I love Mexican food but I never make it at home because it seems super labor intensive and full of ingredients (like lard!) that I’d rather consume unknowingly. So when my friend Shannon Faris from The Misanthropic Hostess mentioned she had a fast, healthy recipe for crispy black bean tacos, I begged her to share the recipe as a Tuesday Dinner.
Shannon and I met at UCLA when I joined a sorority and she was the president. Though we weren’t close then — mainly because I was a sweaty-palmed kid from the suburbs and she was, you know, the president of the sorority — through the magic of the internets, I’ve recently discovered that we share a love of tortoiseshell flats, homemade baked goods and UCLA football. (Oh, yes, there’s a lot you don’t know about me, isn’t there, dear reader?)
I love Shannon’s blog because of her meditations on hipsters, salted caramel and Girls, her obsession with Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milkbar Cookbook, and the fact that she constructed UCLA’s iconic Royce Hall out of gingerbread. Behold:
In between cookie construction, Shannon works as a high-powered academic and university administrator. She’s married to the lovely TD and they live in Los Angeles with two cats who appear to be the size of King Kong. I’m thrilled to welcome Shannon to ponder important things like taco semantics — and share a recipe, of course:
Misanthropic Taco Tuesdays
by Shannon Faris of The Misanthropic Hostess
Full confession? TD and I are near failures at pulling off the weeknight dinner. Disparate travel, work and extracurricular schedules mean that many nights we find ourselves wolfing down peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as the clock nears 9:00 PM just so we’re no longer hungry. Sometimes, if we’re feeling fancy, we’ll use paper towels instead of leaning over the sink. That’s assuming we actually eat dinner together. On the frequent nights when I fly solo, I generally revert to my secret single dinner a la Sex and the City: the quesadilla. Said sandwich is always eaten sitting on TD’s side of the bed watching some sort of ABC Family teen drama like Bunheads. Eating while in bed is strictly forbidden at all other times.
There is one dinner item in the Faris and Davis arsenal that triumphs over all. It knocks out the after-hours conference call and obliterates post-work errands. I’m talking about the taco. Humble and often unassuming, this common street food is what brings us to the table on weeknights. To be clear though, for us, the taco is only a panacea at the conceptual level. The rest? Is philosophical.
Allow me to explain. I come from Southern California. To me, a taco is some sort of protein-based filling plus cilantro, radish and a crumbled soft cheese (queso fresco anyone?). All of it is wrapped in a warm blanket of the double corn tortilla and accessorized with a liberal shot of lime and hot sauce. Tapatio or Cholula are preferred though Tabasco or even Sriracha will do.
TD’s experience of the taco? Ground meat, chopped tomatoes, iceberg lettuce and shredded cheese (generally yellow…and yes, I mean yellow as the kind of cheese) all embraced by a — gasp — premade taco shell. Not a fried shell, I’m talking out-of-a-box, pre-molded shells. TD is the first and only person I’ve ever met who not only eats these things voluntarily but prefers them. Prior to this I thought the cardboard-like half domes were only available via distribution to cafeteria ladies and Taco Bell.
This dilemma has lead us to wax philosophical about the taco on many occasions. What, exactly, is a taco? Why do they exist? Or do they? If you had a taco named after you, would what be in it and why? If you were a taco, would you eat yourself? All of these are serious and enjoyable questions that have resulted in deep discussion.
Unfortunately, critical consideration does not fill an empty stomach. And so, as we agreed in our wedding vows, tacos in our casa are a compromise (well, we acknowledged that marriage is a willing and informed compromise. I can’t remember if tacos were specifically mentioned). We take turns on fillings and filling cases. I even bought TD some accessories for his hard shells. Behold, the Taco Proper (pronounced “taco propa” around our dinner table). I happen to think they’re a bit like putting lipstick on a pig, but TD feels the same way about radishes, so, you know.
There are easily a thousand-and-one ways to make a taco. Most require only a pantry raid and a little creative initiative. But, if you are looking for something special, the crispy black bean taco recipe that appeared in the February 2009 issue of Bon Appétit is the way to go. These babies are a feast of flavors, textures and colors. The creamy and spicy beans are countered by crisp cabbage, smooth feta and the crunchy indulgence of a fried shell. Bite into one (or two or three) for a Tuesday dinner and you’ll feel anything but typical weeknight. And, we haven’t even talked about how they come together in less than half and hour and just happen to be unabashedly vegetarian. Dinner is served, taco proper optional.
Crispy black bean tacos
Via Shannon Faris, adapted from Bon Appétit
Note: This is one of those rare recipes where the ingredients magically add up to something greater than their sum of their parts, with the fried corn tortilla and raw cabbage creating layers of chewy, crunchy texture. For those who live in a black-bean- and corn-tortilla-free zone, I made a second version with kidney beans and flour tortillas that was different but just as delicious.
1 can beans, black or kidney, drained
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups coleslaw mix (or shredded cabbage)
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1 small chili, finely chopped
4 tortillas, corn or flour
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
Olive oil for frying
Salt and pepper
Hot sauce (Tapatio, Cholulu, Tabasco)
In a bowl, combine the beans and cumin and mash lightly. In a large bowl, toss together the cabbage mix, cilantro, green onions, chili, lime juice, and 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2-3 teaspoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, spread 1/4 of the bean mixture onto the surface of each tortilla. When the oil is hot, place as many tacos in the skillet as possible (bean-side up) and fry for about 1 minute, before folding them in half. Continue frying until lightly golden and crunchy, about 1 minute per side. Repeat with the remaining tacos.
Remove to a plate and pry open the tacos — careful, they’re hot! Top each one with the cabbage mixture, feta cheese, a dash of hot sauce if desired, and maybe an avocado slice. Fold again and eat.
(Photos courtesy of Shannon Faris, except for the taco photos, which I snapped before devouring.)
P.S. Here’s more Tuesday dinner.