and creamy cilantro cashew sour cream and salty cashew parmesan. Unsurprisingly, these are extremely rich and filling, so although the tacos I enjoyed and G-Zen were filled to the brim with cashew cream, I recommend piling these high with veggies and going a little lighter than you think you should on the walnut meat. Alternatively, if you don’t care about these being raw, you can cut the walnuts with some cooked brown lentils. You’ll find a good starting point for doing that here. They also make an awesome appetizer!
- SOUR CREAM
- ½ c raw cashews, soaked in water for 2+ hours, then rinsed and drained
- ⅓ c cold water
- ⅓ c fresh cilantro
- ½ Tbsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp apple cider vinegar, optional
- pinch salt
- CASHEW PARMESAN
- ½ c raw cashews
- 2.5 Tbsp nutritional yeast
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- WALNUT FILLING
- 1 c walnuts
- ½ c sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed), soaked 2 hours and drained
- 1 tsp cumin
- ½ tsp chili powder
- 1 garlic clove
- ¼ tsp salt
- 4 good-sized romaine leaves, rinsed well
- 1 large tomato, diced
- 1 small cucumber, diced
- 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
- juice of 1 lime
- additional toppings (corn, avocado, cilantro, sprouts, salsa, hot sauce, a squeeze of lime, etc.) as desired
- If possible, prepare your sour cream a day in advance. Place cashews, water, cilantro, lemon juice, vinegar (if using), and salt in a high-speed blender and blend until completely smooth.
- Transfer to an air-tight container and refrigerate at least a couple of hours. It will thicken substantially.
- Next, prepare your cashew parmesan. This can also be done in advance if you'd like, but doesn't have to be. Place cashews, nutritional yeast, salt, and garlic in a food processor, and pulse until crumbly. Ideally, it'll be similar in texture to traditional parmesan; just be careful not to over-process it, because you'll end up with cashew butter instead!
- Finally, prepare walnut filling. In a food processor, pulse together walnuts, tomatoes, cumin, chili powder, garlic, and salt until mixture is crumbly. Again, be careful not to over-process this, because you don't want mush or walnut butter!
- To assemble, divide walnut filling equally between romaine leaves.
- Pile high with veggies of your choice, and squeeze some lime juice over everything.
- Top generously with cashew sour cream and cashew parmesan.
- Serve immediately!