This past weekend my brother and sister came to visit. We were excited, since this was my sister’s first visit since we moved back to the East Coast, and only my brother’s second visit. I was also slightly anxious, since my siblings eat a significantly different diet than Brian and I do, and I was suddenly scrambling for an idea of something we could all enjoy–vegetarian and dairy-free for Brian, gluten- and dairy-free for me, but heavier on meat and lighter on beans, with real dairy, for my siblings. My brother and sister said that they’d eat whatever I made, but I like cooking for guests becaue I like to feed them food they like. Not food they suffer through.
Then I remembered a church dinner a few weeks ago: the theme had been Mexican, so I had taken the fixings for tacos. A can of refried beans, lettuce, tomato, onion, and salsa. Crunchy corn shells for me. Soft wheat shells for anyone else who prefers them. They were a success, especially with Brian, despite realizing after they were consumed that the canned refried beans I’d bought included lard. So I thought why not recreate the magic, with a made from scratch meat option (no taco seasoning packets with mystery powder ingredients for me!) and real cheese for my siblings, non-dairy “cheese” for me and Brian, vegetable fixings for all of us, and homemade refried beans, lard-free, for Brian. So that’s what I did. Since I’d never made either item from scratch before, I found recipes for both taco meat and refried beans in The Joy of Cooking.
Refried Beans (Frijoles Refritos) (The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker)
“Heat in a large skillet over medium-high heat: 2 tbsp vegetable oil, bacon drippings, or lard. Add: 1 medium onion, chopped. Cook, stirring often, until deep golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add: 4 garlic cloves, minced. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add 1 cup at a time, mashing each addition to a course puree with a potato masher or the back of a large spoon before adding the next: 4 cups cooked black or pinto beans (about 1 1/3 cups dried), undrained if canned. Stir in: 1 cup reserved bean cooking liquid or water.
Cook, stirring often, over medium to low heat until the beans are a little soupier than you would like to serve them–they will thicken as they sit. The whole mashing and cooking process should take 10-15 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Serve warm with: crumbled queso fresca or feta or grated parmesan [and] tortilla chips.”
Ground Beef Tacos (also from The Joy of Cooking, by Rombauer, Rombauer, and Beck)
“Heat in a medium skillet over medium heat: 2 tbsp vegetable oil. Add 3/4 cup chopped onion. Cook, stirring often, until softened, 4-5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add: 1 lb ground beef. Cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until it is no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Stir in: 1-3 garlic cloves, 1 tbsp chili powder, 2 tsp ground cumin, (2 tsp ground coriander), [and] salt to taste. Cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Add: 1 cup tomato sauce [and] minced fresh jalapenos, chopped drained canned jalapenos, or chile or hot pepper sauce to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, over low heat for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place in separate serving bowls: 2 cups shredded lettuce, 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack, cheddar, or queso fresco (4oz), Salsa Fresca, [and] sour cream. Have ready: Twelve 6-inch corn or flour tortillas, or 12 taco shells.
Transfer the meat mixture to a serving bowl. Place the taco shells in a basket. Allow guests to assemble their own tacos, or layer each shell with some of the ground meat mixture, lettuce, and cheese, and top with generous dollops of salsa and sour cream.”
I apologize for what I think is an awkward recipe format. That’s how they’re printed in The Joy of Cooking, so that’s how I copied it here. The odd format of the recipes is part of the reason I haven’t used their cookbook more. But in this case I am glad I did.
The refried beans were rather easy to make. I opted for vegetable based shortening instead of lard or bacon fat, and used canned pinto beans. Sauteeing the onion and garlic was standard fare, and then all we had to do (Derek graciously helped me make dinner.) was add the cans of beans, mashing them as we added. I would recommend using the back of a spoon, as my potato masher wasn’t very efficient at mashing the beans. I noticed after adding and mashing two cans of beans, juice included, that the beans were extremely soupy. Soupy doesn’t work well with taco shells, so I drained a third can of beans, added them, and mashed them, and didn’t even add the cup of water called for. That thickened the beans up more. Letting them cook for about an extra fifteen minutes, and then cool for about ten minutes thickened them to a nice smooth consistency. We added some garlic salt for a little extra flavor, and they were ready to serve. Derek pointed out that how slowly the moisture cooked off of the beans may have been due to using a medium size saucepan instead of a saute pan, which was otherwise occupied, as…
Meanwhile, we’d been also been sauteing the onions for the taco meat, and then the meat itself, in olive oil. Because our jumbo container of hamburger was 2 1/2 lbs, we’d sauteed two onions, not a mere 3/4 cup. The more onions, the better! Once the meat was evenly browned we added the garlic and spices, including the coriander, and then a can of tomato sauce. I am a lightweight when it comes to spicy foods, so we did not add jalapenos of any kind or hot sauce directly to the meat, but set out several flavors of hot sauce on the table, for everyone other than myself to use.
I found the way the recipe listed out what taco fixings to serve rather humorous, until we sat down to eat and I realized I hadn’t bought any sour cream. My siblings didn’t complain, though, and just added extra cheese instead. Brian and I used Daiya vegan “cheese” shreds on our tacos. Daiya has the best flavor and texture of any artificial/ dairy-free cheese product I’ve tried so far. I served both crunchy corn shells for me and soft wheat shells for anyone else who wanted them. The refried beans were delicious, and were devoured, with rave reviews from everyone. The taco meat was a bit bland without the jalapenos, I think, but mixed with the vegetables, salsa, and shredded cheeses, the mild flavor was not noticeable. With some of our habanero hot sauce, I’m told it was not noticeable at all, and there certainly wasn’t much left over. Still, if you don’t mind heat to your food, the recipe would probably be better with the jalapenos.
This meal was such a success that Brian has requested that we do it again, and regularly. For now, refried beans. I can’t wait. They really were delicious. Maybe some taco meat for him too, after Easter. We’ve decided that we will go back to having a meat meal or two per week at that point. I feel better if I have meat at least once a week, and Brian isn’t ready to do without his burger and sausage BBQs this summer. I’m also relieved because it will make my recipe selection task slightly less challenging. It will be all about striking a balance. And eating more refried beans!