I’ve come to rely heavily on cauliflower when I’m sharing vegan food with family and friends. It seems to be a universal crowd pleaser: nutritious, a gluten-free option for the dinner centerpiece, and everyone is pleasantly surprised at how versatile the vegetable is, whether it’s whole roasted, cut into “steaks,” folded into a zesty pasta dish, or whipped into a smoky appetizer dip. These crispy cauliflower chimichurri tacos are my latest favorite use for the many-sided crucifer, and I can’t wait to share them with friends as the weather gets warmer.
When I made these tacos over the weekend I had just been thinking about ways to streamline my cooking as final exams heat up. I prepared the cauliflower and chimichurri sauce a day in advance, which meant that on Sunday, when it was time to make the tacos themselves, nearly all of the heavy lifting was done. At that point, I just toasted my tortillas and threw together the lentil/cabbage slaw.
The tacos have it all: a combination of textures, smoky, spicy, and slightly sweet flavors, plus a hint of garlic and herbs from the chimichurri. This chimichurri sauce is thicker than other versions I’ve tried at home, which were probably more authentic and traditional, but I really love how almonds give it substance. The sauce itself doesn’t have to be used on tacos: you can also use it in a vegan bowl, as an accompaniment to grilled tofu or seitan, or with veggie kebabs in the summer (yum).
Crispy Cauliflower Chimichurri Tacos
For the crispy cauliflower:
- 1 medium or large head cauliflower tough stem removed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 1 tablespoon neutral vegetable oil such as grapeseed or avocado
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- Coarse salt
For the almond chimichurri:
- 1/2 cup roasted almonds salted or unsalted is fine, but if you use salted you may wish to reduce the salt in the sauce slightly*
- 2 cloves garlic roughly chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or to taste
- 1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro
- 1 cup tightly packed fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2-4 tablespoons water
For the tacos & slaw:
- 3 cups shredded purple or green cabbage or a mix
- 1 cup cooked lentils or black beans
- 3/4 cup packed fresh chopped cilantro
- 2-3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
- Drizzle agave or maple syrup optional
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 8 6- inch flour or corn tortillas use 100% corn for a gluten-free option
- Preheat your oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with parchment or foil. Toss the cauliflower with the oil, cumin, chili, smoked paprika, and crushed red pepper flakes to taste. Spread the cauliflower on the baking sheet and sprinkle generously with coarse salt. Roast for 30-40 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until the cauliflower is getting crispy and browning at the edges.
- While the cauliflower roasts, place the almonds in a food processor fitted with the S blade. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper. Process until the almonds have been broken down into a coarse meal. Add the cilantro, parsley, lemon, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and 2 tablespoons water. Process until the mixture is bright green and evenly mixed; it should resemble a pesto. You may wish to add 1-2 extra tablespoons water, one at a time, to thin the sauce if it's very thick.
- In a mixing bowl, toss together the cabbage, lentils or beans, cilantro, extra virgin olive oil, lime juice, and agave or maple syrup (if using). Season to taste with salt, pepper, and an additional drizzle of lime juice or oil, if needed.
- To prepare the tacos, you you can toast your tortillas over an open gas burner set to very low flame for about 1 minute per side—this will give you a slightly browned, crispy texture. You can also reduce the oven heat to 300F after you roast the cauliflower, wrap all of the tortillas in foil, and allow them to warm up for 10 minutes before you assemble the tacos. To assemble, fill all of the tacos with about 1/2 cup (each) slaw and cauliflower, then drizzle with the chimichurri sauce.
In place of the lentils in the slaw, you can use black beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, or even black eyed peas. Either red or green cabbage works, and if you don’t have either of those, you can also use finely chopped romaine lettuce leaves. Folding some chopped avocado into the slaw—or piling some slices into the tacos—wouldn’t hurt, either!
This is a fun vegan Cinco de Mayo dish, if you plan to cook up something celebratory, but it’s also a great dish for summer gatherings or warm weather suppers at home. Regular readers know that I really love tacos/tostadas for breakfast; I usually make a super simple version with vegan refried beans and rice, plus a handful of veggies and avocado or whatever sauce I have lying around. The leftovers of this dish are definitely more colorful and festive than my usual, and I’ve been enjoying them so much for breakfast in the last few days.
See you over the weekend, with the usual roundup of recipes and reads.