Contemporary Twists: Black Bean Tostadas

What exactly is contemporary cuisine? Does it involve using new age techniques and a bunch of frozen nitrogen, or is it all about deconstructing every dish to its basic components? If you ask me, I believe contemporary cuisine is essentially taking a tried and tested dish and giving it a youthful spin. Tostadas have probably been a snack in Mexico for a long time, so I took this a chance to turn this into a meal full of fresh and robust flavors. My black bean base has all the traditional spices going for it, such as cumin and grassy epazote leaves, but it also gets a boost of smokiness from chipotle chiles. 

The toppings in the tostada are playful, and they add bursts of color to create an eye-popping presentation. Red bell peppers are roasted in the oven until they are charred all over, with juice oozing out all over the place to reveal tender and sweet flesh. The cumin-flecked zucchini is a little bit of the Indian inside me coming out to play. Bright green zucchini are quickly sautéed with ground cumin and whole cumin seeds, which not only bring in a little east-west fusion, but they really allow that warm and smoky cumin flavor to sing.

Crema is a term in Mexico which simply refers to sour cream. Typically, a Mexican-style sour cream is a little thicker and slightly more sour than American sour creams. I make a game-changing move by blending up creamy goat cheese with zesty bits of scallions and cilantro, and then coupling it with a squirt of lime juice and a spoon of yogurt to give this reinterpreted crema a classic sour edge. As the luscious mixture is dolloped over the tostada, the entire dish gives way to a harmony of crunchy textures, smoky vegetables, sweet and sour juices, and above all, well-spiced perfection. Yum, yum, yum! This is a weeknight meal done right.

Recipe: Black Bean Tostadas with Roasted Red Peppers, Cumin-Flecked Zucchini, and Goat Cheese Crema

Ingredients

For the Beans:

  • 2 15 0z cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 canned chipotle chile plus a spoon of the adobo sauce it comes in
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried epazote leaves
  • salt to taste

For the Peppers

  • 3 red bell peppers
  • a sprinkle of salt and pepper
  • a drizzle of olive oil

For the Zucchini

  • 1 large zucchini, halved and then sliced fine
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the Crema

  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped
  • 1 small handful fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon yogurt plus a tablespoon of liquid in the yogurt container

For Assembly

  • 10 tostada shells
  • tomatillo salsa (salsa verde), store-brought or homemade

Method:

For the Beans: In a large sauce pot, heat some vegetable oil over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and saute for about 5 minutes, till they are softened. Then add the garlic, chipotle chile, and adobo sauce. Stir it around for a minute or so, till everything begins to release its aromas. Add the ground cumin and epazote leaves and stir for another minute. If you notice any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, add some water to deglaze and release them. Then add the black beans and salt to taste. Allow the black beans to cook over low heat for about 5-10 minutes, till they are warmed through.

For the Roasted Peppers: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the red peppers in a greased sheet pan lined with aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Roast for 1 hour, turning over half way through, till the skins are nice and charred. Remove the peppers from the oven and cover them in aluminum foil. Allow them to sweat in the foil for about 15 minutes before slicing them into strips. Allow the strips to cool to room temperature.

For the Zucchini: Heat some vegetable oil in a saucepan over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and allow them to toast in the oil for a minute or so. Then add the zucchini, ground cumin, salt, and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes over medium-high heat, till the zucchini is soft and tender.

For the Crema: Mix the goat cheese, scallions, cilantro, lime juice, yogurt, and yogurt liquid in a bowl. Store the crema in the fridge until ready to serve.

Assembly: Take a tostada shell and spread some beans. Top with the peppers, zucchini, salsa, and crema. The beans, peppers, and zucchini can be eaten warm or at room temperature.

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