To dine out, or not to dine out, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of Covid-19 and indoor dining, or to take arms against a sea of the unvaccinated and host a meal for your favorite friends at home.
It is always my preference to host friends in my home and share a home cooked meal with pleasant drink drenched in raucous laughter. Sometimes the happy compromise is to meet friends at a local eatery that has a menu that can accommodate all palates.
Under the new normal, I will hesitate to meet a friend and sit indoors surrounded by who knows who, and who knows what and if they share with me their viral cooties. I decided it is for me to up my culinary game and invest time and research towards a very respectable vegetarian meal.
Recently I prepared a three-course lunch plus dessert for a dyed in the wool vegetarian friend that included Vietnamese Spring Rolls and Peanut Sauce (sans shrimp), Spinach and Cheese Quiche and these roasted veggie tacos with a bounty of complex but complimentary flavors. Recipe in three parts most of which may be prepared the day before, warmed through and quickly assembled.
2 unpeeled carrots, sliced in half long ways
1 red onion, quartered and exterior cover removed
1 large whole portobello mushroom, center stem removed
1 red bell pepper, seeded and exterior skin torched, halved and seeded
California olive oil*
1 tea. fresh cracked black pepper
PRO TIP: Add 1 - 2 jalapenos sliced longways to the roasting vegetable mix.
Balsamic Jalapeno Syrup
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 jalapeno pepper with seeds, cut long ways
1 Tbl. honey
Mint Cilantro Yogurt Sauce
8 oz. whole milk plain yogurt
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup grated Mexican Cotija cheese
9 corn tortillas
OPTIONAL: Diced fresh avocado
Place whole bell pepper directly on stove flame to create some charred burn marks for flavor.
On a foil lined baking pan, place halved carrots, quartered onion, halved bell pepper and whole portobello mushroom cap in a single layer without overlap so that oven heat can surround each vegetable. Drizzle lightly with good quality olive oil and fresh cracked black pepper. Roast in a 375-degree oven for 30-40 minutes turning vegetables over halfway through to roast on all sides. Dice all vegetables into 1/2-inch pieces and set aside.
In a shallow sauce pan simmer balsamic vinegar with 1/2 fresh jalapeno pepper sliced long ways with seeds until reduced by half. Remove jalapeno pepper, add honey and simmer for another 5 minutes. Pour over diced vegetables enough to cost all sides but not pool at the bottom of the bowl. Stir well.
NOTE: If you think you may save a step and add the Balsamic-Jalapeno syrup with the vegetables and roast at the same time...STOP! You will only produce a tray of burned but only half cooked vegetables. The sugars in the syrup mixture will caramelize too quickly and your effort will find itself in the trash bin.
Pour yogurt, fresh cilantro and mint leaves into a blender jar and fully process to a smooth sauce. Set aside in a squeeze bottle if you have one, or a small bowl.
Heat corn tortillas and keep warm inside folded kitchen towel. I prefer to toast my tortillas on a stove flame until it starts to char for some great smoky flavor and crispy edges. Place two tablespoons of hot marinated roasted vegetables on each toasted corn tortilla, sprinkle with a teaspoon of grated Mexican Cotija cheese and a drizzle of mint cilantro yogurt sauce. For my friends who love spicy food I always have available on the side my Israeli green harissa. <click hyperlink for recipe>
*I stipulate California olive oil as 99% of California olive oil is pure. A recent study found that only 50% of olive oils sold in grocery stores are 100% olive oil. Many others are "cut" with other oils.