Even on a stormy night in New York City, the turquoise and pink-accented interiors of Jajaja Plantas Mexicanas evoke sunny, south of the border feels. From the piled high nachos that drip with crema, fermented black beans and homemade chorizo to the smokey, mezcal-laced cocktails, the new West Village location has all the trappings of a traditional Mexican cantina… everything that is, except the meat. Because at Jajaja the chorizo isn’t quite chorizo… even though it looks and tastes a hell of a lot like the crumbly, go-to cure for a wicked Sunday hangover.
Executive Chef Ricky Huitzil, who is originally from Puebla, Mexico, crafts the cured “sausage” from an organic, wheat-based alternative called seitan, which perfectly mimics the familiar texture and flavor of the popular ingredient. And there’s no dairy to be found in that crema either. It is a light, silky sauce made from cashews. The entire menu is mouthwatering and makes the tongue sing. Tofu skin (also known as yuba) is marinated for hours before being transformed into a spicy, hearty version of beef-free barbacoa. The finely shredded carnitas which get tucked inside savory entrees like Enchiladas Verde and pan-seared gorditas are another culinary magic act – they so closely resemble their pork-based counterpart, that even a pro-palate might fail to recognize their jackfruit origins. Slow cooked with spices the carnitas bear a salty, fatty flavor that could satisfy even the most discerning carnivore.
In case you hadn’t guessed, everything at Jajaja is 100% plant-based, which means anyone with a goal to go vegan can make good with this menu. And that’s the point. After noticing a serious lack of quality vegan dining experiences in New York, owners Koorosh Bakhtiar and Nima Garos of Raise Hospitality launched their first location of JaJaJa in the Lower East Side in 2017. Their goal? To deliver to an unpretentious plant-based menu with a big focus on flavor, not faux or synthetic products. Three openings later, the inventive duo are still turning skeptics into believers.
“In general, maintaining a plant-based diet is overall better for yourself and the planet,” says General Manager, Fee Bakhtiar. “We use less energy when we prepare dishes with plants over meat-based products, and it digests better. Also, at JaJaJa, we like to incorporate this philosophy throughout the space by showing guests how it’s easy to maintain, and delicious.”
For many, the thought of eliminating all animal products from their diet can be a source of intimidation. However, maintaining a plant-based lifestyle, or one that limits the intake of meat, can be achieved by finding fun ways to turn accessible ingredients into healthier, meatless doppelgangers. “Little changes make it easier to transition,” Bahkiar explains. “Some examples might be changing from cow’s milk to almond or looking up plant-based cheeses or mayo as substitutions. Incorporating more fulfilling and satisfying vegetables into your diet helps too. Lentils and legumes are more filling, so you won’t feel like you’re missing out on heavier foods.” (This might explain why green peas are present in JaJaJa’s zesty guacamole – a nutritionally dense ingredient that adds bulk without detracting from the beautiful simplicity of the classic dip.)
Thankfully, the menu at JaJaJa Plantas Mexicanas is home to a slew of flavorful alternatives that anyone can replicate at home with standard kitchen tools. But if you are in the New York area, we of course recommend that you flock to the Latin hotspot. And while you’re there, try everything.
Here we offer some meatless weekday meal suggestions, inspired by the amazing eats at Jajaja Plantas Mexicanas.
Ingredients: Canned jackfruit (in brine), yellow onion, fresh garlic, fresh jalapeno peppers, tamari soy sauce, red wine vinegar, juice of orange, juice of lime, liquid smoke, olive oil
Spice blend: (½ tablespoon of the following) salt, cumin, chipotle or ancho chili powder, smoked paprika, dried oregano, nutritional yeast, and (¼ teaspoon) ground black pepper
Instructions: Chop one yellow onion, five fresh garlic cloves and two jalapeno peppers. Add one tablespoon of olive oil to saucepan and add veggies. Cook until onions appear translucent. Open two 20 oz cans of jackfruit, drain excess liquid and blot fruit with paper towels. Add jackfruit to pan and allow it to cook and dehydrate (about five minutes). Next, add most of your spice blend to the jackfruit and continue to cook in the pan (you can leave some aside and add to taste later). Stir and cook for about one minute and then add one tablespoon of red wine vinegar, about three tablespoons of tamari soy sauce, juice of one orange, one teaspoon of liquid smoke and simmer until liquid is mostly absorbed (between 15 and 20 minutes). Spritz with fresh lime and serve over rice, on chips or inside tortillas as tacos/enchiladas.
AVOCADO SOPA (RAW)
Ingredients: avocado, cucumber, carrot juice, cilantro, juice of lemon, salt, pepper, sunflower seeds, olive oil
Crema: raw cashews, filtered water, rice vinegar, white miso, nutritional yeast, salt, pepper
Instructions: to make cashew crema, soak one cup of raw cashews overnight in filtered water until it is mostly absorbed (leave a little in the mix). Add one tablespoon of rice vinegar, half a juice of lemon, one tsp of white miso, one tablespoon of nutritional yeast and salt and pepper. Blend in a food processor. For a thinner sauce add ⅛ cup of non-dairy milk (cashew or almond)
For soup, peel one cucumber and cut lengthwise. Remove seeds with a spoon. Chop cucumber and add to blender. Cut avocado in half, remove pit and scoop into blender. Clean and add chopped cilantro (to taste). Add three cups of fresh squeezed carrot juice, half juice of lemon. Blend until smooth and add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with crema and olive oil, then add sunflower seeds on top for a crunch
SWEET POTATO TACOS
Ingredients: corn tortillas, olive oil, salt, pepper, sweet potato, black beans, chopped red peppers, fresh cilantro, and any salsa verde you would like (Jajaja’s is avocado based). Optional: chipotle powder
Instructions: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. While the oven is heating, wash all produce. Peel and dice one large sweet potato and place in bowl. Drizzle one teaspoon of olive oil over potatoes and dust with salt and pepper (for a little extra heat, add a dash of chipotle powder). Toss in bowl until coated, and then place on a sheet pan in one even layer and put inside oven. While potatoes are roasting (about 20 minutes or until tender), open one can of black beans and heat in a saucepan on low on the stovetop. When potatoes are roasted through and beans are warmed, lay two corn tortillas flat on a plate and fill with the hot ingredients. Top the tacos with fresh cilantro, finely chopped red peppers and salsa verde.
HEARTS OF PALM CEVICHE
Ingredients: Canned hearts of palm, red peppers, cilantro, juice of a lime, chopped cherry tomatoes, roasted seaweed, avocado, fresh radish, salt, pepper, tortilla or plantain chips
Instructions: finely chop red peppers, cilantro and cherry tomatoes, and add to bowl. Open one can of hearts of palm and drain excess liquid. Rough chop hearts of palm and add to bowl with other ingredients. Next open roasted seaweed and cut into fine slivers. Add to bowl. Squeeze half of a lime over top of all ingredients and mix with a spoon. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top with sliced avocados and radishes and serve with tortilla or plantain chips.
SIMPLE STORE-BOUGHT PLANT-BASED SUBSTITUTIONS
Sometimes we don’t have time to make our meals from scratch, and that’s OKAY. You can still achieve marvelous, meatless versions of your favorite foods with items you can find in your local grocery store. Here are some of our favorite go-tos:
Standard Plant-based alternative
Cheddar cheese Try: Violife Foods brand Just Like Cheddar Shreds
Mayonnaise Try: Follow Your Heart brand Vegenaise
Butter Try: Miyoko’s Creamery brand European Cultured Vegan Butter
Flour tortillas Try: The Real Coconut brand Coconut Flour Tortillas
Sour Cream Try: Follow Your Heart brand Dairy-Free Sour cream
Eggs Try: Hampton Creek brand JUST Vegan Egg
Ground Beef Try: Beyond Meat brand Fiesta Crumbles
In NYC? Visit JaJaJa Plantas Mexicanas!
Jajaja West Village
63 Carmine Street, New York, NY, 10014
+1 (917) 262-0184
Jajaja Lower East Side
162 E Broadway, New York, NY, 10002
+1 (646) 883-5453
Jajaja Brooklyn (inside North 3rd Street Market)
103 N 3rd Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11249
+1 (860) 479-2872
(Photos The Social Club)
Last modified: May 12, 2020