A Tortilla, A Grill, A Birthday

Potlucks – which I came to find out last night are distinctively American, or at least the word is – are one of my favorite things in the summer. For those who don’t know what a potluck is, or those who have never been to a successful potluck: It’s a gathering of people, food, and drink in one location.

A potluck is sharing. It’s cooking something at home and hoping that it goes well with something that someone else cooked. It’s hoping that your dish is eaten entirely so you don’t have to walk home with just a little bit left of that pie, bread, cheese, fruit, or wine. A potluck is companionship in the literal sense. It’s what I used to look forward to on Sundays back in college – Sunday morning Watson Street Brunch Potlucks that would last from eleven to three. And maybe it’s because I’m nearly obsessed with potlucks, or because it was my dear friend’s birthday, or because I was inspired by the culinary prowess of the fermenters from Saturday, but on Sunday I took to the kitchen with ambition and determination to bring some great food to a birthday potluck.

I had been thinking about what to bring even since I got the invitation a week prior – maybe my token banana bread. I thought about cookies, or my birthday carrot cake. I considered making vegan mac and cheese, since I have so much nutritional yeast sitting stashed away in my refrigerator. But none of those dishes really scream “summer!” “birthday!” “celebration!” Maybe the dish I prepared doesn’t either, but at least it does scream “fiesta!”

Given that one of the last things I had on Saturday was a Korean taco truck taco, Mexican was on my mind. So was the fact that one of the birthday potluckers was vegan. So what would any logical 20something do with those two influences but make vegan tacos. I mean, am I right, or am I right?

It really doesn’t seem like the first thing that would come to mind while living in Korea, seeing as salsa, tortillas, and beans aren’t the biggest of commodities. But then again, you’d be surprised as to what you can fashion from the grocery stores here. On a little piece of paper, I started to write what I would need for vegan tacos. Peppers, Onions, Tomatoes, Chilies, Corn, Green Onions, Lentils, Cabbage, Tortillas, Cucumbers… the list started to look a lot like what I buy on the regular. Since it is summer here, most of the produce is super inexpensive, too – so why not take full advantage of the fact that nature is wanting you to buy cheap produce? Boom done, vegan tacos here we come.

The major obstacle that I ran into when making Mexican, was the tortilla. But what do you know, with a little searching on the internets and browsing through some vegetarian cookbooks, you can find recipes for about anything. Tortillas included. They took just a little while to make, but all in all the kneading and resting was nice for a hot and humid Sunday afternoon.

When all was said and done I had come up with a full taco-bar line up that Chipotle would be jealous of, aside from the guacamole, and cheese. Into one Tupperware container went a salsa fresca composed of cherry tomatoes, onions, green onions (bulbs and stems), chilies, sweet corn, salt, pepper, and some cumin. A much more shallow Tupperware held the chopped raw green onions and steamed broccoli. One bowl wrapped in tinfoil played transportation for spicy lentils, while another deeper bowl had spicy cabbage. Just a ziplock bag held the fifteen fourteen delicious flour tortillas, and finally some cucumbers that I sliced into ribbons to add a hint of freshness to the heavy spicy taco.

When all of the ingredients were put together – the spicy lentils sitting next to the spicy cabbage providing the heat necessary for it to be a good taco; the salsa fresca adding both a brightness and juiciness to the mixture; the green pepper and cucumber ribbon sitting atop it all to give it a light and fresh quality; the flour tortilla holding firm, fluffy, and flakey underneath the flavorful weight – it was a delight.

And, what’s even better, my tacos held up nicely with the other transcontinental dishes brought to the traditional Korean-style building to share. Baguette with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Chive cheese spread. Nachos and dip. Deviled eggs and kimbab. Vegetable kebabs and Korean barbeque. It was an international sensation, and a feast no less. It was a warm day in an amazing location. It was barbeques and cold beer. It was laughs and yoga. It was a great birthday, if I had to judge it myself.


Salsa Fresca

500 grams of chopped Cherry Tomatoes

6-7 stalks of Green Onions

½ Diced White Onion

3 (or less if you don’t like heat) Chopped Chili Peppers

1 Cob worth of cooked Sweet Corn

Salt (to taste)

Pepper (to taste)

Cumin (a heavy dash)

30 minutes

Add all of the ingredients together, chopping and dicing to your bite-sized desires. Let sit for at least 15 minutes. This time will allow the salsa to produce its own juice, and you will be that much better for it.


Spicy Cabbage

1/3 head of White or Red Cabbage

½ Onion

Olive Oil



Gochugaru (고추가루) or Cayenne Pepper

Siracha Hot Sauce (if you have it)

Slice Onions and throw them into a hot and oiled pan. Listen to them sizzle for about two minutes. Throw in some salt, and pepper. Slice Cabbage just once, like you were making onion rings and toss them in too. Add oil as needed. Once the cabbage gets a softer, start to add the spices. Adding spices (salt, pepper, Cayenne) will make the dish drier, so don’t be scared to toss in a little more oil or water to give it a little broth to sautee in. Sautee it for about five to seven minutes. Enjoy it cool, not scalding hot.


2 cups Flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. oil (I used olive oil)

3/4 cup warm water

Mix Flour, Baking powder and salt in one bowl. The wet ingredients in another. Add the wet to the dry super slow. Like 1 tablespoon at a time. Mix. Mix. Mix. When everything’s good and mixed, knead it for about 5 minutes (or about two songs). Let it rest for 10 minutes. Pinch off golf-ball sized bits and roll into balls. Let rest another 10 minutes. Roll them out into tortilla-like disks and dry-fry in a heat safe pan. It’ll be about 30 seconds – 1 minute on each side. Take them off and let cool (or just eat one right away like I did). They should have that beautiful golden brown bubble every now and then.


One thought on “A Tortilla, A Grill, A Birthday

  1. I too love potlucks and especially in the summer when things can be on the grill! How you found mexican stuff in Korea is beyond me 🙂
    Festival to party, sounds like a great weekend!

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