El Taco Tote Introduces New Tacos!

Juarez often conjures up fantastic nights of revelry for many of my peers. The legal drinking age in Mexico is 18, so many El Paso teens had (have?) fake IDs that got (get?) them into bars and clubs where drink-and-drown specials were the norm, meaning $5-10 got you bottomless drinks. Not me. My standout memories of Juarez go back to my childhood when we visited my dad’s cousin, but not necessarily for familial reasons. My name might as well be Lisa Simpson, because I had a massive overbite. Fortunately for us, my dad’s cousin was an orthodontist.

Worry not folks, there is a silver lining to the Saturday mornings in the dental chair and nights of headgear. Not only did I have less of an overbite to look forward to, but there was also El Taco Tote. Yup, there once was a time when The Tote solely existed in Juarez. Even though I ate meat back then, my fondest food memories were of their salsa bar, quesadillas, and papotas (translation: awesome baked potatoes). Fast forward to the 2000’s, a world where 20 El Taco Tote locations are scattered throughout Mexico, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. At one point, Denver was graced with a location. As much as I love Denver, I don’t know what’s wrong with those people. They also used to have Taco Cabanas! Those people don’t know when they’ve got a good thing.

The legendary salsa bar. Taco Cabana needs to step up their game & offer complimentary chips.

Well, the point of this post is not to reminisce about my geektastic childhood, nor to berate Denver’s bad taco decisions (they’re not all bad. Hooray for Chipotle!). The point is to announce once more that The Tote now has a vegetarian (possibly vegan. I didn’t ask as I was already being annoying by asking too many questions) taco option!!! Last month, they added two new tacos and there was a whole teaser campaign on social media as to what they were gonna be. I commented on Instagram about about how it should be a veg option, and then the time came to announce the newcomers, and by golly it was a veg option! So, then I got to thanking them and they invited me to try them. :D 
The new mushroom veggie taco is currently only available at El Paso locations (score!). At $2.99 a taco, you get a taco loaded with sliced  mushrooms and chopped onions and peppers sauteed in Maggi seasoning. Maggi liquid seasoning, also known as Jugo de Maggi is popular in Europe and also Mexico, where it’s usually used in Micheladas and soups. It tastes kinda like if soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce had a vegetarian baby. It gives everything a nice “meaty” umami flavor without any animal products. Anyways, I liked the taco and thought it was a good size for three bucks, although it had way too much onion and was a little on the salty side (probably due to the Maggi). Fortunately, the onion was well-cooked and didn’t dominate everything. If you’re vegetarian, be sure to order it on a corn tortilla, the flour ones are made with lard (refried beans also have lard).

I recommend ordering one or two tacos, one papota and trying every salsa on the complimentary chips and salsa bar! There’s even cucumbers and radishes! If you’re one of those salsa-squeamish people, by all means do yourself a favor and try the avocado salsa. It’s like liquid guacamole, but way better than I just made that sound. You’ll want to drink it and no one will judge you. People here bypass the little condiment cups to load up the paper boats. Other vegetarian options would be a cheese quesadilla on corn tortillas. They also have red cheese enchiladas, but the rice and beans that they come with contain chicken stock and lard.

For more info, visit tacotote.com or follow them on Instagram @tacotote.

Provecho!

I love each salsa equally. That’s a lie. I won’t even touch the pico (ew to raw onions) & guacamole is everyone’s favorite. The rest are loved equally.

My Instagram post.

Disclaimer: El Taco Tote asked me to come in to one of their locations to try three of the mushroom veggie tacos free of charge. They did not ask me to review or promote their new tacos. All opinions are my own.

El Paso True Food Buying Club

Update: Some good & bad news, but mostly good! True Food is growing, and has added an eastside location at Just Fit Foods. The library is no longer a pickup location (sad face); Belle Sucre is the new westside pickup.  The $10 and $20 bag options have been discontinued, but actually they have merged into one $30 box. Be sure to visit the website (www.elpasotruefood.com) to see all the changes and most importantly, to get your orders in!

ep true food 1

We have another CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) option in El Paso! Unfortunately, it is another west and downtown option, but at least Skarsgard Farms has added eastside pick-up at The Herb Garden, and a Sprouts is slated to open on Zaragoza in 2016.

Through blogging and Instagram, I’ve met sisters, Vanessa and Adriana. They are awesome people who are also library advocates, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence! ;) Vanessa has this amazing blog that should have won the Best of Best Blogger award every single year, but it hasn’t because it looks so fancy and professional, I don’t think anyone has figured out that she’s local! Go check it out, it’s called Tried & True: www.triedandtrueblog.com. Anyways, we were able to form a partnership, making the Dorris Van Doren Library a pick-up location.

True Food Buying Club is affordable and best of all, the produce is local and organically-grown. Visit their website, www.elpasotruefood.com for all of the details and to place an order. You pay online by Wednesday (midnight is the cutoff time to order) and then pick up your bag at either Belle Sucre Bakery (7500 N.Mesa), Dorris Van Doren Library (551 Redd Rd.), downtown at Mom’s Fresh Juice (518 W. San Antonio), or east at Just Fit Foods (12115 Montwood) on Saturdays from either 11 am-1 pm or 12-2 pm (check the site for exact times). Unlike Skarsgard, you don’t get to choose the contents, but the contents have varied enough to keep me ordering each week. I’m not a fan of chard, so that was the only thing I disliked getting, but I just tossed it in a smoothie and I was good to go! You can order a $10 bag of produce that comes from Sol y Tierra Farms over in Anthony or a $20 bag that comes with a bit more items and is from Preferred Produce (certified organic) in Deming. The $30 box has produce from these two farms along with Mountain View Co-op in Las Cruces. There is also now the option to add a loaf of bread from Belle Sucre Bakery, which will also change weekly! This week’s option is cranberry walnut loaf.

Here are some of the previous $10 brown bags:

Adriana has been reaching out to local chefs to showcase their talents in the form of a monthly recipe card. The Chef of the Month creates and shares a recipe using in-season and/or the bag’s items. Past chefs have included Chef Rulis of Rulis’ International Kitchen, Chef Lawrence of Tom’s and Dark Horse, and Chef Rudy of the Pan y Agua Group (Crave & TI:ME restaurants at Montecillo).

These were the sweetest, yummiest strawberries I’ve ever had! So tiny, too!

ep true food 2

Sometimes you get fresh herbs like mint, oregano, thyme, or sage!

ep true food belle sucre

Add a loaf of Belle Sucre bread for $4! I was lucky enough to be one of the first to order this basket and win this loaf :D

Semi-Stroganov

spinach pasta nests

There are a lot of classic dishes like beef stroganov that I’ve never tried because they sounded gross to me. So, why was I even looking for a similar recipe? Because, I had a bare fridge containing sour cream and mushrooms. Laziness and thriftiness have spawned a recipe that is now in my regular rotation! A quick, creamy pasta is the stuff I need to get through a rough work week, and this adaptation from the Whole Foods site does the trick every time. You can of course get creative and add other spices and veggies, but this is one of those dishes that I keep simple. I think this would work with vegan sour cream, but I’m not completely sure if the sauce would separate.

stroganov side

I am obsessed with these spinach nests I found at Sprouts. The brand is Delverde.

I am obsessed with these spinach nests I found at Sprouts. The brand is Delverde.

The original recipe is called Sour Cream Chicken and Mushroom Pasta and can be found here.

Here’s my take:

Semi-Stroganov

Makes 4 servings

1 tablespoon butter or oil
1½ cups sliced or chopped mushrooms
1 cup sour cream
1 cup no-beef broth, mushroom broth, or your favorite broth (I use half of an Edward & Sons Not-Beef bouillon cube diluted in 1 cup hot water)
Paprika (optional)
½ pound dried fettuccine or your favorite pasta

Melt butter or oil in a skillet. Add mushrooms and cook a few minutes or until softened. Stir in sour cream, broth, and paprika (I like to sprinkle a few shakes of smoked paprika). Cover and simmer on low until slightly thickened or when pasta is ready. Prepare pasta according to package instructions. Drain well, and toss with sauce. Garnish if you like with cheese or fresh herbs.

stroganov top

Review: Tutu’s Burgers & Hand Carwash

Best way to describe this housemade veggie burger? Delicious monstrosity. It’s a panko-crusted patty similar to falafel that’s slathered with tahini sauce and salsa, topped with lettuce and pickled cucumbers on a fresh-baked bun from Seham’s Bakery.

This review was originally published in the August 6, 2014 issue of What’s Up Weekly.

Tutu’s is the kind of place you’d expect to be featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives show. Located on Zaragoza, across from the bowling alley, this bustling little two-in-one spot is no greasy dive. Meat is ground fresh daily, condiments are made in-house, vegetables are pickled in-house and brioche buns come baked fresh from Seham’s Bakery.

An eclectic cast of 10 gourmet burgers are available, with their descriptions scrawled across the chalkboard wall. Baskets come with a ginormous half-pound burger or sliders in orders of one or two (which are rather large for sliders) and a bucket of regular or sweet potato chips. Their homemade chips are thickly sliced and fried. Regular potato chips are seasoned with parmesan and herbs, and sweet potato chips come sprinkled with nutmeg, drizzled in honey and topped with feta.

Customer favorites include the Chihuahua burger with cheddar, caramelized onions and roasted green chile. The Lebanon has quickly become a second favorite, where lamb is ground with pistachios, almonds, cashews and walnuts and topped with feta, yogurt, cucumber and mint. Tuscany is a lighter option of chicken ground with parmesan and then topped with pesto, pickled bell peppers and a house blend of melted mozzarella and sundried tomatoes. Vegetarians won’t miss out with a panko-crusted patty similar to falafel that’s slathered with tahini sauce and salsa, topped with lettuce and pickled cucumbers that offer a refreshing crispness.

At Tutu’s, you’ll be able to check a couple of items off your to-do list, including relaxing on their patio with an ice cold beer while you wait for your car to be washed. Best of all, Tutu’s runs the gamut of hours; grab breakfast during the mornings or a late night eat up until midnight during the weekends. Visit their facebook page to view new and off-the-menu items like hummus and salads.

1641 N. Zaragoza
915-313-5944
Monday-Wednesday 8 a.m. -10 p.m., Thursday-Sunday 8 a.m.-12 a.m.
Find them on Facebook & Instagram
Vegetarian friendly
$6-13

Click to add a blog post for Tutu's Burger on Zomato

Review: Pho Tre Bien Express

This review was originally published in the September 3, 2014 issue of What’s Up Weekly.

Pho Tre Bien basically pioneered Vietnamese cuisine in El Paso, so it was only a matter of time before the El Paso staple expanded. Instead of opening another full service location, owners decided to open a stripped down express version in the northeast near highway 54. The tiny, divey location embodies everything a pho joint should be – generous portions, good prices and fresh and flavorful comfort food.

It’s almost a requirement to order spring rolls here, which come in pairs wrapped in rice paper and stuffed with rice vermicelli noodles, vegetables and your choice of grilled beef, chicken, shrimp, pork or tofu and a side of creamy peanut dipping sauce. Other appetizers include fried eggrolls, lumpia rolls and fried chicken wings marinated in Asian spices. Another requirement is ordering a large steamy bowl of pho. Fragrant beef broth is served over rice noodles with the option to garnish with bean sprouts, cilantro, basil, fresh jalapenos and lime. Pho options include rare steak, brisket, meatballs, chicken, shrimp, veggies and tofu or a combination of meats. If you’re indecisive, brisket is the most popular pho here.

This is also one of the only places in El Paso where you’ll find banh mi, a traditional Vietnamese sandwich served on a crusty baguette that’s slathered with mayonnaise and pate and topped with julienned carrots, jicama, cucumber, jalapenos and cilantro. Sandwiches can be ordered with ham and headcheese, grilled beef, pork or sautéed lemongrass tofu. If you’re not craving soup or sandwiches, plenty of rice noodle and steamed rice dishes are available, including charbroiled meats and curry chicken.

No Vietnamese restaurant would be complete without boba tea, the milky tea served with tapioca pearls that comes in various fruit flavors. If you visit during lunchtime, you may want call in your order or take it to go; seating is limited and the kitchen gets backed up.

Additional Veg Snob Notes: Order the tofu sandwich, pictured above. The lemongrass tofu has a perfect texture; a bit on the salty side on my visit, but still oh so good. Ask for it without mayo to make it vegan. They have a vegetarian section on their menu that includes the lemongrass tofu on noodles or rice. They’ve since added a third location in the UTEP area called Pho Tre Bien Bistro at 3737 N. Mesa, but I have yet to try it.

Pho Tre Bien Express on Urbanspoon
www.phoelpaso.com
Monday-Saturday
10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
$4.50-12.95
Vegan friendly
Children’s menu available

Harvest Chowder

So far, El Paso has been treated to some unusually great spring weather. We are used to windy-dusty-allergy-infested springs, but instead it’s been warm, then cool with a bit of rain, and now it’s warming up again. In March, the El Paso Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (eatrightelpaso.org) held its first annual Delicious and Nutritious Recipe Contest. I thought it would be a fun challenge and the $5 entry covered a detailed nutrition analysis of your recipe with tips to make it healthier. Entering a soup recipe with harvest in the title was risky since it’s warm and springtime, but I was thinking more about the ease of transporting and keeping a dish warm if I was to be selected as one of the finalists. Also, soups are easy to make and a great way to sneak in a bunch of veggies.

Well, I was selected as a finalist and ended up winning 2nd place! I was really surprised that I won because a couple of other entries were desserts and I started doubting my entry. 1st place went to shrimp tacos that used a paper thin slice of jicama as the taco shell. I tried the taco shell with the salsas she made, and one was really good because it had vegenaise in it. FYI, Cafe Mayapan sometimes serves tacos with jicama shells and they can probably do a vegetarian version if you ask. 2nd place went to my soup which had sweet potatoes, navy beans, arugula, corn, chipotle. 3rd place went to a nopal salad that had feta cheese and fresh oregano in it. It was really refreshing and the nopales (cactus) had a good texture. I only got to try one of the desserts, which was raw fudge, and it was so good! She will soon be posting her recipes on her sister’s blog Tried and True, but in the meantime you can follow her on Instagram: triedandtruefood. I was waiting until they sent me the nutritional analysis before I posted the recipe, but they never sent it or posted it, so here it is!

harvest chowder aerial

Harvest Chowder

I must admit that this recipe draws inspiration from The Hoppy Monk’s veggie monk burger, except it doesn’t have black beans and isn’t nearly as delicious. I used navy beans instead, because they have a perfectly creamy texture that blend well.

Yields about 4-6 servings
Ingredients:
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 canned chipotle pepper, minced & 1-2 tablespoons of the adobo sauce (La Costena brand)*
1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups vegetable broth (I used 1 Rapunzel brand vegetable bouillon no salt added cube diluted in 2 cups boiling water)
1 cup frozen corn
2 cups cooked navy beans or 1 15-oz. can navy beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup or more arugula or your favorite greens or frozen spinach
1/2 tablespoon oil (I used canola)
*if you don’t like chipotle or want to reduce sodium, try using about 1 teaspoon of a mild chile powder or smoked paprika
Optional garnish:
1 poblano pepper
Lime juice from half a lime
handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
Preparation Instructions:
  • If using the garnish, roast the poblano on a grill or open flame on stovetop until charred on all sides. Set aside in a covered container to steam and cool.
  • Saute shallots for about 2-3 minutes or until softened. Add sweet potato, cumin, oregano, and chipotle (or paprika or chile powder), and stir and saute for a few more minutes.
  • Add broth, bring to a boil, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through and soft.
  • While the soup is cooking prepare the garnish. Peel and rinse the poblano, and dice. Toss poblano with lime juice and cilantro and season with salt and pepper if desired.
  • Add 1 cup of the navy beans to the soup and puree until desired thickness is reached (use an immersion hand blender or transfer soup to a blender).
  • After blending, add frozen corn, greens, and the rest of the beans. Simmer for about 4-6 more minutes, or until greens are wilted and corn is cooked through.
  • Season with salt and pepper if necessary.
  • Serve in bowls topped with garnish.
If you want a richer soup, you can also add a bit of milk or half & half, or top with sour cream and cheese. Other good garnish toppings would be pepitas and tortilla strips or crumbled tostadas.
harvest chowder side

La Semilla Edible Institute

This blog has been neglected for about 3 months, but I promise you I have good excuses. One excuse I am most excited to tell you about is that I submitted a grant proposal to implement seed libraries at all of our El Paso Public Library locations. During the process of writing the grant I came across a workshop offered during EPISD’s spring break. The Edible Education Spring Break Institute was a four day workshop organized by La Semilla Food Center. It was targeted towards teachers on how to incorporate gardening and cooking in the classroom, but they allowed me to register since we offer youth programs at the library. Plus, it totally aligned with the grant I was writing.

La Semilla is a nonprofit group in Anthony, New Mexico that is doing great things for our community, while growing delicious food. They are dedicated to fostering a healthy, self-reliant, fair, and sustainable food system in the Paso del Norte region of Southern New Mexico and El Paso, TX. They teach cooking and garden skills in classrooms, afterschool clubs, and have cooking nights for families. They are currently accepting applications for their really cool summer day camps for K-6. So, if you’ve got $45 and a bored kiddo, sign them up! Visit www.lasemillafoodcenter.org for more details. They operate on a 14 acre demonstration farm, which produces some delicious fruits and vegetables. You can buy their produce on Saturdays at the Downtown Artist & Farmers Market from 9 am-1 pm.

Gemstone Greens. Best & most beautiful salad mix I’ve ever had! They don’t even need dressing.

The institute took place at Bowie High School, which was the perfect setting since they have a student garden that is about a year old. Activities at Bowie Jardines are incorporated into the science, business, and culinary school programs. Throughout the institute, we visited the garden to learn about concepts and apply activities. If this institute is ever offered again and you’re an educator, you NEED to sign up. I know that our Texas school system lives and breathes STAAR testing, but I think it is possible to incorporate some of these activities and concepts into the classroom with little effort. I’m going to implement it into our library youth programs, as we have much more flexibility. Our challenge is that we sometimes lack an audience. Here’s a quick little recap of what we learned and did in photos: Day 1, March 9:

Composting area

For lunch on this day, we broke up into teams and made different massaged kale salads that were all yummy.

    Day 2, March 10:

For lunch on this day, we had a cooking demonstration from Eduardo Bouche, who teaches cooking classes at Creative Kids and at Proper Printshop. He made vegan ceviche where the seafood was replaced with boiled cauliflower. It was refreshing and delicious! You can attend his free vegan cooking classes on the 1st & 3rd Sundays of the month at 5 pm at Proper Printshop on 800 Montana. Visit epvegan.com for more info.

Day 3, March 11:   

For lunch on this day, we had a super flavorful dish taught by Jacqueline Cordova of The Green Ingredient. We used a spiralizer to make raw zucchini noodles that were tossed in a marinara sauce made from tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and other ingredients. Even though the dish was raw, the “noodles” had a nice toothsome texture that went great with the marinara sauce that could rival a slow-simmered sauce.

The day ended with a field trip to Academy West where Travis Duckworth is doing some really interesting and amazing things to teach and encourage sustainability in our region. El Paso Academy is a 9-12th grade charter school located in both east and west El Paso, but the west location has a huge community garden project going on in their own 1.25-acre backyard. A maze of trenches, composting, an amphitheater, chicken coop, and more all being built by students and the community. Anyone can volunteer to help out during their garden work days that occur every month. To learn more, read this article that appeared in the El Paso Times.

academy west

Academy West

Day 4, March 12:   So, on this day I happened to have an interview for a promotion scheduled following the workshop. I was a ball of nerves the whole morning, but this was my favorite day. We got to plant our own herb gardens and keep them, which totally relaxed me. I even hauled my herb garden with me to the interview at the Main Library. We also learned about traditional foods of the southwest, like nopal, chia, and amaranth. For lunch, Chef Norbert Portillo of Tabla demonstrated how to make a salad. As a food blogger and fan of Chef Norbert’s work, you know this was super exciting for me. I learned some new techniques and then ate a salad made with greens that had been harvested from their farm that morning. Talk about fresh!

Chef Norbert Portillo of Tabla

Chef Norbert Portillo of Tabla