In the years since my move to France, I’ve often missed the contact with Mexican culture that you get living in the United States. While attending university, in both Wisconsin and California, I supported myself working as a restaurant server, and in our downtime would often chat with the cooks. No matter what type of restaurant it was, in the Midwest and on the West Coast alike, the kitchen staff was invariably 95% Mexican, and I ended up learning not only lots of things about these immigrants’ lives and experiences but also a good deal of Spanish too (pretty easy, since I already knew French).
I recently happened upon a Netflix show that brought up lots of nostalgia for me: Gentefied, which tells the story of urban displacement, or gentrification, and the ways it affects the lives of a fictional Mexican-American family living in Los Angeles.
The comedy-drama, which debuted in 2020 and is supposed to have a second season at some point, follows the adventures of Casimiro Morales, who runs a taqueria, and three of his grandchildren: Erik, who helps out at the shop, budding artist Ana, and Chris, who works in the kitchen of a swanky restaurant and dreams of earning a culinary degree in Paris.
When gentrification begins to push the rents in the neighborhood upward, Casimiro realizes that the future of his taco shop may be in jeopardy. Chris tries to help with ideas to attract more customers, one of them being to begin offering exotic new tacos of the day. As you may have guessed, his first one is an Indian-Mexican fusion creation, a chicken tikka masala taco. He makes one for his skeptical grandpa to try, but while Casimiro ends up loving it, the unconventional taco doesn’t appeal to his regular customers.
It sure appealed to me though, and it wasn’t long before I assembled my own version of a tikka masala taco, using vegan “chicken” (once with aiguillettes from Les Nouveaux Fermiers and another time with émincés from Herta) and a tikka masala curry paste I found at Mon Epicerie Paris here in the City of Light. But you can use any kind of vegan chicken, or even tofu, tempeh or seitan, etc. and substitute another red curry paste if you don’t happen to find a tikka masala one.
Vegan “chicken” tikka masala tacos
Makes around 6 large tacos or 12 smaller ones, depending on tortilla size
- 17 oz (500 g) tomato purée or stewed tomatoes
- 6.5 oz (180 g) tikka masala curry paste or other red curry paste
- 10.5 oz (300 g) vegan “chicken” or other vegan protein (tofu, seitan etc.)
- 6 large or 12 smaller Mexican-style wheat or corn tortillas
- 1 large red onion
- 1 small head lettuce
- 2 avocados
- a few limes
- fresh cilantro
- optional: hot sauce, plain vegan sour cream or yogurt
Start by prepping the taco garnishes, dicing the onion, chopping the lettuce and cutting up the avocados (or make a guacamole out of them) and the limes. Set them all out in small bowls so you can put your tacos together quickly once the tikka masala “chicken” is ready.
I used a little more than half this can of stewed tomatoes, and the whole jar of curry paste, but you can experiment with larger or smaller amounts of curry paste depending on how spicy your paste is and how spicy you want to make your sauce.
Break up the whole tomatoes, if using whole stewed tomatoes, and stir in the curry paste until it’s fully incorporated.
These are the vegan “chicken” products I used, for different batches. They’re quite similar to each other, but the Nouveaux Fermiers one is probably nicer (and more expensive). To make the amount specified in this recipe, you’ll need two packages of whichever one you opt for.
Place the “chicken” in a frying pan with a little vegetable or olive oil (shown here is the Nouveaux Fermiers “chicken”). Since the product is already cooked, you basically just need to heat it up and maybe get it a little bit browned.
Now add some of the tikka masala sauce and heat it together with the “chicken” until the sauce has the thickness you like. You might have some sauce left over. Shown here is a portion of just 5 oz (150 g) of the “chicken”, so not all the sauce has been added.
If you’d like to have a creamy tikka masala sauce, mix in a bit of unsweetened soy cream or yogurt at the very end, after you turn off the heat. I didn’t do that here, but will try it another time.
Open the tortilla package at the last moment to prevent them from drying out (shown is the tortilla size I am referring to as “large”). If you want to heat the tortillas before making your tacos, try to do it in a steamer and then immediately transfer them to a plastic or ceramic airtight tortilla keeper like the ones they use at Mexican restaurants. I don’t recommend heating them in the oven or on the stovetop, since they’ll become dry and rigid and will no longer fold properly. You’ll find some more tortilla reheating tips here.
Place a serving of the tikka masala “chicken” along the center of a tortilla and then add your garnishes. Squeeze some lime juice over top and finish with some cilantro leaves. The lime and cilantro make a big difference to the overall flavor of the taco, so don’t leave them out!
If you like, you can also add some vegan crema (sour cream or plain soy yogurt with a bit of tamari mixed in).
I garnished this taco with some spicy green olives too. You may want to drizzle some Tabasco or other hot sauce over the top as well.
And for those of you in Paris, I have some good news! Vegan Mexican chefs @veganomexa have been holding pop-up events here and there around the city! I was recently lucky enough to get in on one and enjoy some authentic Mexican tacos and tamales with fillings like jackfruit mole and soyrizo with a green tomatillo sauce. I was in heaven! Follow their Instagram to find out about upcoming events.