Pulled Pork Tacos with Quick-Pickled Red Onions and all the Fixin’s

Pulled Pork Tacos with Pickled Onions and all the Fixin's | www.kiwiandbean.com

We are still very much in the midst of a taco mania here in Toronto, which you won’t find me complaining about. For every up and coming neighbourhood in the city there are several taco joints, each one promising something more awesome than the one down the street. The hispter to taqueria ratio is heading for 1:1, and I LOVE it.

What’s not to love about tacos? The fresh flavours, the heat, the intersection of creamy and crunchy, and the share-ability (Kiwi and I have been known to alternate bites, so that we can try as many varieties as possible). Fun, fast, cheap and flavourful. I could go on.

Our favourite taco place is also among the most underrated in the city. It’s pretty unassuming—tucked away in tiny little storefront in the city’s central Kensington Market neighbourhood—but the food is anything but. The last time we were there, in the middle of stuffing a taco into my mouth, and with chipotle mayonnaise dripping down my chin (sexy), I deliriously mumbled to Kiwi that it is “the best food in the WHOLE WORLD”. It probably is.

Pulled Pork Tacos with Pickled Onions and all the Fixin's | www.kiwiandbean.com

The charm of the place makes the food even more delicious, I think. It’s what you might call a hole in the wall kind of place: there are a couple of seats in the window, but for the most part it’s standing room only. We push our stroller in there (sorry, hipsters), lift the Bean up onto the skinny little counter affixed to one wall, and order every taco on the menu. You’ve only got about 8 minutes to finish your food before being edged out of there by the hungry hordes, but the food doesn’t last much longer than that, anyway.

I’m tempted to keep the name of this taqueria to myself because, frankly, it’s crowded enough as it is! But that would be too cruel. And in any event, with the information I’ve given you and a little Googling you could probably find it yourself.

Pulled Pork Tacos with Pickled Onions and all the Fixin's | www.kiwiandbean.com

Seven Lives. That’s it. If you find yourself in Toronto, go straight to Kensingston Market, seek out Seven Lives, throw down $5 for the signature Gobernador taco (an oddly delicious combo of smoked marlin and shrimp), close your eyes and devour. This is heaven-sent food, truly.

Pulled Pork Tacos with Pickled Onions and all the Fixin's | www.kiwiandbean.com

When we can’t get to Seven Lives, there’s nothing quite as kid-friendly and fun as a family taco night at home. An “assemble-your-own” meal puts the kiddos in control of their food and makes it much more likely, in my experience, that they will go out of their comfort zone and try new foods. (Even just a nibble is progress, right?)

On our last taco night, the Bean tried a little bite of pickled onion, and while she immediately scrunched up her face, spat it out and declared “TOO SOUR!” she tried it at least. Baby steps.

I like to build our tacos around something that I’ve already got in the freezer (because I’m lazy like that) which is why these Pulled Pork Tacos are our go-to. I make a huge batch of this Healthier Slow Cooker Pulled Pork, freeze in medium-size Ziploc bags, and defrost one the day of our taco meal.

The fixings are up to you, but the more variety the better I think. Quick Pickled Red Onions are a MUST, and are also a tasty addition to just about every savoury meal, so I’ve included the recipe below. Other favourites (in no particular order): shredded red cabbage, chopped cilantro, lime wedges, crumbled feta or cotija cheese, pickled jalapeno peppers, sliced radishes, salsa or chopped tomato, guacamole or diced avocado, and corn tortillas. Flour tortillas will do if you don’t have gluten issues and/or cannot get your hands on the corn version, but corn tastes more authentic to me and is marginally healthier.

Pulled Pork Tacos with Pickled Onions and all the Fixin's | www.kiwiandbean.com

Not only is this a great family dinner, but it’s also a popular dinner party spread too. And one that you can make in advance, which scores big points in our busy household.

Pulled Pork Tacos with Quick-Pickled Red Onions and all the Fixin's
Serves: 4-6
  • For the pickled red onions:
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 4 peppercorns
  • For the tacos:
  • 12 small corn tortillas
  • Pulled Pork (using THIS recipe) or your other favourite taco meat
  • Shredded red cabbage
  • Finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • Lime wedges
  • Crumbled feta or cotija cheese
  • Pickled jalapeno peppers
  • Sliced radishes
  • Salsa or chopped tomato
  • Guacamole or diced avocado
  • 1 recipe pickled onions (see above)
  1. For the pickled red onions: Pour the vinegar into a medium-large mason jar and stir in the sea salt and sugar until dissolved. Add the peppercorns, and then the sliced onions, pushing the onions down into the jar so that they are fully immersed in the liquid. Throw the jar into the fridge for at least an hour before serving. The onions will keep, refrigerated, for about 2 weeks.
  2. To assemble the tacos: Warm up the meat and the tortillas and put them on the table surrounded by all the fixin's. Then dig in!
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Crispy Baked Homemade Granola Bars

Crispy Baked Homemade Granola Bars | www.kiwiandbean.com

I’ve found no recipe more elusive than the granola bar.

There are no shortage of granola bar recipes out here, granted, but none that did exactly what I wanted them to.

First and foremost I wanted something healthy—more of a snack than a dessert—that I could pack in lunch boxes and tote on road trips without feeling like I was feeding my kids half a bag of cookies. So recipes calling for a cup or more of sugar (and there are a LOT of these recipes out there) were immediately disqualified.

Of course it couldn’t TASTE like a healthy granola bar. Oh no. Chocolate and dried fruit were inevitable.

So I needed something healthy, but that tasted UN-healthy, and that was also nut free. The last point being critical if I wanted to serve these to my younger child and send them off to school with my older one.

Crispy Baked Homemade Granola Bars | www.kiwiandbean.com

I set out to create my own healthy, deliciously un-healthy tasting, nut-free granola bar recipe figuring “geez, how hard can it be?”. But I’m here to tell you that it’s haaaaarder than you would think. Most of my attempts were met with failure of one kind or another: too crumbly, too sticky, not sticky enough, too soft or too hard, among other deficiencies.

They were almost always edible, mind you, but not necessarily in the form in which they were intended. I ended up dumping one batch into a jar and eating it like granola, for example, which while delicious was not the individually-wrapped-stash-in-the-lunchbox convenience snack I was going for.

But I am happy to say that after at least a dozen attempts, I think I have landed on one that actually works. Not only that, but one that tastes pretty good and has all of the health-attributes I’d hope for from a homemade snack: low-ish in sugar and chock full of nutritious whole grains and seeds.

Crispy Baked Homemade Granola Bars | www.kiwiandbean.com

These granola bars are for folks who like their bars oven-crisp, and they are reminiscent of those Nature Valley ones that come packaged two in a pouch. If you are more of a chewy, dipped in chocolate kinda granola bar person, an unbaked oat and cereal type bar might be more your speed. I am working on that recipe too, so stay tuned.

As long as you stick to the ratios of dry stuff to gooey stuff, you should be ok to vary the ingredients in this recipe and use up whatever you’ve got lying around. If nuts are not a concern, for example, feel free to throw in some almonds or pecans in place of the seeds, or some peanut or almond butter (unsweetened) instead of the sunflower seed butter.

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Crispy Baked Homemade Granola Bars
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These granola bars are for folks who like their bars oven-crisp, and are reminiscent of those Nature Valley granola bars that come packaged two in a pouch. As long as you stick to the ratios of dry stuff to gooey stuff, you can vary the ingredients to use what you have on hand. Nuts will work in place of the seeds, and peanut or almond butter in place of the sunflower seed butter, for example.
  • ½ cup coconut oil
  • ½ cup unsweetened sunflower seed butter (I used Sunbutter organic)
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking)
  • ½ cup oat flour (see note below)
  • ¼ cup ground flax seed
  • 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup hulled pumpkin seeds, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • ½ cup dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, cherries, apricots, blueberries), coarsely chopped if necessary
  • ½ cup mini chocolate chips
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with two pieces of parchment paper arranged in a criss-cross formation. (You essentially want to create a sling, with parchment hanging over each edge, so that you can easily pull the bars out of the pan when they are cool.)
  2. Melt the coconut oil in the microwave in a medium glass bowl, then whisk in the sunflower seed butter and maple syrup. (If your sunflower seed butter has been in the fridge, you can melt it along with the coconut oil for easier whisking.)
  3. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl, then stir in the coconut oil/sunflower seed butter/maple syrup mixture.
  4. Pour the mixture into the parchment-lined baking pan, distribute it evenly and then press it down very firmly.
  5. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the bars begin to brown on the top.
  6. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool completely.
  7. Use the parchment paper to remove the cooled bars to a cutting board. Use a very sharp knife to gently cut the bars to a size that will work for you.
  8. For easy lunch and snack prep, individually wrap the bars in saran wrap and store in the freezer. Otherwise, they will keep for a week or so stored at room temperature in an airtight container.
Oat flour: if you don't have any oat flour on hand, just grind some oats in a blender or coffee grinder until they are the consistency of whole wheat flour.


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Cilantro, Ginger & Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Cilantro Pumpkin Seed Pesto | www.kiwiandbean.com

When you have a kid with a nut allergy, you learn to love pumpkin seeds. Not just love them but REALLY love them and use them in quantities that would have been unimaginable in the BA (before allergy) days.

This last week alone I used pumpkin seeds in a batch of granola, a couple of salads, some granola bars, and this cilantro pumpkin seed pesto. And I’ve got a good 3 or 4 pounds down in my basement pantry waiting to be transformed into countless other delicious things.

Sure we may not be able to eat nuts around here, but we take our pepitas very very seriously. Continue Reading →

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Creamy White Bean & Caramelized Onion Dip

Creamy White Bean & Caramelized Onion Dip

We turned an interesting corner with my son’s food allergies this week. Last November, after uneventfully eating hummus (with sesame paste, aka tahini) for several months, he had a strange hivey reaction to a tahini-based salad dressing. I was fairly certain it wasn’t a cross-contamination issue (i.e. peanuts on the tahini-making equipment or something) because I had been careful to buy tahini that was labelled as “made in a facility that only handles sesame seeds”. I figured we likely had another food allergy to add to the list, and knowing how common sesame allergies were, I guess I wasn’t surprised.

The allergist, however, was surprised, mostly because dude had previously tolerated hummus without a trace of any reaction or issue. So instead of “scratch-testing” him to confirm an allergy (which apparently has a high rate of false positives) she encouraged me to reintroduce the hummus and cross my toes. Continue Reading →

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