The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Freebirds World Burrito Vegan Tempeh Calabacitas

Posted on August 21, 2015 by The VRG Blog Editor

By Jeanne Yacoubou

Since its 1987 California beginnings, Freebirds World Burrito now based in Austin, Texas is a fast-casual restaurant chain serving burritos, tacos, nachos, quesadillas, bowls, and salads. Listed on its website as of August 2015, there are nearly one hundred locations in the western United States: California, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah. See for complete restaurant contact information.

Tempeh Calabacitas

Introduced on its blog in March 2015, the tempeh Calabacitas is a vegan option offered at Freebirds. According to Director of Culinary Chef James Sanchez “…our calabacitas dish is completely vegan friendly and includes no animal products or byproducts.”

According to a Freebirds press release, tempeh Calabacitas can be added as a protein to any menu item including burritos, tacos, bowls and salads. Chef Sanchez told us that “Our calabacitas, like all our meals, can be personalized to the guest, so if they wanted to add a sauce or side item they certainly could do so.” All menu options at Freebirds are made-to-order and “made-from-scratch” with fresh ingredients.

From a press release on the tempeh Calabacitas Chef Sanchez stated:

“The dish was inspired by my grandmother’s recipe,” said Freebirds Culinary Director James Sanchez. “We have been looking to expand our menu offerings and tempeh offered an interesting opportunity for both vegetarian and vegan guests as well as those looking for a tasty new alternative.”

He described the tempeh Calabacitas in an email to The VRG in this way:

For our calabacitas recipe, the tempeh is chopped into half-inch cubes, quickly fried and tossed with seasoning [including cumin and cilantro]. It’s then braised with peppers and onions, squash, corn and zucchini. The mixture is then combined with our salsa and chipotle, and lastly the tempeh is folded in.

In a later email Chef Sanchez elaborated on how the tempeh is prepared:

We utilize canola oil for sautéing and cooking the tempeh dish, and we use a soy oil for deep frying the tempeh before it’s used in the dish. The fryer used for frying the tempeh does not prepare or come in contact with any animal products. The only animal products cooked in our restaurant are in the oven or on the char grill.

The VRG learned from Chef Sanchez that:

Our kitchens are very organized, with utensils that are color-coded and pots that are designated animal-only and vegan-only, to ensure there is no cross-contamination.

The grill is all for animal protein but we do not use the grill for tempeh. The pot that we cook the tempeh in is not ever used for any recipe that has animal protein.

To help make its tempeh Calabacitas menu option a success Freebirds World Burrito has partnered with Austin, Texas tempeh supplier Hearty Vegan.

Freebirds Side Dishes

Freebirds diners may personalize their order in anyway by choosing from a wide selection of side dishes many of which are vegan. Chef Sanchez told The VRG, “Both the rice and the guacamole are vegan.” Here is more information about the Cilantro Lime Rice and the Spanish Rice dishes:

Both rice dishes use no animal products. No animal-based seasonings. Both are made with white rice. Both are cooked in a brazier pot that is never in contact with any animal product. This pan is signified for rice only.

Bread products offered at Freebirds include the flour, spinach, cayenne and wheat tortillas. They also offer a corn tortilla and flour tortilla for tacos. All menu items including the tacos, tortillas, burritos, quesadillas and nachos are made only with these. Patrons may select which to use with their chosen menu dish according to an email response from Freebirds. The Director of Culinary told The VRG that “…all of our tortillas are free of lard and L-cysteine.”

There are three bean side dishes on the Freebirds menu: (un)refried beans, black beans and whole pinto beans. The VRG was informed that all three contain no lard or animal-based flavorings.

[There are] no animal fats or flavorings in the any of our beans.

The roasted veggies side dish comprised of several types of vegetables is prepared in a vegan-designated pan in vegetable oil without any animal seasonings. In the chef’s own words:

Red bell peppers, green bell peppers, and yellow onions [prepared in] canola oil with fresh chopped garlic and a dried season mix of cayenne, paprika, kosher salt and ancho chile powder…These vegetables are prepared on a cutting board specifically designated for vegetables only. The vegetables are sautéed in the same brazier pot that we cook the rice in…Only vegan-based designated cooking done in the brazier pot…and prepared only with all-vegetable ingredients.

The Freebirds House Salsa is vegan. Here is the recipe reprinted from the Freebirds blog:

Freebirds House Salsa

The Goods
5 lbs ripe tomatoes
½ lb rough-chopped yellow onion
1 cup chopped cilantro
½ cup lemon juice
1 jalapeño
1 Serrano pepper
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp chipotle en adobo
2 tsp garlic
1 cup tomato sauce
2 tbsp salt

The Magic
Roughly chop the tomatoes, yellow onion, cilantro, Serrano pepper and jalapeño
Throw it all into a food processor along with the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth
Give it a little taste and add a pinch of salt to your liking
Serve with warm tortilla chips

This restaurant chain also offers two seasonal salsas called the Creamy Jalapeno Salsa and the Roasted Tomato Salsa which are both all-vegetable. The Culinary Director told The VRG that in the Creamy Jalapeno Salsa there is “no dairy; it is creamy from the emulsification of oil during the blending process.” The staff at Freebirds tries “…to offer seasonal salsa on a quarterly basis….They are available at all restaurants.”

There are several other salsa and sauces on the Freebirds menu. These include the Death Sauce, habanero sauce, fire-roasted corn salsa, and pico de gallo sauce. The VRG was told by Chef Sanchez that all of them “…are vegetable-based and free of animal products.”

Among the dressings offered by Freebirds, there are three tomatillo dressings (mild, hot and roasted) which Chef Sanchez told The VRG are all-vegetable. A vinaigrette dressing is no longer offered according to Freebirds.

On the Freedbirds website, there is a “Special Dietary Information” page which lists food allergens including milk and eggs in their menu options. There is some ingredient information that may be useful to vegans.

The VRG also learned from the Director of Culinary at Freebirds:

The barbeque sauce at Freebirds contains anchovies.
The ancho dressing contains honey but is otherwise all-vegetable.
The ranch dressing contains dairy but does not contain gelatin.
The sour cream contains dairy but does not contain gelatin.
The cheeses are made with animal rennet.

The contents of this posting, our website and our other publications, including Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company statements. It is impossible to be 100% sure about a statement, info can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made. Please use your best judgment about whether a product is suitable for you. To be sure, do further research or confirmation on your own.

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