Aubergines fried until crisp on the outside and gooey inside, then stuffed into tacos with salsa, pickled red cabbage and vegan creme fraiche
When I first ate a Baja-style fish taco in San Francisco, I may have squealed. It tasted as if that ultimate British food icon, battered cod, had sacked off its old friend chips, and was living a brand new American life with new friends: lime, salsa, taco and crema. I loved it, not especially for the fish, but for the contrast within a single bite, which was hot, cold, crunchy, soft and sweet-and-sour. Here, in place of the fish, I’ve used my beloved aubergine, which, when fried, takes on a dual personality of being crisp on the outside and gooey within, and marries perfectly with all the other elements.
Corn tortillas are more challenging to find (and a bit more expensive) than wheat ones, but they are well worth seeking out for their delicious flavour. I buy mine in bulk from Mex Grocer and keep them in the freezer in small batches.
Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr
For the crema
150g vegan creme fraiche
1 lime, zested and juiced
For the cabbage
100g red cabbage, very finely sliced
½ red onion, peeled and very finely sliced
2 tbsp lime juice (from 1-2 limes)
½ tsp fine sea salt
For the tomato salsa
300g ripe vine tomatoes (ie, 3 or 4), finely chopped
20g coriander, finely chopped, stalks and all
1 tbsp chipotle paste
2 tbsp red-wine vinegar
½ tsp fine sea salt
1 red chilli, finely chopped
For the aubergines
230g plain flour (gluten-free, if you like)
1 generous tsp salt
330ml (vegan) beer
2 tsp English mustard
2 aubergines (about 510g), cut into batons 1½cm at their widest part
Sunflower oil, for frying
At least 12 x 12cm corn or flour tortillas, to serve
First make the sides. For the crema, in a small bowl, mix the creme fraiche with a tablespoon of lime juice, the lime zest, a tablespoon of water and a big pinch of salt, and put to one side.
Put the cabbage, red onion, lime juice and salt in a second, larger bowl (big enough to put your hand into), massage the lime and salt into the vegetables and set aside to pickle.
For the salsa, combine the chopped tomatoes, coriander, chipotle paste, vinegar, salt and chilli in a medium bowl, then leave to marinate.
Now for the tortillas. Line a heavy casserole pan for which you have a lid with a tea towel. Heat the tortillas according to packet instructions – I fry them in a dry pan, then wrap them in the tea towel and put the lid on the casserole to keep them warm.
Finally, prepare the aubergines. Put the flour in a bowl, add the salt and whisk to mix. Slowly add the beer and mustard, whisking along the way, then add the aubergine pieces and stir to coat.
Pour 2cm oil in a medium saucepan, and set it over a medium heat. Arm yourself with a pair of tongs and line a large plate with kitchen paper. When the oil is hot (180C on a thermometer, or test a fingernail-sized piece of bread, which should crisp in 30 seconds), lower in the battered aubergine pieces, frying no more than four at a time so as not to overcrowd the pan and cool down the oil. Fry for a minute to 90 seconds, turning once halfway, until golden brown, then remove with the tongs, gently shake off any excess oil and put on the kitchen paper-lined plate to drain. Repeat with the remaining aubergine pieces.
To assemble the tacos, spread a tortilla with a little crema, top first with a piece or two of fried aubergine, then some pickled cabbage and, finally, some salsa.