I love going on vegan restaurant field trips. One of my favorite parts of visiting, say, Los Angeles or New York is being able to try all the different things regional vegetarian restaurants have to offer. For example, New York City's Red Bamboo has amazing ginger 'beef' stir-fry, and the pumpkin seed-based pesto sauce used at Ethos Vegan Kitchen in Orlando, FL is as delicious as it is inspiring. However, perhaps one of my favorite vegetarian restaurants is (the unfortunately now defunct) Pure Luck in Hollywood.
Everything in Pure Luck's menu was a labor of love. You could order fried potato gnocchi as an appetizer, sweet potato flautas as a side, even Mexican 'refresco'-inspired cocktails made with tamarind and vodka. But perhaps the mother of all things on Pure Luck's menu (and more or less why 99% of people were there) was their 'pork' carnitas, made with surprisingly on-point jackfruit pulp. It came as either tacos, burritos, or inside a torta, and boy, was it good!
When Pure Luck closed its doors just about two years ago, the local vegan community took a big hit. Everyone was frantic to recreate the magic of Pure Luck's vegan carnitas tacos. Fortunately, Terry Hope Romero. former host of Post Punk Kitchen and current vegan culinary genie, was able to deconstruct LA's favorite vegan dish into a comprehensive recipe.
Try these recipes with a squeeze of lime and your favorite Mexican beer. It's guaranteed to satisfy!
Jackfruit Carnitas Tacos
Pickled Red Onions:
3 cups red onions, sliced ¼ inch thin
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 (10-ounce) cans green, brined jackfruit, or 20 ounces brined frozen unripe jackfruit, thawed
2 rounded teaspoons ancho chile powder or Mexican chile powder blend
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon garlic or onion powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups pineapple juice or water
¼ cup water
2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
2 chipotles in adobo, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and grated on a microplane grater or pressed
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon molasses
2 teaspoons liquid smoke
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil, plus additional oil for frying if desired
1½ cups pickled red onions (see recipe above)
Finely shredded green or red cabbage or lettuce
2 ripe tomatoes, diced into bite-size chunks
1 ripe avocado, diced into bite-sized chunks
Make the Pickled Red Onions:
Place the red onions in a large metal colander in a sink. Boil 3 cups water, pour over the onions, and shake the colander to get rid of any excess water.
Place the onions in a glass or plastic mixing bowl, toss with vinegar and salt, and set aside to marinate, stirring occasionally. Onions are ready to eat after 30 minutes. (Store the onions along with their pickling juices in a tightly covered container in the fridge. Pickled onions can last for weeks in the refrigerator, so you may want to double or triple the batch.) (Makes about 1½ cups).
Make the Jackfruit Tacos:
Place prepared jackfruit chunks in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with chile powder, cumin, coriander, garlic powder, and salt. Use your fingers to vigorously rub the spices into the jackfruit. In a 3-quart pot whisk together the remaining ingredients. Add the jackfruit and vigorously stir to coat with the marinade, then set aside for 20 minutes or even better, cover and chill overnight.
When ready to cook the jackfruit, turn the burner onto high and bring the jackfruit marinade to a rapid simmer for 2 minutes, then reduce heat to low. Partially cover the pot and simmer the jackfruit for 50 to 55 minutes, occasionally stirring; there should be some sauce still left in the pot. Turn off the heat, uncover the jackfruit and remove the bay leaves. You can now serve the jackfruit as is, or fry it up slightly to caramelize the edges for a better texture.
To fry the jackfruit, preheat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat, then spread a teaspoon of vegetable oil over the bottom. Pour in 1 cup of jackfruit with sauce and sauté for 4 to 6 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the edges of the shreds are browned and slightly caramelized. Transfer to a serving dish and sauté more jackfruit as needed in small batches.
To assemble a taco, preheat a cast-iron skillet to high. Overlap 2 corn tortillas on the dry skillet and warm just enough to get the tortillas hot and flexible, about 45 seconds. Transfer tortillas and overlap slightly on a serving dish. Pile on about ⅓ cup of jackfruit carnitas and sprinkle with toppings as desired.