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Sunday, June 19, 2011


Tonight I had one of those "O my heck, why haven't I done this before??" moments.

A few weeks ago, after two successful dinners of homemade pupusas, I started growing in my confidence that this white girl could perhaps make tortillas.

Keep in mind that I have taken students to Mexico and Central America I could not even count how many times on service trips in the last 3 decades... and once you have a few sweet 4'8" abuelitas make your group a grip of corn tortillas that are simply a taste of heaven on earth, you think you will never, EVER attempt to replicate them. It would just be embarrassing, right?

Perhaps it has been just long enough since I've gone on such a trip (I last went to Guatemala in July 08) or maybe my 4.4 lb bag of masa harina sitting in my pantry keeps calling my name... however it happened, one day I found myself at Santa Cruz Market in Old Town Goleta buying a tortilla press that looks exactly like the one pictured here. (Because let's be clear, I will never be able to slap the dough between my palms into perfectly flat little circles the way the abuelitas do... I know my limits.)

So I pulled out cast iron skillet one night last week and simply followed the directions on the bag. I'm not gonna lie -- they were the bomb.com, especially with a little butter. (For those of you reading this who are rolling your eyes at me and saying, "OH PLEASE! Quit acting like you invented tortillas you idiot!" I say "Agreed.")

So tonight my housemate and I took it to another level. I made a skillet of refried black beans, and she roasted a jalapeño she grew in her garden, along with an onion, 3 cloves of garlic and two large tomatoes for some roasted salsa. We made tacos with refried black beans, grilled onions, avocado, sour cream and homemade roasted salsa. I am sick with pleasure, so stuffed and happy am I. This is a fantastic meal to make with friends, and is just so easy. Stop it some more, I say!

To make this meal, mix the tortilla dough about an hour before you plan on eating. Follow the directions on the bag. I added an extra tablespoon of water to get my tortillas soft and thin.

Pre-heat the oven broiler to prepare to roast the vegetables for salsa. Then start the beans.

Serves 2

1 can black or pinto beans (or 1 pound of dried beans, soaked overnight, then cooked all day in a crock pot with 8 cups of water or boiled till the skins fall off -- this will make enough beans to feed 6-8 people)

jar of crushed garlic

vegetable oil

favorite hot sauce

garlic salt

This is really a fake-it-till-you-make-it recipe because it is entirely based on personal preferences. It's all about how smooth or chunky you like your beans, whether you want them low fat or super salty or full of garlic or really fried. So get ready to experiment. It will taste great, regardless.

Basic Directions
1. Heat 1-3 tablespoons of oil in a heavy skillet (cast iron is best) on medium heat. Spoon in some crushed garlic. As Doña Ofelia told me in Guatemala, when I asked her how much garlic she puts in her beans, she smiled at me, her black eyes twinkling as she said, "¡Mucho ajo!" Is it possible to have too much garlic? I don't think so. But I put in a good tablespoon for one can of beans.

2. Keep an eye on the garlic and oil. Flick drops of water in the oil periodically until the drops sizzle. Then the oil is ready. Push around the garlic till it gets a little brown.

3. Pour in the beans. If you are using canned beans, pour in the water from the can too. If you're using beans you have cooked, ladle in enough water till... it looks right (sorry to be vague, you just have to feel your way through it).

4. Smash the beans with a potato masher or the flat of a sturdy spatula or wooden spatula. Again, we're talking preferences here. Keep the beans in enough liquid that they keep frying and cooking. The liquid is key to having your beans be thick. Shake some garlic salt over them. I put in a few drops of Picamás green hot sauce too. A can of diced green chiles taste just fine as well.

5. Keep turning, smashing, scraping the beans in the pan, turning down the heat to low once they are done. If you were in Guatemala you would puree the beans until they are black and smooth. I just make mine smashed, but still chunky. Again, personal preferences.

Meanwhile... place two large tomatoes, 3 cloves of garlic, an onion cut in half and a jalapeño chile cut in half and seeded on a rimmed broiler pan. Place them in the broiler for 6-8 minutes, turning them frequently. Keep an eye on the garlic, which you may remove a bit earlier.

Remove them when the skin has blistered on the tomatoes. Peel off the skins of the garlic, onions and tomatoes, place in a food processor with at least one squeezed lime. Pulse the mixture a few times. Salt to taste and stir in some cilantro.

At the same time... someone else should be cooking up the tortillas. Pay attention to the directions on the bag regarding the "use thick plastic wrap with the tortilla press." It really works. I am finding that you want the heat a little high to cook them with a light crust on the outside but still soft. Keep cooked tortillas in the oven (turned off after you broiled the vegetables) or at 250 in a toaster oven.

Then spread it all out on the table, with whatever other ingredients you want to include... sour cream, avocado, grated cheese, taco meat, chopped lettuce, diced tomatoes, roasted corn... the list is endless. Have a taco feast, and finish an evening with a glorious food hangover. ¡Buen provecho!


  1. Okay I had to comment...YUMMMMMMM! And we make those black beans ALL THE TIME. Although didn't our cook (I forget her name) tell us to put a tiny bit of brown sugar in them? Delicious. Speaking of picamas....that is the all time best hot sauce that I discovered in Guatemala and my 4 bottle stash that I took home with me ran out 2 1/2 years ago :( Time to go again! Thanks for the salivating post!

    PS. The HS's left today for FoHome and it just brings back the memories:)

  2. Michelle has set me up with an adequate supply of Picamás and I just might be willing to part with one bottle for a very small fee. Don't you have a rather fruitful avocado tree in your yard??

  3. Yes we do and our avo's are twice the size of those CSA ones (not to brag). I am all about this swap!

  4. Sold! Let me know how to make it work... email might be better :)