- By Addie Broyles American-Statesman Staff
The authors of “The Taco Cleanse” are in New York. They are prepping for interviews on big morning shows and have just signed a copy of their new book for Jennifer Aniston. Noncelebrities who want a book will have to wait, because the first print run sold out.
Not bad for a parody that started with a seemingly silly idea over drinks.
In 2013, a handful of Austinites were sitting around drinking margaritas one day and decided to eat tacos for a month.
“Someone mentioned that they had only eaten tacos that day. Jessica (Morris, co-owner of Rabbit Food Grocery) said, ‘We should eat nothing but tacos for three days,’ and I said, ‘Dude, let’s eat tacos for a month and see what happens,’” says Stephanie Bogdanich, one of the book’s four authors and the blogger behind Lazy Smurf’s Guide to Life (lazysmurf.wordpress.com). “If we’re going to do it, we’re going to go full fuego.”
Bogdanich, Morris and fellow “taco scientists” Wes Allison and Molly R. Frisinger of the Lone Star Plate (lonestarplate.com) blogged and tweeted about their “taco cleanse” — eating not only just tacos, but vegan tacos — with full knowledge of the tongue-and-cheek nature of their challenge.
“Cleanses are such a fad, and they are so popular right now,” Morris says. “In January, everyone is on some kind of cleanse.”
But these food lovers didn’t love the idea that you had to deprive yourself in order to improve your health or feel better about yourself.
“In Austin, you have your taco/patio culture and you have your cleanse/juice culture — and it’s fun to combine them,” Allison says. “After two weeks of juices, this taco cleanse would sound like a pretty good idea.”
After completing the monthlong taco challenge, the friends complied recipes into a ’zine for friends and readers who’d been following along. That booklet eventually caught the eye of a publisher called the Experiment. They added more recipes, including some contributed recipes from fellow Austinites, including Kristen Davenport of Capital City Bakery, and published the book in early December.
By the time they started a book tour earlier this month, they were out of copies. (If you can’t wait for the second printing for a physical book, you can buy the e-book online.)
Introducing people to veganism through a Trojan horse like tacos is proving to be a pretty brilliant idea. The book is already on its second printing, and the “taco cleanse” concept has been covered in dozens of national and international media outlets.
Although the book includes quite a few recipes with tempeh, seitan, wheat gluten and other ingredients that omnivores would consider meat substitutes, Morris says that she recommends nonvegan readers to start with recipes with ingredients and foods they are already eating, such as guacamole and beans.
Allison’s experience working at a raw cafe, as well as the flood of cleanse books that have been published every January for the past decade, gave them copious source material to riff off.
Nearly every one of the recipes has an overtly positive title: Elevated Nacho Cheese, Redemption Beans, Therapeutic Tempeh Picadillo, Enlightened Soy Curls Al Pastor, High-Vibration Kale Chips.
“The cool thing about it being a parody is that people feel like they are in on the joke,” Allison says. This explains the logic behind the Smoked Brisket and Jalapeño Mac and Cheese Tacos, which are made with neither brisket nor cheese, but rather homemade seitan and a sauce made with nutritional yeast.
One of the joys of the book is the consistently jovial and good-natured tone. Taco jokes pop up everywhere, and the authors included cute little gems, like the certificate of completion signed by the authors and a taco-themed crossword puzzle in the back of the book.
They have essays about taco yoga (with poses such as the twisting breakfast taco and the inverted taco), how to raise kids on a taco-based diet, taco journaling (“The Taco Cleanse isn’t about perfection; it’s about expressing your innermost dreams.”) and planting a taco garden (“After eating tacos with what you grew yourself, you’ll never be the same.”).
When you read between the lines, you can find the real message, one that’s delivered with the soft touch of humor: “We get annoyed by everybody thinking that veganism is only a health diet,” Bogdanich says. “That you can have no meat, no gluten, no soy, no oil, no eggs.”
“No fun,” Morris chimes in.
“That’s not what it is about for us at all,” Bogdanich says.
Many people hear about the idea of a taco cleanse and get excited about it without realizing that it’s a vehicle to encourage you to eat fewer animal products. “People in the comments will say, “Didn’t you see the catch?’ and their friend will say, ‘Let’s try it anyway,’” Morris says.
Although they take not eating animal products seriously, they aren’t above using shortcuts sometimes, including the increasingly tasty vegan products in stores.
“If you don’t want to go and make fishless filets from scratch, you could make the Gardein fish filets because they are really good,” Bogdanich says. “A lot of the vegan stuff that people ate when they first tried vegan food was really gross.”
Allison gets even more specific: “People are still imagining Tofurky from the 1990s, but vegan foods have come a long way in just the last few years.”
With the instant success of “The Taco Cleanse,” what’s the next project? “There’s talk of ‘Taco Cleanse: The Musical’ with all the dancing tater tots,” Bogdanich says, which sounds like a joke but might not be, considering how much their peculiar sense of humor resonates in and out of the vegan community.
Enlightened Soy Curls Al Pastor
You are going to love this plant-based version of authentic al pastor tacos made with Soy Curls, a brand of soy-based protein strips. Serve on homemade corn tortillas topped with minced onions, cilantro and lime juice.
2 1/2 cups Soy Curls
3 cups water
1 packet vegetable broth powder‚ such as Goya Ham Flavored Concentrate
2 ancho chilies
1 guajillo chili
1 Tbsp. epazote
For the marinade:
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup lime juice
2 chipotles in adobo‚ plus 2 tsp. of the adobo sauce
1/2 cup diced pineapple, divided
1 tsp. sugar or agave nectar
1 tsp. achiote paste
1 tsp. oregano (preferably Mexican)
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
For the tacos:
2 Tbsp. cooking oil
1 small white onion‚ chopped
4 garlic cloves‚ chopped
6 corn tortillas
For garnish: Minced white onion, minced cilantro, lime juice
Simmer the Soy Curls, water, broth powder, chilies and epazote for 10 minutes in a medium saucepan. With a spoon, pick the dried peppers out and set aside, leaving the Soy Curls and broth in the pan to cool.
When cool enough to handle, remove the stems and seeds from the chilies. In a blender, combine the chilies with all of the marinade ingredients, including 1/4 cup of the pineapple. Add the blended marinade to the saucepan with the Soy Curls. Refrigerate 1 hour.
Heat up a cast-iron skillet and add the oil. Sauté the onion and garlic for a couple of minutes and then add the Soy Curls with the marinade and the remaining pineapple. Sauté until the Soy Curls start to brown, about 15 minutes. Serve on the corn tortillas with the minced onion, cilantro, and lime juice to taste. Makes six tacos.
— From “The Taco Cleanse: The Tortilla-Based Diet Proven to Change Your Life” by Wes Allison, Stephanie Bogdanich, Molly R. Frisinger and Jessica Morris (The Experiment, $17.95)
Kale and Caramelized Onion Enchiladas
During my enchilada kick for last week’s column, I made an almost-vegan contribution to the taco cleanse party with these kale and caramelized onion enchiladas. I used a canned green sauce, which was a little thin for my liking, but the tacos were quick for a weeknight meal. Don’t forget to dry off the fried tortillas with a paper towel. Skip the feta for the true cleanse experience. I was only making one serving, but if you are making more, place the enchiladas in an oven-safe dish and heat briefly under a broiler before garnishing with cilantro and avocado and serving.
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 small white onion, sliced into thin strips
4 kale leaves, stems removed, leaves chopped
1 1/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 cup green chili sauce
2 corn tortillas
Chopped cilantro and sliced avocado, for garnish
In a saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the onions until they start to soften, or until they are fully caramelized, whatever you have time for. Add kale and saute for another 5 minutes.
Heat the vegetable oil in a small saute pan and place the green sauce in a small plate. Using tongs, cook one tortilla at a time for about 20 seconds on each side. Dry off excess oil with a paper towel, and coat the tortilla in sauce. Place on a plate and either fill or top with the sauteed vegetables. Spoon on more sauce, garnish with cilantro and avocado and serve. Serves 1.
— Addie Broyles