Editor’s note: “Cocina Connection,” is a once-a-month feature that takes a behind-the-scenes look at a New Mexico-based chef, who, in turn shares some recipes.
There is no ordinary day for Elizabeth Bibiano.
It’s always changing.
Some days, she spends the morning responding to messages and emails, all while taking a look at what’s needed for the restaurant.
Other days, she’s running around the city grocery shopping.
Yet, the one element that remains a constant is creating new dishes.
It’s something that fulfills the Albuquerque-based chef.
Bibiano, along with her husband Jonathan, are the masterminds behind Vegos.
She creates vegan-based New Mexican classics such as burritos, tamales, enchiladas, chile relleno and tacos to name a few.
“I would say that I found my love for creating later in life,” Bibiano says. “I wasn’t one of those kids that loved cooking. It wasn’t until my early-to-mid-20s that I really fell in love with the Food Network and the creative process of dining and hosting.”
As her love for hosting parties grew, the Colorado native cooked up a plan to create the dishes for her company.
“I turned my neighbors into guinea pigs,” she says with a laugh. “I loved it from that point on.”
She and her husband began to travel the country via recreational vehicle and life changed a lot.
“We were living on the road as full timers,” she says. “We sold our house and we were aimlessly wandering and experiencing life.”
Life in the motor home could be challenging because the usual daily amenities were gone.
But it’s where Bibiano fell in love with cooking.
“You kind of had to make whatever you were going to eat,” she says. “That’s where my creative process grew. I began to learn what was in our food. Then I decided to start creating dishes without what I didn’t want in my food. It snowballed from there.”
In 2018, the couple made the decision to return to Albuquerque – Jonathan’s hometown.
Bibiano made the decision to begin culinary classes at Central New Mexico Community College.
After four semesters, Bibiano graduated. The same day she received her degree, the couple debuted Vegos – May 3, 2019. The first incarnation of the restaurant was via food truck. The storefront now exists at 4003 Carlisle Blvd. NE.
“My husband was one of my main cheerleaders and said ‘Lets put you through culinary school,’ ” she says. “He was a really big advocate for us coming to New Mexico.”
Operating Vegos challenges Bibiano every day.
Aside from the day-to-day operations, it’s the creative process where she can let her imagination run wild.
It’s also a chance for her to educate others on the benefits of vegan dishes.
“It’s challenging to create,” she says. “(For example), steaks have been around for how long and it’s been reinvented and redone so many times that anyone can reference a recipe. What I love about vegan cuisine is that I’m creating something that has never been done before. Oh, there are challenges with that.”
For instance, one item on her menu is a red tamale. Except instead of pork, she uses jackfruit.
“Who knew that jackfruit would have a meat-like texture,” she says. “That’s part of the fun of the creative process. Inspiration comes from everywhere.”
At the end of the day, Bibiano wants to create food that evokes an emotional response.
Sometimes it will transport the person back in time because the taste or experience is linked to a memory.
“Food is more than just sustenance,” she says. “Before I went vegan, I had never known of the possibilities. People think veganism restricts what you eat. But it’s helped me branch out and try new foods.”
Bibiano says the goal behind Vegos is to help understand that food is part of history and culture.
“It’s something that is a shared experience and we understand that,” she says. “When you create vegan food – especially New Mexican inspired, you can still capture the same history. Our culture is very much ingrained in meat-based cuisine. There is room for vegan-based foods that pay homage to the traditional dishes.”
The storefront recently celebrated three-months at the location in the Northeast Heights.
“We’ve come a long way from being a food truck and even serving food from a table and tent at the Rail Yards Market in Downtown,” she says. “The support from the community has been amazing as we reached out to them to help us get the storefront.”
As a Colorado girl who specializes in New Mexican cuisine, Bibiano is quick to admit one thing:
“Even though I’m from Colorado, there’s no competition,” she says. “New Mexico chile is the best.”
2 cups corn masa
1 teaspoon salt
1 (15 ounce) can black beans or 1 cup dry black beans cooked
½ teaspoon chile powder
2 Mexican squash chopped
1 bell pepper
½ yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Dried oregano (optional)
Make the masa by combining the salt, chili powder, corn masa and enough water to hydrate the mixture. Follow directions on packaging. We used blue corn for its color and nutrition. Cover and set aside.
Next, chop the squash and onion, and combine in a pan with just enough oil to saute. Mince the garlic cloves and add at the end once pan is hot and the squash has started to sweat. Season with salt and pepper to your liking, you can also add dried oregano for additional flavor. Remove from heat and set aside.
Next, smash the black beans into a puree. Season to your liking. We like a combination of salt, pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder and cumin.
Divide your masa into 2 ounce portions. Flatten each 2 ounce ball using a tortilla press or a rolling pin. Make sure to press the dough between sheets of parchment paper to avoid sticking.
Once flattened, add a spoonful of your black bean puree mixture to the center of the masa disc, then fold in three sides to make a triangle. To cook, you will heat up a comal (flat griddle) on medium to low heat and place your tetelas with the seam side down to cook first. Cook until lightly browned.
Masa will deepen in color when it has cooked, now flip and repeat. Now you can plate by topping your tetelas with the squash mixture, salsa of your choice, garlic aioli and fresh cilantro. A drizzle of dairy free sour cream makes it even better. Enjoy!
1 cup dairy free mayo
1 cup garlic cloves (cleaned)
1 cup olive oil (or oil of choice)
Simmer garlic and oil over low heat for approximately 20 minutes until garlic is caramelized. Strain. Reserve oil for future use. Blend garlic cloves in a high powered blender until a smooth paste. Add ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon chile powder and mayo. Blend until smooth. It’s ready!
Recipes by Elizabeth Bibiano, Vegos