black bean soft tacos with pickled radishes + boozy onions

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It’s a warm, sleepy Wednesday morning. After waking at 5:30 for the morning drop off (husband, not offspring – we share one vehicle and I need it today), returning home and eating breakfast, both Loki and I have retreated to the couch in a feeble haze.

I’m still trying to be productive, slowly editing photographs from Monday’s recipe shoot whilst sipping lukewarm tea. Loki, on the other hand, succumbed to sleep as soon as his head hit the cushions. He’s now curled up beside me in what I term his ‘biscuit’ position; head tucked against his hind legs, paws curled in, spine flexed in a half moon shape against the fabric of my summer dress.

It’s a little bit adorable, if not uncomfortably warm in this relentless weather. His slow mellow breaths lend steady texture to the soundtrack of my fingers against plastic keys, occasionally changing tempo as he repositions.

Aw. It’s alright for some.

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Anyway, getting back to the reason for this recipe post – let’s talk tacos.

Soft tortillas, to be exact, filled with smoky black beans, rich guacamole, sour cream, fresh salads and the crunch of homemade spicy pickles. In my opinion, when accompanied by an ice-cold beer, you’ve reached Summer dining at its absolute best. Fresh, generous, reasonably healthy and undeniably delicious.

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I realised over the weekend that it’s been a little while since I’ve posted a ‘mains dish’ on the Mess. At least eight months or so, give or take a few days.

After searching the archives, I’m pretty sure this post was my last substantial dinner post (from May 2015 – insert cringe). Pretty darn shameful for someone who not only eats dinner seven nights per week (well, don’t we all?) but also prefers savoury food over sweet.

aerial assembly

Yeah. I’d wax lyrical about lack of sunlight, our generally-late dinner times (we eat around 7:30 – 8pm most nights) and the patriarchy, but in all honesty, I just prefer ‘real dining’ at dinnertime. I torture my family enough on weekends with endless prop searching, food holding (check out this site and video for a laugh – Aaron assures me I’m not this bad!) and lukewarm coffee (“…don’t drink it yet! I need a photo!”) without the need for food styling on weeknights.

But as it’s summertime, the nights are long and my family are trying to help me retrieve my ‘blogging mojo’ (thanks, my loves) I’m promoting some temporary change. A slightly less styled, candid snapshot into my home on any given night: what we eat, when we eat it, exactly as I’d serve it.

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Now don’t get me wrong, I’m choosing meals that are still ‘blog worthy’ rather than five minute bowls of tuna salad, but this is definitely me on a plate. Easy to prepare, generous, lots of condiments (you get me Graz), various types of vegetable preparations (fire-roasted, fried, pickled and fresh) and a selection of ass-kicking hot sauces. Yussss.

This particular meal was prepared on a Saturday, due to the element of pickling involved. It’s not as hard as it might look, despite the multiple bowls and pickles. If your knife skills are reasonable (or if you have a mandolin with a guard) you can probably knock out all these dishes in less than two hours… including the pickles.

If you happen to keep homemade pickles in your refrigerator at all times (like me) the black beans, guac and salads can be prepared in under 60 minutes. Easy food at its finest.

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So, welcome to my self-serve, vinegar-splashed (yep, that happened), Mexican inspired dinner table, free of any real styling or pretence. The first of what I hope will be a series of ‘real dinners’, from my home to yours.

^^Oh, and you may also spot a rather large platter of tender marinated beef steak on my (vegetarian) taco table, which was provided by my relentlessly omnivorous, generous mother. It went beautifully with the rest of the taco ingredients, sliced thinly and layered atop the smoky beans and salads. I’d definitely recommend that you follow suit if you’re similarly omnivore-inclined. Just a simple marinade (or even just salt and pepper) will do, due to the availability of strongly flavoured condiments.

Thanks mum (yes, I do watch my protein! I love you).

taco

Black Bean Tacos 

Serves 4-6

Inspired by black bean tostadas from BBC Good Food

  • 3x 400g cans organic cooked black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 medium brown onions, finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1.5 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1.5 tbsp ground cumin
  • 5 tbsp apple cider or white wine vinegar
  • 3-4 tbsp clear maple syrup or rice malt syrup, to taste
  • a few drops of liquid smoke (optional)
  • sea salt and cracked black pepper, to season
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

To serve:

  • 12 soft taco tortillas (preferably corn but wheat is fine)
  • guacamole
  • boozy Tequila pickled onions (recipe below)
  • spicy pickled radishes (recipe below)
  • Mexican corn salad or esquites (recipe within this post)
  • pickled whole chillies or sliced pickled jalapeños (optional)
  • sour cream or cashew cream (I love this vegan cashew sour cream recipe from Oh She Glows)
  • finely shredded red cabbage, dressed with fresh lime juice and zest, white pepper, crushed sea salt and olive oil
  • fire roasted strips of red pepper
  • crumbled Mexican cotija cheese (substitute feta cheese)
  • fresh coriander leaves
  • lime wedges
  • hot Tabasco or chipotle sauce (see my recipe for the ‘skull and crossbones’  hot sauce above within this post)

Heat oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, cooking for 5 minutes or until the onion becomes translucent. Add the spices, fry for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add in the vinegar, maple syrup, liquid smoke (if using) and a splash of water. Allow to cook for 2 minutes before adding the beans.

Mix well. If the mixture looks a little dry, add in a splash more water before simmering gently for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and place the pan on a steady surface.

beans

Mash half of the beans with the back of the spoon or spatula until you achieve a chunky puree (this can really be to your preference, I mashed some of the beans to a paste whilst leaving others whole for texture). Season to taste, then spoon into a serving bowl.

Serve spooned into warmed tortillas, with guacamole and your choice of toppings.  This bean mix is also fantastic as a dip with corn chips or crudités.radishes

radishslicePickled Spicy Radishes

Makes 1 x 475mL (American pint) jar

Adapted from this recipe by Kathryn at Cookie and Kate

  • 1 bunch (200g) fresh radishes, washed
  • 3/4 cup good quality white wine vinegar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 tsp maple syrup or rice bran syrup
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp red chilli flakes
  • half a fresh jalapeño, finely sliced
  • ½ tsp whole mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp coriander seeds

Top and tail your radishes with a sharp knife, then slice into very thin rounds (or half moons, if you have a few very large radishes like I had) using a knife or mandolin. Mix with the finely sliced jalapeño, then pack into a canning jar. Set aside as you prepare the brine.

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, honey or maple syrup and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, then add in the spices. Stir well, then pour the mixture into the packed jar of radishes.

Seal the jar immediately whilst hot if you want to store your pickles for a while. Otherwise, let the mixture cool to room temperature before serving with the tacos above. These pickles are tasty on the day they are made, but improve if left to sit in the brine for a couple of days. They will keep well in a sealed, refrigerated jar for several weeks.

pickles

Boozy Tequila Pickled Onions
Makes 1 x 375mL jar
  • 1 large Spanish onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp (30ml) tequila
  • 1/2-1 tsp agave or rice bran syrup
  • chilli flakes (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Pack the sliced Spanish onion into a 375mL canning jar, then set aside whilst you prepare the brine.

In a small saucepan, combine the white wine vinegar and sweetener with a good splash of water. Bring to the boil, then add in the chilli flakes (if using) and boil for one minute. Add in the tequila, salt and a grind of black pepper. Pour into the jar of onions, tilting gently to ensure that the liquid drips down to the bottom. Seal immediately, if intending to keep the pickles for a while, or allow to cool to room temperature before serving with the above spread.

These pickled sliced onions should keep in a sealed, refrigerated jar for several weeks.

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pork carnitas with lime and chilli guacamole

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There’s something about Summer that makes me crave Mexican food. As blistering days melt into hot, blackened evenings, my mind starts drifting towards cool guacamole, spiced brisket, fragrant coriander and salt-rimmed margaritas.

It’s an obsession that I share with my good friend Matt, who recently blogged about his Mexican New Year’s feast over at Inspired Food. Pork carnitas, home made tortilla chips, pineapple salsa and chunky guacamole… now, that’s my idea of Summer culinary heaven.

tomatoes

Over the past month, I’ve revisited Matt’s post more than once to drool over his carnita recipe. Despite cooking Mexican at least once per week, I’ve historically gravitated towards brisket, chicken and black beans rather than smoky, slow-cooked pork shoulder. Though I have made carnitas, they’ve never been to the specifics of Matt’s recipe.

Last Sunday, everything changed. I woke early, arriving at the market with carnitas in mind. Negotiating the aisles, I chose pork, garlic, onion and oregano alongside items for guacamole, esquites and salsa. I checked out, drove home and ascended three flights of stairs to our apartment.

I turned on the air conditioning and started unpacking each bag of groceries. Bag one, no oranges. Bag two, limes… but no oranges. Bag three? Darn it. No oranges.

I glanced at the window, my eyes narrowing in the glare of the blazing sun. Sweat dripped from my brow as I contemplated another insufferable dash to the local store. No oranges equals no pork carnitas; well, not according to Matt’s recipe. But out of desperation (and encroaching heat stroke) I decided to improvise.

panI rummaged around in the fridge, desperately unearthing lemons, limes and a bottle of The Cidery’s still apple cider. As pork goes naturally with apple, I decided to douse the shoulder in the cider whilst exchanging the oranges for a lemon. In the back of my mind, I hoped that the sweetness of the cider would balance the lemon’s extra acidity. I had no idea if it would work.

After removing the rind from the pork, I decided to score the flesh before making small incisions to house slivers of peeled garlic. Much like my technique for slow-roasted lamb, the idea was for the garlic to slowly infuse during the cooking process, melting down into sweet, sticky goodness. As an afterthought, I grilled the crackle alongside the meat, crumbling it into pieces to add to the carnitas upon assembly.

brookfarmlimechilli

After recently sampling Brookfarm’s fragrant lime and chilli infused macadamia oil, I decided to substitute it for vegetable-based oils in both my pork carnita and guacamole recipes.

In my mind, the gentle heat, nuttiness and tang of the infused oil would add a beautiful layer of complexity to both dishes. The golden hue of the oil also looked spectacular against the creamy guacamole and vibrant splashes of paprika.

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Six and a half hours later, five boys and one girl sat around a table to eat succulent, slow-roasted pork, crispy crackling, tomatillo salsa, esquites, pickled cabbage and creamy guacamole. Piles of warm tortillas were claimed with eager hands from their nest of aluminium foil.

After sampling the meat, I’m pleased to report that the Brookfarm oil certainly added an extra layer of smoky complexity. Each bite was soft and delicious, contrasting beautifully against the pop of crackling, sweet kernels of corn, acidic cabbage and cool guacamole. In absence of required oranges, the proxy lemon and cider worked effectively to add both sweetness and tang to the meat. I was well pleased (and so were the boys, judging from their seconds… and thirds).

So; despite yet another failure in my history of following recipes, I have to admit that this was a beautiful improvised success. But next time, I’m stockpiling oranges. For Matt’s carnita recipe, of course.

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Pork Carnitas

Serves 8-10

  • 2kg boneless pork shoulder, rind removed
  • 80ml Brookfarm lime and chilli infused macadamia oil
  • 1 red onion, roughly diced
  • 4 garlic gloves, peeled and halved
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp ancho chilli powder
  • zest and juice from 1 lemon
  • 500ml (2 cups) dry apple cider
  • 200ml water
  • 1 jalapeno chilli, halved (seeds left in)
  • sea salt flakes
  • freshly cracked black pepper

In a small bowl, combine the cumin, coriander, paprika, oregano and ancho chilli powder. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, then mix well.

Place the pork into a shallow dish that will fit in your refrigerator. Cut a few shallow slashes into the surface of the meat, then rub in the spice mix (ensure that you massage the spices well into each slash and crevice). Using a sharp knife, make eight 1-cm incisions over the surface of the meat; stuff half a garlic clove into each.

porkrub

Cover and allow to marinate for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Place the pork into a large pan or ovenproof dish, then add in the lemon zest and juice, cider, water, sliced jalapeno chilli and diced onion (add a few extra garlic cloves if you like). Drizzle over the Brookfarm lime and chilli oil, then grind over some more salt and pepper.

pan2Cover tightly with foil and place into the preheated oven; immediately reduce the oven temperature to 150 degrees C (300 degrees f).

Cook the pork for 5 1/2 hours or until the meat falls apart when poked with a fork. Uncover and cook for another 30-45 minutes, basting with the cooking liquid until the sauce reduces and the pork starts to brown.

Remove from the oven, place the pork onto a heat-proof plate and cover it with foil. Drain the sauce into a small pan and reduce it over medium heat until thickened. Shred the pork with a fork and pour over the reduced sauce. Mix well and add a little more lemon, salt or pepper according to taste.

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Serve the pork on a large platter, accompanied by warm tortillas, lime wedges, guacamole (recipe to follow), salsa, esquites (or blackened corn salad), sour cream and extra cheese if desired.

guacamole

Lime and Chilli Guacamole

  • 2 medium ripe avocadoes, peeled, stones removed
  • 1 tbsp of chopped ripe tomato (you can leave the seeds in)
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped Spanish onion
  • 1 small garlic clove, crushed
  • 1/4 tsp toasted cumin seeds, ground
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp Brookfarm lime and chilli infused macadamia oil, plus extra to drizzle
  • sea salt
  • white pepper
  • smoked paprika, to serve
  • coriander leaves, to serve

Coarsely mash the avocadoes onto a chopping board (or in a bowl, if you prefer). Squeeze over the lime juice and season well with salt and pepper. Make a well in the centre, then add in the chopped onion, tomato, macadamia oil, lime zest, garlic and cumin.

guacconstruction

Mix well, taste and add a little more salt and pepper or lime juice if required. Serve in a small bowl, drizzled with some extra macadamia oil, garnished with coriander and/or dusted with smoked paprika.

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Disclaimer: Brookfarm supplied me with a sample of their lime and chilli infused macadamia oil for the purpose of this recipe post. However, I was not compensated and as always, all opinions are my own.

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