Friday, September 21, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Texas III - Tex-Mex the meatless way (or "Yes, Texas, you've got a case of Vegans")

Back when I looked at New Mexico (and to some extent Arizona), I noted that not all Southwestern food was alike.  Instead, there are two distinct varieties, New Mexican and Tex-Mex.  Apparently, much of the Southwest sides with the "New Mexican" version of Southwestern cuisine.  But when much of the East Coast thinks about Southwestern food, it thinks about the variety from Texas.

Official Name: State of Texas
State Nickname: The Lone Star State, The Republic of Texas
Admission to the US: December 29, 1845 (#28)
Capital: Austin (4th largest)
Other Important Cities: Houston (largest), San Antonio (2nd largest), Dallas (3rd largest), El Paso (6th largest),
Region: South, Southwest; West South Central (US Census)
RAFT NationsCornbread & BBQChile PepperGumboBison
Bordered by: Oklahoma (north), Arkansas (northeast), Louisiana (east), Gulf of Mexico (southeast), Tamaulipas, Nuevo León & Coahuila (Mexico) and the Río Grande (south), Chihuahua (Mexico) (southwest), New Mexico (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: cast iron dutch oven (cooking implement - not edible, of course, but used for cooking), chili (dish), chiltepín (native pepper), Guadalupe bass (fish), jalapeño (pepper), longhorn (large mammal), pan de campo (bread), pecan (tree and health nut), prickly pear cactus (plant - for the pads and the fruit), sopaipilla and strudel (pastries), sweet onion (vegetable), Texas purple sage (native shrub), Texas red grapefruit (fruit). tortilla chips and salsa (snack)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: Where to begin?  Texas-style barbecue (specifically beef and beef brisket), Texas chili, chicken fried steak, Mexican (specifically Northern Mexican) foods, Tex-Mex foods (including migas, chile con carne and sopaipilla)

So what is the difference?  Houston Chronicle blogger Patrise Shuttlesworth [2012] lays it out for us.  For starters, she notes that it isn't so much the ingredients - though the fabled New Mexico chile is a key component - as it is the cooking techniques that define New Mexican cuisine: roasted chiles and veggies, little frying, little meat and no cumin.  Tex-Mex, on the other hand, is noted for bigger portions, cheeses, cream gravies, combo plates and, yes, cumin:
Tex Mex tends to be comprised of a specific group of ingredients with a small allowance for regional variance. The ingredients you can count on are: large amounts of sour cream; copious amounts of cheese and meat; Jalapeños; Cumin/Comino; even olives; very large portions; very heavy dishes laden with chili con carne
As the unfortunate saying goes - "Everything is bigger in Texas!" That doesn't just refer to our hair. Our portion sizes, our plate sizes, our allotment of table tortilla chips and sadly, our people are bigger. Mexican food came from a culture of "only eat what's available because you grew or raised it." They did not know the Big Tex Taco plate or the Cowboy Bistek. We would be better off if we had never met them either. [Shuttlesworth 2012]
Sound familiar?  Yep, pretty much any Southwestern food we find on the East Coast sounds like this.  Delicious, but it makes you big.

Mind you, vegan cooking is not necessarily low fat cooking (try a good vegan mac & cheese, for example).  But it is meat and animal product free.  This is practically the opposite of Tex-Mex, and of Texan cooking in general.  But head to Austin and you can easily find vegan foods at the world's oldest and (to may eyes at least) Whole Foods.  I stopped in here twice on my visit to Austin earlier this year, and was blown away by the sheer size of the store and its offerings.  I guess everything is bigger in Texas.

Hopefully you can see how I'm tying Texas and veganism together.  But Tex-Mex?  Try out Austin Whole Foods' breakfast bar and you will find a healthy selection of vegan and vegetarian as well as meaty offerings.  One of my favorite ones was a vegan version of the popular Texan dish migas - a simple Southwestern dish composed of eggs scrambled with scraps of corn tortillas.  Migas is a counterpart to the Ashkenazi Jewish matzah brei (replace tortillas with matzah) or the hearty Midwestern hoppel poppel (replace tortillas with potatoes and salami).  But to veganize it you have to cut out the scrambled eggs. You could go the Whole Foods route and use egg substitute, or use what more innovative vegan chefs prefer: tofu, extra firm in this case.  This recipe from the Dallas Vegan blog [2009] is the one I used.

The Recipe: Vegan Migas

For this simple vegan version of migas you will only need the following:

* extra firm tofu (Dallas Vegan suggests Mori-Nu brand tofu.  I got the only "extra firm tofu" I could find at H-Mart for about $3)
* turmeric (this gives the tofu that scrambled egg-like color.  I had it on hand)
* corn tortillas (These were in the refrigerator case in H-Mart for about $2.50.  Please use corn and not flour tortillas, though I guess this would work with flour ones)
* olive oil (had it)
* cumin (had it too)
* garlic (had this too)
* salt and pepper (yup)

Start by cutting your tortillas into squares.

Toast the tortillas squares in a skillet with some olive oil.  When slightly crispy, remove and set aside.

Take your tofu and turmeric and add them to the olive oil. Mush up the tofu with a spoon.

Add your other spices - cumin, garlic, salt and pepper.

Stir for a few minutes until it is warm and looks like scrambled eggs.

Add your tortilla squares and cook for a few minutes more.

I don't typically eat vegan.  Plus, I have eggs.  But this is a good and I daresay hearty way to use up some tofu (again, extra firm.  Don't use the soft stuff).  I also have to admit that, while it didn't exactly taste like eggs, I didn't really notice that it didn't.  Add a few sprigs of cilantro on the side and maybe some tomatoes and you have a mighty fine breakfast dish.

Sources:  "Simple Vegan Migas…Brownsville Style"., posted January 19, 2009.  Copyright 2010  All rights reserved.

Dr. Dan (blogger).  "Spicy 3 Chilies Texas Chili a la Crock Pot".  101 Cooking for Two, posted February 25, 2012.

Fain, Lisa.  "My Oven-Baked Brisket".  Homesick Texan, posted December 16, 2008.  Copyright Homesick Texan.  All rights reserved. 

Goldwyn, Craig "Meathead".  "Barbecue Beef Brisket Texas Style".  Amazing Ribs updated March 2, 2012.  Copyright Amazing Ribs.  All rights reserved.

Guía de Tacos (  "Enchiladas norteñas".  Date unknown.

Johnson Miller, Ruthie.  "Banh mi, oh my! The top five Vietnamese sandwich shops in Houston".  Culture Map Houston, posted February 26, 2011.  Copyright 2009-2012 Culture Map, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Nguyen, Andrea.  "Daikon and Carrot Pickle Recipe (Do Chua)".  Viet World Kitchen, posted May 17, 2009.  Copyright 2002-2012 Andrea Nguyen.  All rights reserved.

Nguyen, Andrea.  "Master Banh Mi Sandwich Recipe".  Viet World Kitchen, posted June 17, 2009.  Copyright 2002-2012 Andrea Nguyen.  All rights reserved.

Shuttlesworth, Patrise.  "Tex-Mex vs. New Mex: Not Just About Jalapeños or Green Chiles".  On the Road, a Houston Press Blog, posted March 26, 2012.  Copyright Houston Press.  All rights reserved.

Sliter Satterwhite, Shannon. "Make a Batch of Texas Chili".  Southern Living Magazine, October 2005.

von der Mehden, Fred R. "Vietnamese".  Handbook of Texas Online.  Date unknown.  Published by the Texas State Historical Association.  Copyright 2012 Texas State Historical Association, published by the Texas State Historical Association, and distributed in partnership with the University of North Texas Sponsors.  All rights reserved.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Texas" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Texas".