Tuesday, December 9, 2008

'Bean Tacos' Tostada-Style and Greens

Readers must think that we're obsessed with greens since they appear so frequently! If your family subscribes to a CSA basket, you'll understand why. Evan and I love braising or winter greens; they're delicious and one of the easiest kinds of vegetables to prepare and add to almost any dish. If prepared well, they generally don't taste bitter to me. The only green I really can't abide is collards. I've tried several times, but I just find them funky and unappealing. Thankfully, Elspeth is not at the stage yet where she rejects anything green. She'll often pick out the greens in a dish, but if we then offer them to her on a piece of bread, she eats them happily.

Lest dear readers think that it's always high-brow cooking times here at EATS!, I share this recipe from our Sunday dinner. Pre-Elspeth, Evan and I would often look to what we call 'bean tacos' as an easy supper and we decided to give it a go and see if Elspeth would agree. Our corn tortillas were a bit stale, so I crisped them in the oven (hence, the 'tostada-style' in the title). My plan was to use a can of jalapeno refried beans, but we didn't have any in the pantry. Sigh. I made my own spread, but it was quite lackluster. I have some ideas for improvement for next time should we not be stocked up or the canned jalapeno bean be too spicy for the babe.

On the plus side, I tried a new greens technique using the microwave and it was great! Some folks are anti-microwave and believe that it compromises nutritional quality or is dangerous or has something else wrong with it. I am not in this camp and have not been convinced that it's harmful, especially if you use glass or ceramic dishes instead of plastic for microwave cooking. In fact, a great tip for parents of young children who have trouble biting off carrot sticks (but who still love to practice biting) is to cut carrots into sticks and then microwave the sticks for 45 seconds. They'll still be crispy and not have that icky cooked carrot flavor, but they'll be soft enough for chompability by a toddler (with molars).

Though there are several parts to this recipe, it doesn't take that long and you could certainly simplify further by not toasting the tortillas and opting for the canned beans.

TOSTADA SHELLS
If you want to make your own tortilla chips, you can follow the instructions through Step 6. Then cut the tortillas into triangles and continue with Step 7.

INGREDIENTS
5-6 small to medium corn tortillas
1-2 tsp vegetable or olive oil
Table, kosher or sea salt to taste

DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Place one tortilla on a rimmed baking sheet
  3. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush one side of the tortilla with oil
  4. Turn tortilla over and brush second side, sprinkling with salt
  5. Place second tortilla on top of first; brush with oil and apply salt
  6. Repeat with remaining tortillas (only the first one is oiled on both sides--the rest are oiled on the bottom side by the top of the previous tortilla)
  7. Spread tortillas in a single layer on the baking sheet
  8. Bake for 10 minutes and check. Continue baking until golden
  9. Serve with bean spread and greens

PINTO BEAN SPREAD
Warning: what I made was deeply boring, but the fundamental idea isn't flawed, so if you experiment I'm sure you could come up with something tasty. This is just the best I could do on a Sunday night with little inspiration. Some ideas for improving this spread: add some chipotle in adobo sauce (if spice isn't a concern); add some chopped tomatoes or a small amount of tomato paste; add a splash of red wine vinegar; use a bit of chicken stock to substitute some of the olive oil; add some salsa.

INGREDIENTS
1 can pinto beans
2 TBSP olive oil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
1/4 tsp smoked paprika, or to taste
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste--I found I needed to add quite a bit of salt

DIRECTIONS
Place all ingredients in a (mini) food processor and blend until smooth.

EASY BRAISING GREENS
This attempt, at least, exceeded my expectations. Here are a couple of handy tips for dealing with winter greens. *Use garden shears (like you'd use to cut flowers) to stem the greens. I fold each green in half and the use the shears up the back to remove most of the spine of the green. I don't mind some spine, but you need to remove some or your greens will be tough. The shears make the job cleaner and easier than using a knife and cutting board and if you compost, you can snip the spine directly into your compost bucket. *Give the greens a soak. All greens and lettuces are best cleaned by soaking--this helps avoid a mouthful of grit! I like to bathe my greens after I have stemmed them. Place in a large tub of water and agitate to loosen the dirt. Then let sit for a few minutes. The dirt will settle to the bottom of the tub and you can lift your greens out gently.
For chopping greens, I usually use a take on the chiffonade method: I stack my leaves and then roll them up (this can be a bit tricky with tough leaves like kale but I soldier on); I then make three lengthwise cuts in the rolled up greens so that my ribbons of greens are not as long; slice the rolled greens width-wise into pieces.

INGREDIENTS
1 bunch dinosaur/lacinto kale (also known as cavolo nero) or other hearty green
Salt to taste

DIRECTIONS
  1. Stem and clean greens (using methods listed above if they sound good to you)
  2. Chop greens into bite-sized pieces (using method above if desired)
  3. Place greens in a microwave-safe bowl (ideally glass as all plastic will leach somewhat). The greens should still be moist from the soaking. If they seem like there's not enough liquid to steam them, add a teaspoon or two to the dish.
  4. Sprinkle on salt to taste
  5. Cover the bowl and microwave on high heat for 4 minutes
  6. Remove from microwave and test doneness; you may wish to cook for 1-2 minutes longer

TO ASSEMBLE THE BEAN TOSTADAS
Spread some pinto bean mixture onto a crisped corn tortilla. Top with cooked braising greens. Add hot sauce or other condiments to taste. Serve carrot sticks on the side if you're feeling really fancy. Elspeth was less critical of this meal than I was and had a great time with the carrots.

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