The Vegan Taste’s Jason Wyrick wants you to know there’s more to Mexican cuisine than Taco Tuesdays. “People think Mexican cuisine is one thing,” he says,“but Mexico is almost as big as the United States and it’s as varied as the cuisine we have here.” That includes tacos, and Jason wrote the book on them, Vegan Tacos, as well as its sister volume Vegan Mexico.
Despite his American-as-anything looks, Phoenix-based Wyrick is Mexican on his mother’s side. The food he grew up eating — and loving — though, was, at best, Mexicanish, like“my mom’s enchiladas. They were horrible,” he recalls, laughing. “Layers of tortillas, a bunch of cheddar cheese and chili sauce, with olives sliced on top.”
Yummy, perhaps, but at the expense of his health. Wyrick went vegetarian for ethical reasons, so while he could indulge in his mom’s enchiladas and other cheesy favorites, over time, he gained weight, and worse, was diagnosed as diabetic. “It was scary, diabetes,” he says. And upsetting, since he’d assumed going meatless meant good health as well as good animal karma.
Wyrick began exploring his food choices. He admits to being a wee bit obsessive. “When I’m interested in something, I learn everything about it. When I got interested in food, I wanted to know where does this come from?” He began cooking for himself. And he became vegan. He credits both with losing weight and regaining his health. Wyrick reversed his diabetes through a plant-based diet alone.
Wyrick has sort of gentle professorial/priestly air. Having immersed himself in the whole culinary process from plant to plate, he wanted to pass on the power of plant-based food to others. In 2006, he launched The Vegan Culinary Experience, the first-ever vegan magazine and has been a passionate, not to mention gifted, advocate for plant-based cooking.
In his books, he shares plant-based versions of authentic Mexican recipes, but also the regions and roots of Mexican cuisine and the backstory of its indigenous ingredients. Wyrick is all about low and slow, meticulous research and artisanal craftsmanship. But he gets that you’re not.
“We’re so time-pressed compared to other cultures.” That’s why he and wife Madelyn Pryor created The Vegan Taste, a plant-based meal service delivering to Phoenix-area subscribers. They’ve been at it for 15 years.
Wyrick is now in the process of opening a restaurant called Casa Terra, with — surprise — a Mediterranean-influenced menu. The cuisine might depart from Mexico but the flavors, like musky cumin and the bright flavors of cilantro and citrus, as well as the prevalence of whole grains and beans, belong to both Mexican and Mediterranean cooking. Wyrick can even explain why (remember the professorial/priestly thing?). “The Spice Road went through southern China and India to Rome, and it spread across Europe. Cilantro and citrus are southeast Asian ingredients but they made their way into European cuisine.”
As with his Vegan Taste dishes, his Casa Terra dishes are where flavor and wellness go together, well, like beans and rice. “I know a lot of non-vegan chefs. They’re so different,” he says, shaking his head. “They just want to make great food, that’s all they feel they have to do. I have to make great food but I feel an obligation not to wreck someone’s health because of what I went through.”
He’s even reworked his mother’s enchilada recipe. It’s still comforting and keeps the olives and cheese but it’s plant-based and draws on truer Mexican influences and ingredients. “It’s more about chilies and flavor.”
- 10 guajillo chiles rehydrated and deseeded and destemmed
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 4 cups of water
- Juice of 2 limes
- 1 teaspoon of dried Mexican oregano
- 3 tablespoons of masa harina
- Salt to taste
- 15 to 20 corn tortillas
- Corn oil for frying
- 4 cups of your favorite vegan cheese
- 10 green olives stuffed with garlic sliced thin
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Puree the chiles, garlic, water, lime juice, and oregano. Press this through a sieve into a pot. Take out ¼ cup of the sauce in the pot and whisk together in a mixing bowl with the masa harina, then set aside. Bring the sauce in the pot to a simmer and slow simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in the masa mix and whisk until smooth. Keep simmering for about 5 minutes. You’ll have a thick chile sauce. Reduce the heat to low to keep the sauce warm.
- Next, you’ll need to line up your work area. Add ¼ inch of oil to a pan and heat it to medium. Next in line should be your warm sauce. Next to that on the counter should be an oiled baking dish (or two if you don’t have one big enough to accommodate the enchiladas.) Next to that should be your cheese and a separate bowl of sliced olives.
- Fry a tortilla in the oil for 3 seconds per side, then dredge through the sauce. If you are serving Sonoran style, create a layer of flat tortillas in the baking dish, then add a thick layer of cheese. You’ll use about 1/3 of the cheese. Do another layer of fried and dredged tortillas, then another layer of cheese, and then top off with one more layer of the chile tortillas. Pour any remaining chile sauce on the tortillas. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top, then scatter liberally with sliced green olives. If you are doing rolled enchiladas, fry and dredge a tortilla, then fill with ¼ cup of cheese and roll closed. Tuck tight and repeat until you are out of tortillas or cheese. Pour any remaining chile sauce on the tortillas. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and the sliced green olives. Bake for 20 minutes.