I say this about so many things, but winter citrus is certain proof that we are loved in this world. January brings us to more hours spent in darkness. The sun is elusive on most days, giving way to shades of mud and blinding white. On winter drives through all of the sleepy orchards, there’s an illusion of hollow space, that the rows of black and empty branches cross each other forever and for no reason, that your breath could escape and go on. A cloudy and warm gasp would lift from your mouth, drifting over the fields searching listlessly for another of its kind. Stepping outside invites the bizarrely comforting act of bundling yourself up to face the world. Promises of impending greatness well up and wait. By the end of March, I’m on my knees for a release from the extremity of it, the spatial restlessness and cold grey, the bleak landscape that seems to dwell within.
Then there are splendid and simple moments, ones of clarity. Cutting into any one of the satsumas, lemons, blood oranges, grapefruits, or tangerines, taking a second to revel in the brightness, is one of those moments. Vivid colour, the intensely perfumed oil in the skin, all succulent with tart sweetness, the symmetry within the shapes–all reminders of the warmth in the design of this world. The core of life still glows and we are assured at the very sight of those neon orbs that vibrate with the sun and earth’s strength.
Something unusual to wake up my winter-dulled sensibilities was bubbling away in my mind and it had to be a chop, a shred, a seasoning from up high, toss toss toss and a fast sear away. Quick. Jude Blereau’s orange pan-glazed tempeh (first seen on 101 Cookbooks for me) is one of my favourite ways to utilize citrus in an upfront and savoury sort of way. I swap out the coriander for some ground ancho chilies in pursuit of heat, but otherwise keep it to the letter and simple. Have you tried tempeh before? That fermented, probiotic and protein-heavy vegan wonder food? The texture is toothsome. The flavour is nutty, hinting at mushrooms and damp, forest floor kind of qualities. It has roots in Indonesian cuisine and stands in beautifully for tofu and animal proteins.
Right here, it goes for a bit of a sear and a sloshy glaze of maple, ancho and soy infused orange juice. I thought of it as the foundation of a taco with a slaw saturated in grapefruit juice and flecked with fresh mint. Grapefruit gets on beautifully with creamy and mild avocado, so that became the crucial third component. A little frivolous tangle of sprouts on top felt fine in the moment. Finishing squeezes of lime are available for even more freshness. The combination is nicely jarring and it brings the world a bit closer, what with the participatory nature of taco get-togethers. The gathering, assembly and communal eating seems to put us all into the light a little more.
orange + ancho braised tempeh tacos with ruby grapefruit slaw
notes: I used an all-soy variety of tempeh for this, but there are many varieties with brown rice and other grains thrown into the mix that are great. Also, as previously mentioned, I subbed in ancho powder + cayenne for the coriander in Jude’s recipe. You could go so many ways with it though.
ruby grapefruit slaw:
1/2 small red cabbage, cored and shredded
1 small carrot, grated or peeled into ribbons (I used a funky white, heirloom one)
juice of 1 grapefruit + I cut up a few sections of it for visual/textural interest in the slaw
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 green onions, sliced finely
4 sprigs of mint, leaves sliced finely
salt and pepper
corn tortillas, warmed
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted + sliced
handfuls of sprouts (I had pea shoots around)
sriracha or other hot sauce
Prepare the slaw: combine all slaw ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine. Taste for seasoning, adjust, and set aside.
Dice and warm all of the assembly components and set aside.
Prepare tempeh according to directions. Serve hot with other taco accoutrements.
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