An Easy, Plant-Based Mexican Dinner
I’m now on day 5 of quarantine and feeling alright. I’ve been writing this blog, cooking up a storm, and working out in the park. Yesterday I developed a little fan club of neighborhood girls, taught them how to do snap jumps and agreed to judge their monkey bar competition. I also finished reading Sharks Fin and Sichuan Pepper by Fuschia Dunlop, and it was so good! I recommend it to anyone interested in Chinese food or food writing in general. Although the “Scary Crab” chapter did make me a little wary of the imported ingredients I’ve been cooking with…
Tim is definitely taking the quarantine harder than I am. He’s been on a cleaning rampage- scrubbing down the trash cans, rearranging the cabinets, and right now he’s doing something with the broom in the bedroom. Yesterday, trying to point out the positive side of the situation, I said “at least we’re quarantined with each other!” He responded, “yeah, if we were alone, I’d be surviving on frozen pizza, and you would be living in squalor.” SO TRUE.
Last night we took a break from the Asian kick I’ve been on (I’m going to attempt rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves today, but more on that later), and had refried beans with quesadillas, red cabbage, and salsa guacamolada. I first stumbled on this salsa recipe from Chef Juan Pablo Loza while looking for a mushroom taco recipe. I fell in love with the salsa, which is like a cross between salsa verde and guacamole, and this is the second time I’ve made it. The recipe makes a massive quantity, and leftovers are great with any Mexican dinner, or for dipping chips or veggies. While a salsa verde with charred tomatillos and poblanos (like this one) is a wonderful thing, it’s nice sometimes to make a sauce that only takes 5 minutes and covers all the bases from acidic, to spicy, to creamy. I ate a little with a spoon last night and realized that it would also make an excellent cold soup.
The supporting roles were played by a succulent pot of refried beans, some red cabbage quickly stir fried with cumin and coriander, quesadillas, and lime wedges. Refried beans are possibly my favorite way to eat beans. I like them equally with pinto or black beans. Ever since reading How Not to Die by Michael Gregor, M.D. I’ve been incorporating more beans into my diet, because they are SO HEALTHY. Aside from being a fiber superstar and a source of plant-based protein, beans can benefit gut bacteria, help to lower blood sugar, and have been shown to be a predictive factor in longer lifespan in populations across the world!
I used to think that adding salt to beans early in the cooking process would lead to toughness, but Tamar Adler helpfully debunked this myth on her podcast, Food Actually. Ever since I started adding salt at the beginning, my beans have been exponentially tastier. This batch especially benefited from authentic Mexican herbs, avocado leaf and epazote. Avocado leaf has a slightly smoky, anise-like scent, and the dried epazote (though next time I’ll seek out fresh, because I’ve read it’s more flavorful) smelled faintly sour. In the past I’ve substituted bay leaves and oregano, which are also delicious if the Mexican herbs are unavailable.
Guacamolada, by Juan Pablo Loza, via Food and Wine
10 tomatillos, peeled and cut into quarters
½ white onion
1 bunch cilantro
1 garlic clove (I used 3)
2 serrano peppers, stemmed (you can also de-seed these, depending on your spice preference)
Salt to taste
Pulse ingredients in a food processor until blended but slightly chunky.
1 lb dried pinto or black beans
2 large white or yellow onions, peeled- 1 sliced in half, the other diced
8 cloves garlic, peeled- 4 crushed and left whole, 4 finely chopped
2 avocado leaves (or substitute bay leaves)
A few epazote leaves, dried and crumbled or fresh and chopped (or substitute ¼ tsp dried oregano)
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste
Soak the beans in cold water for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
Drain the beans and add them to a pot with the onion that is sliced in half, the whole crushed garlic cloves, avocado leaves, about a teaspoon of fine sea salt, and enough water to cover by a few inches. Bring to a boil, then turn the burner to low and simmer the beans until tender, about 1 ½ hours.
Reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid, then drain the beans. Discard the onion, garlic, avocado leaves.
Heat a frying pan or Dutch oven (I used the same pot I had cooked the beans in) over a medium flame. Add the olive oil and sauté the chopped onions until translucent. Add the chopped garlic and cook for another minute. Add the beans with a bit of their cooking liquid, and mash with a wooden spoon. Continue this process, adding more cooking liquid and mashing, until the beans reach desired consistency. You can leave them a little chunky or mash them smooth. Taste for seasoning and stir in epazote.