Black Bean Soft Tacos

I was a Taco Bell fanatic.

In my younger days, I can remember meals of a half-dozen or more tacos and/or bean burritos. Short of my mom’s attempts of home made tacos from store bought kits, it was the only Mexican-like food around. At the time it was good (or so I thought).

Several years later there was a small local chain know as Tijuana Fats. Not bad, but far from outstanding. It’s asset was alcohol i.e. margaritas and a pretty good hot salsa (by request).

Now there are Mexican restaurants all over town. Some are locally-owned and quite good, others are franchises that simply go through the motions.

The absolute best is Carrburritos in Chapel Hill, but that’s a 30-45 minute drive. Short of making that trek, I get my regular Mexican food fix from a black bean soft tacos recipe from Martha Rose-Shulman of the NY Times.

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
2 cans black beans, with liquid
8 corn tortillas
1 cup fresh or bottled salsa
2 ounces queso fresco or feta cheese, crumbled

1. Heat the canola oil in a large, heavy nonstick skillet on medium-high, and add the chili powder and ground cumin. Allow the spices to sizzle for a half-minute, then stir in the black beans and 1/2 cup water. Mashing the beans with the back of your spoon, cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until thick and fragrant. As a crust develops on the bottom of the pan, mix the crust into the beans. If they seem too dry, add more water. Remove from the heat.

2. Heat the tortillas, two or three at a time, in a dry skillet on medium-high, or in a microwave. Top with the black beans, about two rounded tablespoons for each tortilla. Spoon on some salsa and sprinkle on the cheese. Fold the filled tortillas in half and serve.

Advance preparation: The refried black beans will keep for three days in the refrigerator. You will have to moisten and thin them with water when reheating.

Yield: Eight tacos

To Martha’s recipe I would add cilantro as an absolutely, positively required ingredient. You can’t do Mexican without cilantro.

As for salsa, I use Mrs. Renfro’s Habanero Salsa. It’s a got a wee bit of heat, but not enough to make you break out in the sweats or go running for the milk jug. As to why or how I ended up with it as a choice I cannot recall. There are dozens of brands on the store shelves and short of tasting each one it’s more or less a toss-up. Do I dare say I choose it because of the label?  Could have been.

On the choice of beans, you could cook your own, but I use canned (for simplicity). I’ve been purchasing the HT store brand, but the last couple of cans have contained too much liquid and not enough beans. Besides wanting more beans and less liquid for my money, more liquid adds to the cooking time.

As always, I swap extra virgin olive oil for canola oil.

I only mash beans for the first five minutes of cooking. That doesn’t get them all, but it gets enough to release the taste of the beans. I’ve found that 15 minutes is a minimum cooking time (20 is better), but it really depends on the amount of liquid. If there’s a lot, cut back on the amount of water added. You don’t want runny, but at the same time you don’t want clay. What’s pictured in the pan is still in the runny stage.

For taco shells, I go with whole wheat Pepito brand. Instructions for heating them were covered in the Chicken Taco recipe.

Even my plated result is too runny, but when you’re starving sometimes perfection gets sacrificed. In addition to the cilantro you’ll also notice that I add pickled Jalapeno slices, grape or cherry tomatoes (halved), chopped onion (red preferred) and crumbled feta cheese.

Servings work out to be between 10 to 12 tacos.

As for Taco Bell, one night about a year or so ago I was coming back from a show at the Cat’s Cradle at close to one in the morning. Not having a thing to eat at home I decided to hit the Taco Bell drive thru. I bought two bean burritos. Three bites was all managed before my stomach revolted in disgust. Never again.

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~ by Genevieve on 2010.02.13.

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