tacogate '08: tasty pico and inauthentic refried beans

I know you’re all watching American Idol right now. Why does Jason Castro force us to love him, with his dreadlocks and blue eyes and charming goofiness?

Part Four in the series goes back to basics: pico de gallo and refried beans. Every time I have people over and bring out this pico there’s a minor riot, which never ceases to amaze me – and sadden me, have we become so inured to Tostitos salsa? Will future generations know nothing except Pace Picante Sauce?

Fresh pico only takes 5 ingredients and a little chopping. Do it for the flavor. Do it for the children. Dear god, won’t someone think of the children?

The best salsa you’ve ever had takes plum tomatoes, onion (white or yellow, I prefer yellow), jalapeno, cilantro and lime juice. You can vary it according to your tastes – I hear there are people who don’t like cilantro, although I doubt their existence – although the basic proportions listed in the recipe below produce a salsa that will be wholly devoured every time. You may be tempted to get better tomatoes, but you can shove those heirlooms where the sun don’t shine. Plain old semi-mealy plum tomatoes are the Mexican standard; you don’t even have to skin ’em or seed ’em. For the Scrabblganza I chopped almost FIVE POUNDS of those suckers, and there was nothing left at the end of the night.

Possibly the worst picture I’ve ever taken and posted. I’m really sorry.

The half-eaten dish in the lower left holds my totally inauthentic refried beans, posted here by request. I’ve been making these beans since the fabled vegetarian days of story and song (before the great smoked sausage invasion of ’01) and my favorite way to eat them continues to be wrapped in a tortilla with roasted potatoes, onions and peppers. I made them thinking they’d be an extra option for the veggies, but nearly everyone scooped them into their frankentacos.

Like the pico, the chard and sweet potato tacos and pretty much everything else I make, these beans are endlessly variable, although I can only vouch for the basic recipe. More jalapeno, more cilantro, more lime, onion, garlic and copious amounts of salt (beans always take way more than you think is necessary, or healthy) mingle with pinto beans quickly before being mashed by hand for a creamy but rustic texture. Thinned out with a little water or stock this also makes a great bean dip, especially if you wanted to get ambitious and make some fresh chips out of whole tortillas.

Both of these dishes can be made in advance and will just get better and better as they sit in the fridge and the flavors boogie together. If you’re not serving veggies and you’re the kind of person who saves their bacon fat in the fridge, the beans are more excellent when refried in lard. If you’re the kind of person who values their cardiovascular health, you can skip this step.

COMING SOON: The final installment of the TacoGate series! Food tasting at the United Nations’ Delegates Dining Room! A Thomas Keller Smackdown!

Best Basic Pico de Gallo
4 plum tomatoes, skins and seeds and all, diced
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2 jalapenos, finely diced
2 handfuls cilantro, chopped
juice of 1 lime
sprinkle of salt

Mix everything together in a bowl. Adjust the lime and salt levels. Eat now, or eat later. Makes approximately 1 pint.

Note:  Most of the heat of jalapenos is found in the seeds and ribs (the white stuff), so you can vary the heat level of the pico by in/excluding those elements.

Inauthentic Refried Beans
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, diced
1-2 jalapenos, finely diced
2 cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 c. water
1 handful cilantro, chopped
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp. kosher salt, + more to taste
2 tbsp. bacon fat (or more olive oil)

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and jalapeno and saute until the onion is translucent and just beginning to turn golden, about 8 minutes.

Add the beans and water, and cook everything together for 2-3 more minutes, until the beans are heated through and easy to mash. Using the back of a wooden spoon or potato masher, mash the beans to your desired consistency; add more water or some lime juice if the mixture is too tight. Stir in the cilantro, salt and lime juice, adding more to taste. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Just before serving time, heat the bacon fat or olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the beans and fry, stirring to heat and allowing a crust to form on the bottom. Serve immediately.*

*If you’re a lazy sort (as I am) you can completely skip this part and just eat them directly after you’ve mashed them (as I often do).

0 thoughts on “tacogate '08: tasty pico and inauthentic refried beans

  1. The childrens. Instead of having a fun time of tv watching, I am reading my ass off tryna get through everyone’s blog. Why the fuck do people hafta post every day? Don’t they have jobs?

    Okay, I take that back. I just saw “President Bush have a hot dog with me” whizz by on the opening credidts of the Colbert Report and the hubz and I had a good chuckle.

  2. Oh, I adore fresh pico de gallo. Sure, canned is convenient if you have zero time, but a a few minutes of thought at the grocery and another five to chop isn’t that hard to manage.

    If your tomatoes aren’t great (and they often aren’t, this time of year), roasting or smoking them first makes a big difference and adds an interesting flavor.

  3. heather: multitasking! blog while you’re watching tv. or while you’re on the crapper.

    susan: ambition, schmanbition – it’s easy! you can even skip the re-frying part.

    kitt: it comes in cans? the horror.

    deborah: i’m with you. their mommas clearly failed to raise them right.

  4. Am I the only one who doesn’t watch AI?

    I love fresh pico and I also make my own salsa all the time, really it’s so simple…in the blender tomatoes, onion, garlic, jalepenos and a little olive oil and S&P. Pulse and perfect.

    Although, I will say there are some darn good jarred salsas out there. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have good one, but they ain’t cheap!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  5. Pico de gallo is so much better than salsa… give it to me any time! Unless you are also making fresh tomatillo salsa, in which case I’ll have both! And good on you for the refried beans… I’m afraid I’ve been corrupted by the ease of the can-opener on that front!

  6. I am very suspicious of people who don’t like cilantro. It’s some kind of weirdness. I’ve made cilantro PANCAKES for pete’s sake. A guy who ran a lighthouse in Belize taught me how to make pico…the guy didn’t even have a KNIFE! He just crushed, smashed, tore, mixed everything with his hands. It was the best damn stuff ever. And he threw in a pinch of sugar at the end.

  7. geggie: i love your name.

    suzy: make these! and eat them while watching jason castro sing. and you will be a happy woman.

    ann: in fact, i just made some tomatilla salsa last night! (wednesday night is fajita night around here).

    catherine: you have to love any story that starts with “a guy who ran a lighthouse in belize…”

  8. Ooo that pico de gallo looks amazing! Yum. I know that it’s easy and simple to make but sometimes I need a recipe to push me to actually do something about it, so thank you!

  9. God, that all looks sooo good. Bitch! I’m jealous. You know what I have to eat? Chicken salad out of a can. And triscuits.

    I LOVE Jason Castro!! If I was, like, five years younger, I’d have the biggest crush on him EVER.

  10. ashley: i would not lead you astray! it is tasty, tasty pico.

    ley: cut the shit; we all read your blog, so we all know what you eat. no pity here.

  11. I’m still rather scandalized that there is no decent Mexican-style food to be found in Australia. After a short spell living in your United States I developed a chronic burrito fixation that cannot be fulfilled here, which I don’t understand as we have a well-established get-drunk-and-eat culture here.

    Regardless, I fucking love pico de gallo, but never quite knew what went into it. I’ll have to give these recipes a red hot go soon, preferably while drunk.

  12. saturday when I made carnitas I oh so briefly considered buying the precut onion/tomato/cilantro in a tub… and then I smacked myself and grabbed my vegetables and my knife.

    I love your inauthentic beans thingy and totally need to steal that. I have made them from scratch before… once. but jazzing up my canned ones seems like a much better option.

  13. Pingback: thursday night smackdown » Blog Archive » Let’s appropriate others’ cultural heritages: Happy Cinco de Mayo!

  14. Pingback: thursday night smackdown » Blog Archive » Cheap Ass Mondays: Re-inventing a Clich√®

  15. I’m with you. After I started making my own pico, the industrial sized bottles of Pace are in the pantry gathering dust.

    I love homemade pintos too. I like working with the RG’s. Ihave bookmarked your recipe for them. Stay tuned!

  16. Pingback: thursday night smackdown » Oh yes, it’s taco night, oh what a night.

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