Monday, April 6, 2009

Two days of tacos: Black bean tacos and tacos de carnitas

Lately I've been all about making tacos. They're simple and fast to prepare and the ingredients work well in a variety of recipes, so I don't end up with as much wasted food as I usually do. I've tried several variations, but these two were the hands down winners. I served Mexican corn on the side both taco nights (hey, a gal can only be so creative!)

Soft Black Bean Tacos
  • 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 to15 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

You don't get much easier than this. Even better, there was something oddly satisfying about cracking the weird beany crust on the top of the pan to mix it back into the beans. The tacos were quite satisfying despite not having meat in them, and they had a great spicy kick that could be upped with hotter salsa or more chile pepper. I added a squeeze of lime juice, which I thought complemented the beans well.

Tacos de Carnitas
Time: 2 1/2 hours

  • 3 pounds pork shoulder, either butt or picnic
  • 7 strips orange zest
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped, plus finely chopped onion for garnish
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cinnamon stick, preferably Mexican canela
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed dried oregano leaves, preferably Mexican
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 24 small corn tortillas, warmed, for serving
  • Chopped cilantro for garnish Salsa for garnish.
  1. Trim any thick fat from surface of pork. Cut meat into 1-inch cubes, discarding any that are pure fat. Put pork in a large pot. Add enough water to cover by 2 inches, orange zest, garlic, chopped onion, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, bay leaves, oregano, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and the cloves.
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Skim off any scum that forms on surface. Simmer uncovered for 1 1/2 hours, until pork is very soft; add water if necessary to keep meat submerged. Season with salt, then continue to cook until water has evaporated, about 30 minutes. Cook a little longer to fry meat slightly; cook even longer if you prefer crisper meat. Stir often and add a bit of water if meat sticks or seems about to burn.
  3. Remove bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Spoon a few tablespoons of carnitas onto each tortilla. Top each taco with cilantro, finely chopped onion and salsa. Serve.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

I used picnic cut pork, as well as regular oregano and cinnamon. I just now noticed that ground cloves were on the ingredient list, and I forgot those completely. Oops! It's difficult to gauge what 2 inches of water looked like, but I even whipped out measuring tap, and still my water wouldn't boil down as fast as they said it would. I ended up cooking the pork for 2.5 hours, instead of the suggested 2, and even then, I had to pour a bit of the water off through a fine meshed sieve.

In the end, though, the carnitas were amazing and oh so tender, so I wouldn't change a thing in terms of the preparation other than perhaps remembering to add the cloves. The Boyfriend raved about them, and both of us agreed that it was the hint of cinnamon that made these porky morsels extra delish. Next time, I'd just start the cooking earlier so that 2.5 hours after I started actually coincided with the hungry boyfriend wanting dinner.



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