I have never been to Los Angeles (*gasp*) but if I ever do find myself there, I know the very first thing I want to eat. Hmmm ... will I race to Mr. Chow's? Run to Mario Batali's Mozza? Skip to Matsuhisa? No, no and no: What I really and truly long to do is taste one of Chef Roy Choi's Korean/Mexican fusion tacos. I envy the Angelenos who get to enjoy the amazing creations that come out of his Kogi Korean BBQ taco truck. How could these things not be amazing?
So I took the taco theme of this month's International Incident Party - hosted, as ever, by the lovely Penny aka Jeroxie - as an opportunity to take matters into my own hands. I don't have plans to go to L.A. anytime soon, so why not try to create the Korean taco experience on my own?
And my, oh my. The flavors ... how can I describe the flavors? Crispy fried tofu that's been coated with garlic, ginger, gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste) and cayenne; topped with kim chee, jicama, hoisin sauce, and green onions - do I really need to say anything else? Such a unique, yet utterly harmonious, combination. All of this nestled in fresh, homemade tortillas made for one perfect bite after the next. I wish I could take credit for having invented it!
The first step was to make the corn tortillas. After having these fresh out of the skillet, I can tell you one thing: I will never eat store-bought tortillas again. And they're so simple to make - even without a tortilla press. You just need a strong man to help you press those babies flat ... and as always, I am grateful for the strong arms of Poppa Trix!
I followed the tortilla recipe at Simply Recipes. I mixed 2 cups of masa harina (corn flour that's been treated with lime) with 2 cups of warm water and 1/4 tsp baking soda, and let it sit for 5 minutes. I then kneaded the dough for a few minutes until it became a smooth mass:
At this point, if you have a tortilla press, individually place the balls between sheets of wax paper and simply ... press. Instead, I pressed down with a skillet (though still with the dough between wax). I didn't have much luck getting the dough to form 6 inch discs until I enlisted Poppa Trix as my human tortilla press. He decided to be camera shy that day, so you don't get to see his awesome feats of strength! But here's how it works:
Now gently peel back the wax from the uncooked tortilla, and cook on a hot skillet for about 30 seconds on each side:
Now for the filling. Chef Choi's recipe for spicy tofu tacos has been reprinted and adapted many times; I went with the one I found here, though I did make a few changes - mainly substituting jicama for Asian pear and hot paprika for Korean pepper powder.
The recipe calls for gochujang, a Korean pepper paste, and rather than run all the way to Asian superstore H-Mart (which I love, don't get me wrong) , I decided to see if I could find an independent Korean grocer closer to my neighborhood. While I failed at that task, I did find Nak Won, an awesome Korean restaurant that I plan to try soon ...
To prepare the sauce for the tofu, you'll need 1 tbsp hot paprika, 1 tbsp gochujang (I used more) 1 tbsp grated garlic, 1 tbsp grated ginger, 1 tbsp sesame oil and a sprinkle of salt:
I decided this was the perfect opportunity to use the sole Hungarian pepper from a plant I bought at the farmers market, and I chopped it up and threw that in the mix as well:
Next, fold in 14 oz. of cubed tofu that's been drained and pressed in a clean cloth for an hour or so:
In another bowl, combine 3/4 cup cornstarch and 2 tbsp of hot paprika. Carefully add the tofu and tap off the excess in a colander:
Now it's time to get frying. Heat 2 cups of canola oil to 355 degrees F, and fry for about 4 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels.
Now, as much as I loved these crunchy bites of tofu, I did feel that a good bit of the rich spicy flavor of the sauce was lost in the frying process. In the future, I would saute the tofu without the sauce until crunchy , and then toss it in the sauce while it's still piping hot. I realize this wouldn't be for everyone because you're going to get some serious heat in your tofu this way - but that's definitely the way I'd do it next time.
Once the tofu is drained, it's time for the really fun part - assembling the tacos! On a warm tortilla, place some of the tofu, julienned slices of jicama or Asian pear, kim chee, 1/2 tbsp hoisin sauce, and sliced scallions. Heaven on a plate:
And of course you want some ice cold Korean beer or soju to wash it all down! Now go check out what everyone else has brought to the taco party!