Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Black Bean Tacos with Southwestern Slaw

As if it isn’t embarrassing enough that the month of December caught me by surprise and then flew by before I could get my Christmas list in order, you won’t believe what happened to me in January.

The same doggone thing.

I was just so relieved when Christmas was over and I could pack up my seven Christmas ornaments and throw the tree into the woods and put the stockings somewhere obscure so that I won’t be able to find them next year (again) that I ended up doing the same thing I do every year: entirely forgetting that January is my busiest work month of the year. I settled in all cozy and happy in my warm house, planning to hunker down for the cold month of January in which (I thought) my schedule would be free and clear and the kids and I could work on art projects and new recipes and that sort of thing.

But somewhere around the middle of January, my eyes rolled back in my head and I jumped up from The Snuggle Chair where I was reading a book to the kids, and I ran to the computer to try and make up for lost time when I remembered (finally) that there were three major deadlines looming at the end of the month.

Just like they do every year.

I don’t know what to do about this utter failure to remember routines. I can recite various tax rates off the top of my head and keep the most fastidious calendar and daily to-do list that you’ve ever seen, yet I am incapable of getting my act together in December and January.

This is a cry for help. I need for someone, anyone, to please, pretty please, remind me in December that Christmas is coming and to make sure I do not let my guard down in January because, you know, little-bitty things like W2s are due.

I began the month with the best of intentions. It seemed the ideal time for slow roasting, for simmering stocks, for tackling that page-long, 8-point type, totally complicated cake recipe from last month’s issue of Bon Appetit. I was thinking of taking a knitting class and making our own hats, reading up on F-stops and apertures because those concepts are still blowing my mind, and going to the kids' storytime at the library.

Nowhere in my plan for a happy winter was there any mention of insurance audits and financial statements and SSA-required paperwork. Under no circumstances was I going to hunch over the laptop in the late evenings, starting my work days a whopping 14 hours after I actually woke up, worried sick about deadlines.

For the love of all that is sacred…

The bright side is that its all over now, and if I gloss over the fact that I spent the past few evenings recovering in front of vapid television shows after the kids were in bed, there really is no downside. I mean, I did get paid for, you know, working, and from what I understand, people do that sort of thing all the time.

Actually, there is another layer of silver lining to unfurl here, and that is my newfound appreciation for quick and easy dinners (though I must admit I loathe saying the phrase ‘quick and easy’ – it just sounds like it involves a can of condensed something-or-other, doesn’t it?).

Anyway. This just clearly wasn't the kind of month where I had the time to make my own pasta or spend an entire day prepping arancini.

So one afternoon, right in the midst of all those deadlines, when I was trying to ignore the fact that I was playing with my children when I really should have been working, The Big Boy and I were taking an imaginary vacation, pretending we were on a houseboat in Alaska and planning what we would eat on our “cruise” from what we saw in the February issue of Bon Appetit. See, in our pretend vacations, someone else is cooking and everything is always in season, so we are allowed to simply salivate over all the luscious food photos and even pretend to eat the pictures if we are so inclined. But when we turned the page past an advertisement which featured gi-normous slabs of beef posing as island mountains (because apparently even the advertisers have vacations on the brain), I stumbled across a hunger-inducing photo of crispy black bean tacos in their Fast Easy Fresh column.

I kid you not, the tacos looked so delicious and sounded so blessedly quick and easy (there I go again) that I planned them for that night’s dinner. Now obviously I had to make things a little difficult on myself because otherwise I just wouldn’t be me, you know, so instead of using canned beans, as called for in the recipe, I set some dried beans to soaking. It was early in the day when we ran across that picture anyway, so I had ample time to cover a few beans with a little bit of water. And, well, because it seems like virtually nothing is available fresh around here during the end of January and the first couple weeks of February, I broke down and went to the supermarket to pick up a bag of pre-shredded coleslaw mix (man, that hurt) and some fresh cilantro.

I will atone for these sins come springtime when some veggies start showing up at the farmer’s markets.

In the meantime though, I was charmed to pieces by this recipe. It really is easy, and it is crazy-quick, and the unexpected combination of feta and a southwestern-type slaw served atop pan-crisped tortillas stuffed with simple black beans is, well, kind of enchanting, I think. The crunch of the cabbage along with the tartness from the feta and the lime juice provided the perfect foil to the earthiness of the beans, and frankly, I thought the dish looked simply beautiful. The Carnivore and I both enjoyed it, so I’m going to keep this in rotation for a little while here although, actually, I suppose a more virtuous person might hold off until the cabbage harvests start back up.

I'm running a little low on virtuosity myself.


CRISPY BLACK BEAN TACOS WITH SOUTHWESTERN SLAW (serves 2 as an entree, adapted from Bon Appetit)
  • 1/2 cup dried black beans, soaked and cooked (or 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed & drained)
  • 1/2 tsp dried cumin
  • 5 tsp olive oil (may need a little more, depending on type of pan being used), divided
  • 1 Tbs lime juice
  • 2 cups shredded mixture of green cabbage, purple cabbage, and carrots (also known as coleslaw mix)
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • salt & pepper
  • 4 yellow corn tortillas
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • bottled hot sauce (like Texas Pete)
  1. Coarsely mash together the beans and the cumin. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine 2 tsp olive oil with the lime juice. Add the coleslaw mix, green onions and cilantro and toss to coat with the dressing. Add salt & pepper to taste.
  3. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 3 tsp olive oil. If using cast-iron, a little more olive oil will be needed. You're looking for a shimmering layer that entirely coats the bottom of the skillet and is able to slosh around just a little.
  4. Two at a time, add the tortillas to the skillet in a single layer. To make them fit, it is okay to let a little of each tortilla come up the sides a little (the tacos will be flipped and cooked on both sides).
  5. Spoon 1/4 of the bean mixture onto half of each tortilla; cook for one minute.
  6. Fold tacos in half and cook until golden brown on each side (about 1 minute per side).
  7. Place 2 tacos on each of 2 plates (rear end to rear end) and top each plate with half of the slaw and crumbled feta. Drizzle with a little hot sauce and serve immediately.