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meatless monday: spiced veggie tostadas with lime crema & salsa fresca.

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Can we talk about the phrase ‘meat substitute’ for a minute? A strange topic for a holiday Monday, I know, but I’d like to discuss. And what I’d like to discuss is how much I don’t like this phrase or the concept it describes. Why, you ask? I’ll tell you.

First of all, I personally don’t think that a proper ‘substitute’ for meat exists. And that’s not to say that meat is better than any other protein option out there, or that you should only eat meat, but I don’t think you can sub in a vegetable protein with the same result. Meat — whether you’re talking about beef or pork or any variety of poultry — has a specific flavor and texture that I don’t think is easily replicated. Never in my life have I been ‘tricked’ by a meat substitute to think that it’s actually meat. ‘Oh my! Is this a vegetable patty or a juicy steak? I just can’t tell!’ No. That’s never happened.

Second, and here’s the real kicker for me — vegetables are AWESOME. Like, I really really love them. So why do we need to relegate them to second class status? Why do they need to be a substitute for anything? I think they’re pretty amazing all on their own, so let’s celebrate that by cooking them in the way they should be cooked (which is to say, simply, and with little fanfare) instead of wasting our time inventing things like tofurkey (blech). OK, off my soapbox.

This recipe does exactly that — it celebrates vegetables the way they should be, with flavors that are layered and rich and full of umami. It’s a veggie party on a corn tortilla platter.

No meat necessary.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Spiced Veggie Tostadas with Lime Crema & Salsa Fresca (adapted from Blue Apron)
Serves 2

You will need:

Tostadas
1 medium eggplant
1 sweet bell pepper or 4-5 small sweet peppers
2 ears sweet corn
1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
1 can refried beans (either pinto or black beans will do)
1 can diced jalapeños
4 corn tortillas
Mexican or cajun seasoning (or make your own with 1/2 teaspoon each of oregano, chile powder, cumin and garlic powder)
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cilantro leaves, for garnish

Lime Crema
1/4 cup sour cream (or Mexican crema if you can find it)
Juice of 1/4 lime
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Salsa Fresca
1 medium tomato
1 avocado
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1 lime
Handful of cilantro, roughly chopped

Kitchen equipment: baking sheet, large saute pan, various sizes of mixing bowls

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees for your tortillas.

Prep your vegetables: While the oven is coming up to temperature, prep your veggies. First wash and slice your eggplant into 1/4 inch slices, discarding the ends. Cut off the stem ends of your peppers and remove the seeds and ribs. Slice the peppers into thin strips. Shuck the corn, removing any stray silk, then cut the corn off the cob with a sharp knife. Pit the avocado and chop roughly; place it in a bowl with the juice of 1 lime wedge. Core and rough chop the tomato and add it to the avocado. Thinly slice one half of the onion and finely chop the other and place the chopped half in a small bowl with the juice of 1/2 lime. Set aside. Wash and pat dry the cilantro, then rough chop until you have about a handful.

Whew! Anyone need a break?

I know, lots of prep work, but it will all be worth it in the end, I promise.

Bake the tortillas: Next, take your tortillas and place them on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Drizzle a little more oil on each tortilla, then flip them back and forth until both sides are thoroughly coated in oil. Bake for 6-8 minutes, then flip and back another 2 minutes, until tortillas are golden brown and crispy. Remove from the oven and immediately season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Make the lime crema: mix the sour cream with the lime juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Make the salsa fresca: Add the onion-lime mixture to the tomato-avocado mixture and toss to incorporate. Add the chopped cilantro, a little drizzle of olive oil, and another shake of salt and pepper. Mix it up and set aside.

Make the beans: Mix together the refried beans and the jalapeños in a small, microwave-safe bowl, then microwave on high for two minutes. Stir and set aside.

Cook the veggies: Combine the eggplant slices with a drizzle of olive oil, the mexican/cajun seasoning and a grind of salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Heat two teaspoons olive oil in your saute pan over medium-high heat, then add the seasoned eggplant in a single layer. Allow the eggplant to brown without touching them much, flipping after about 4 minutes. Brown the other side for another 3ish minutes, then remove from the pan and place on a plate with a paper towel.

In the same pan you used to cook your eggplant (don’t wipe it out, that leftover spice will be great on your veggies), add a touch more oil, then add the peppers and corn. Saute until the veggies are slightly soft and charred, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add to the plate with the eggplant.

Bring it all together: The finish line is in sight, folks! Hang in there for the delicious.

Take your baked tortillas, placing two on each plate. Spread a thin layer of beans on each tortilla, then top with a few slices of eggplant. Add a spoonful or two of the pepper-corn mixture, then drizzle with a little lime crema. Finish with a large spoonful of salsa fresca and a few extra leaves of cilantro. Serve with extra beans and veggies on the side.

I highly recommend a Mexican beer as the perfect pairing to this meal; the crisp bubbles of the beer bring out the rich spices of the veggies. These babies are far from a ‘meat substitute’, they are first class delicious.

Carnivores and herbivores unite! This one’s a keeper.

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