It’s a bold claim, I know. They hold the title for two main reasons – and I will share those reasons, but first I need to get something off my chest.
I may eat seafood these days, but after nearly twenty years of a vegetarian diet, I feel like I’ve earned some veggie credibility. I recently ate at one of my favorite Greek spots in the city. The decor alone is a reason to visit, and things only get better when you add in the drool-worthy tzatziki and hearty chickpea salad. However, their veggie pita just doesn’t show enough respect to vegetarians. They take a warm seasoned pita, spread on that dreamy tzatziki . . . and then they fill the thing with canned black olives and diced onions and tomatoes.
There has been a shift in the way our society appreciates food – we are open to new ideas and ingredients – and I just don’t think a restaurant can get by with a lame vegetarian “alternative” like it could ten years ago. But I find this energizing. When I brainstorm recipes, it’s exciting to consider all of the ways I can use vegetables, grains, and tofu to replace the taste of meat (nobody does this better than Amanda Cohen).
Which brings me back to these tacos. They are superior because of the way the eggplant transforms to a meat-like texture, absorbing the spices and providing a perfect balance to the crunchiness of the corn and slaw. Just an ounce of creativity can push a veggie taco beyond the dreaded iceberg lettuce/diced tomato/shredded cheese trap. The other reason these guys take the title is, despite looking really fancy, the entire recipe cost me $11. In addition to some basic spices at home, I bought $11 worth of groceries and will be eating tacos through Thursday.
1 medium eggplant
1 corn on the cob
1 package of tortillas (I used these)
4-5 cups of shredded cabbage (they sell pre-shredded cabbage at TJ’s)
Olive oil, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika
Optional spices: cayenne pepper, hot sauce
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Shuck the ear of corn and, using a baking tray, drizzle it with olive oil and top with salt and, if you want it spicy, cayenne pepper. Roll it and make sure it is evenly covered with oil and spices.
Bake at 400 for 35 minutes, rotating a couple of times throughout. For blackened corn with a bit of a stronger smoky flavor, let it get very well done by leaving it in longer. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, use a vegetable peeler or a knife to take the skin off of your eggplant. Slice it lengthwise, then turn both halves down and, one at a time, slice each half into small cubes or strips (I cut it like a checkerboard, making long slices at first and cutting back across them horizontally). Place the eggplant pieces into a mixing bowl and add in two tablespoons of olive oil. Stir thoroughly then generously shake out cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper. Stir until distributed.
Place a large pot or saute pan over medium heat and pour in the eggplant. Saute for about 12-15 minutes, or until the eggplant has darkened and is beginning to burn a bit on the bottom. Remove from heat.
Using a food processor or blender, place the meat of the avocado in with juice from one of the limes and blend until it reaches a creamy yogurt-like consistency. If needed, add less than a tablespoon of water and keep blending. Set aside.
Place the shredded cabbage in a bowl and squeeze the juice from the remaining lime in along with a tablespoon of olive oil. Massage the flavors into the cabbage and add salt and pepper to taste.
Lastly, cut the corn from the cob into a bowl.
To assemble your tacos, take a tortilla (you can wrap a few in foil and bake them for 10 minutes in the oven to warm them up) and top with eggplant, corn, slaw, avocado cream, and a bit of feta cheese. If you like spicy foods, top with a few drops of Sriracha or hot sauce. Enjoy!