There is nothing sexy about how I came up with this recipe for black bean tacos with kabocha squash. In truth the real impetus came from the fact I had some cooked black beans in the freezer and kabocha squash that was a couple of weeks old sitting on the counter. I had to use them or lose them. However mundane the origin of an idea, the process of creating a meal requires some inspiration and creativity and that is sexy.
Often, my inspiration for the food I cook comes from the people I feed. Between all my friends and family, I will take into consideration everyone’s diet preference. This is why you will find on my blog a selection of meals to serve, omnivores, pescatarians, vegetarians, vegans, low-glycemic, gluten-free, and dairy-free recipes. In these times, all cooks should have a few recipes that will feed their diverse community.
While creating this recipe for black bean tacos it was important to me that this recipe be suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets. Therefore, any dairy is supplemental and added separately as a topping for individual tacos. That meant all ingredients in the beans and squash must be plant-based.
Distinctive flavor of Black Bean Tacos
This recipe started with frozen cooked black beans I made several months ago. Freshly cooked beans taste a lot better than canned beans, and they have a lot less salt. So, now and then I will plan and cook some fresh beans. However, I always have a selection of no-salt canned beans in my pantry. They are just too convenient and ideal for a spontaneous meal.
If you do want to cook with dried beans, add epazote and garlic to the pot when you cook them. Just like beans cooked with a ham hock, epazote and beans are a perfect pair. The flavor is so distinctive it is hard to describe. It is herbal and similar to Mexican oregano with some medicinal characteristics. The flavor is unique and thus there is no good substitute for epazote. However, once you taste beans cooked in epazote you will always want to eat them prepared this way. I use dried epazote, as fresh epazote is hard to come by in the east coast. You can find it online or at a Mexican market.
To make the black bean filling for my tacos, I sautéed some onions and minced garlic until soft and added some crumbled dried epazote and Kosher salt. Then I added the cooked black beans. Because I love beans cooked with smoked pork, the epazote helps me forget about the lack of pork and smoky flavor whenever I cook vegan beans. I’ll think to myself, “Oh these beans are soo good.” Not, “you know what these beans need, some bacon.”
The next thing I did to give the black beans a creamy texture. I puréed about a third of the sautéed beans and onions to a somewhat smooth consistency, then added the purée back to the skillet with the beans. This emulsion made the beans into a spread preventing any loose beans from slipping out of the tacos. They are similar to refried beans but with more texture.
Spicy Winter Squash for Black Bean Tacos
The squash will take the longest to cook so I begin preparing the squash and cook everything else while they roast. I used kabocha squash, but butternut squash or pumpkin are good substitutes. Any winter squash is fine. The squash is where I punched up the flavor with lots of spices and ground chili pepper. Cayenne, cumin, ground coriander, ground garlic and Mexican oregano make up the spice mix. Whenever I roast vegetables and want a garlic note, I often use ground garlic because fresh minced fresh garlic will burn in a 400°F (200°C) oven. Nothing beats fresh garlic, but burnt garlic is very bitter.
Both the beans and the winter squash pair well with chili peppers, but I did not want to overdo it with the heat. Every meal needs a solid foundation to build from and the black beans are the structure from which the taco filling is built. If there is too much competition from the spices and chilies you can’t taste the food. Here, the bean filling and the winter squash do not compete for attention. The spicy winter squash nicely compliments the filling with its natural sweetness and spices. This flavor combination of chili heat with something sweet never ceases to amaze me.
Toppings for Black Bean Tacos
As I mentioned in my post about Fish Tacos, a taco is not a taco if avocados are not in them. I realize there are plenty of traditional tacos, like carnitas without avocado, but I look for any excuse to eat avocados and tacos is one of them. In all seriousness they fit with these tacos. Yet, with all these soft and creamy fillings something fresh to bite into is needed. Cucumber, iceberg lettuce and sliced radish are all great toppings with these tacos and a great way to get more vegetables in your meal. Or, serve them on the side in a salad with a citrus vinaigrette.
If you and your dinner companions eat dairy, I highly recommend using cotija cheese or feta cheese. The briny and salty flavors punch up the earthy flavors of the beans and winter squash. It adds a much-needed bit of acid to make every thing stand out. I could not find cotija, so I used feta cheese and loved it.
If you do not eat dairy, add pickled vegetables like onions or jalapenos to get that salty-briny punch.
The other toppings I believe make this black bean taco so special are peanuts and toasted hulled pumpkin seeds. They give some needed crunch to bite into between all the soft layers of beans and roasted squash and the nuttiness just fits right in.
I started with a purpose use up the beans and kabocha squash but as I progressed my primary focus was to create a meal for vegetarian and vegan diets. Even though my children do not live at home any more, they still inspire me to create meals I believe they would enjoy. Now I have even more inspiration from my growing family with the addition of daughters-in-law. While making these tacos it gave me great pleasure knowing my daughter-in-law and brother-in-law would particularly appreciate these black bean tacos. You don’t have to be a vegetarian or vegan to enjoy this dinner. These tacos are very fulfilling with great of depth of flavor built in. You will not miss the meat.
I do not have a vegan dessert of my own to recommend but try this vegan chocolate cake recipe from Food 52. For all other purposes, Yogurt Panna Cotta with Spiced Figs would pair nicely with these tacos and they can be made ahead. Or if you want a Mexican themed meal serve with Classic Margaritas and Double Coconut Pie.
Black Bean Tacos with Spicy Winter Squash
- 1 1 lb 12 oz / 788 g winter squash like butternut or kabocha
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ¼ tsp ground coriander
- ¼ tsp cayenne
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- ¾ Kosher salt
- 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
- 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
- 6 oz 102 g white onion, minced (about half an onion)
- 2 large cloves of garlic peeled, green germ removed and minced
- 1/2 - 1 tsp dried epazote crumbled
- 1 lb 500 g drained and rinsed cooked black beans, or 2 -15 oz can of black beans drained and rinsed. Reserve some of the bean liquid.
- Kosher salt to taste
Assemble the Tacos
- 8 corn tortillas
- Roasted winter squash
- Black bean spread
- 1 avocado sliced thin
- Cotija Cheese or Feta cheese
- Creme fraiche optional
- Small handful of cilantro minced
- ¼ cup roasted salted peanuts
- 2 TB hulled pumpkin seeds
- Salsa verde
Roast the winter squash
Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C
Peel the winter squash and slice into wedges, thicker than 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick.
Place the winter squash in a large bowl and set aside.
In a small bowl mix together Mexican oregano, cumin, coriander, cayenne, garlic powder and Kosher salt until evenly combined.
Drizzle olive oil and spice mix over the prepared squash. Toss the wedges with your clean hands until they are completely coated with olive oil and spice mix.
Place the seasoned squash on a baking sheet and arrange the wedges on their side. Bake in the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes.
Check the squash and turn them over on the other side. Continue to bake until the centers are soft. Depending on the thickness of the squash wedges, determines how how long they need to roast. Mine took a total of 40 minutes, but they were very thick wedges.
Turn down the oven to 350°F / 175°C and remove the squash. Loosely cover and keep warm. If you have a warming oven, keep the squash warm in there.
While the squash is roasting in the oven, cook the black beans. In a medium skillet, turn the heat to medium and heat the extra virgin olive oil. Add the minced onion and cook until soft but not browned. Stir occasionally so the onions do not burn or brown, about 6 - 10 minutes. Halfway through cooking the onions, add the minced garlic and epazote, and stir into the onions.
Once the onions are done, add the cooked black beans and stir to mix, then cook until heated all the way through.
Taste and correct seasoning with more Kosher salt, or epazote if needed.
Turn off the heat and remove about a third of the cooked beans and place in a small bowl, or food processor. Add about 1 -2 tablespoons of reserved bean liquid and mush the beans with a fork, or purée with an immersion blender or food processor until smooth. Add the puréed beans back into the skillet with the black beans and onions. Stir to combine. Turn off the heat and loosely cover to keep warm.
If you need to reheat the beans turn on the heat to medium and add a little extra virgin olive oil. Warm the beans until your desired temperature.
Warm your tortillas in a 350°F (175°C) oven. Stack 4 tortillas and wrap in foil. Repeat with the remaining tortillas. Place the tortillas in the oven and bake until warm for15 minutes. If possible, time it so tortillas and black beans are done at the same time. See blog story for a link about other ways to warm up tortillas.
Assemble the tacos
Place a heaping tablespoon of the beans on a tortilla and spread it into a circle in the center of the tortilla. Place a couple of wedges of the winter squash on the beans. Add one slice of avocado. Garnish with some crumbled feta or cotija cheese, a dollop of creme fraiche, salsa verde, minced cilantro, peanuts and pumpkin seeds.
You will probably have more beans than you need. You can save the beans and make them into black bean spread or dip as an appetizer. Or serve with rice and roasted or sautéed vegetables for a complete vegetarian meal. Or as a side dish with grilled meats.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Sometimes when I begin a new cooking project, I need to forage ahead with blind faith and fingers crossed. Lingering in the back of my conscious is a belief that everything will work. The last thing I want to worry about is my latest “masterpiece” ending up in the trash can. This tomato tart recipe is a perfect example of my latest cooking adventure starting with confidence from blind faith.
I have always wanted to make a tomato tart. Every time I see a photograph of one, I drool over the pictures and imagine tomatoes roasting in the oven, cradled in a buttery pastry crust. Unfortunately, I don’t always believe photographs of tomato tarts show any real likeness to a real-life fully cooked one. Tomatoes consist mostly water and a tart baked with a lot of tomatoes could easily become a soggy mess. So, I often wondered what I was seeing in the tempting photographs was accurate. None the less, I never made a savory tomato pastry, so I can’t say for certain how they look in real-life.
Taking inspiration from a cookbook I am reading, Six Seasons, A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden, I finally managed to motivate myself and make a tomato tart. I also needed to use up some leftover ingredients as well. Often some of my best meals are the result of needing to use up the leftover ingredients from a former meal. If you haven’t noticed already, a regular statement of mine is, “I created … because, I had leftover …. Now … is a family favorite”.
There are two recipes in “Six Seasons” cookbook that create the foundation for my tomato tart recipe: Israeli-Spiced Tomatoes, Yogurt Sauce and Chickpeas, and a recipe for Pecan Pie Dough. The Israeli-spiced tomatoes have a bright flavor that compliments the natural sweetness in fresh summer tomatoes. It is a delicious salad with the yogurt sauce and chickpeas. This recipe gave me the idea of making a tomato tart using the same seasoning and preparation technique for marinating the tomatoes. I also had two ripe heirloom tomatoes on my window sill giving me the use or lose stare-down.
I also wanted to make the nut pie pastry crust, and Joshua McFadden has an alluring recipe using pecans. A tomato tart seemed like the perfect recipe to use a nut pie crust. Plus, and I am always open for any excuse to bake. For my recipe, I substituted the pecans with walnuts, and reduced the amount of sugar to one tablespoon.
More recipes inspired by Joshua McFadden, Summer Vegetable and Steak Salad.
The biggest challenge when baking tomatoes and pastry dough, is keeping the crust from getting a soggy bottom. If you know the challenges ahead, taking the necessary steps to prevent them, will guarantee a beautiful flaky pie crust. With the two foundation recipes set, I went about making the tart and using a few necessary steps to create a tomato tart with a nutty and flaky crust that was anything but soggy.
For my first step, I par-baked the pie crust. Par-baking a pie crust is a technique used for many types of pies and tarts, like lemon meringue pie. Partially baking a pie crust before adding the filling helps produce a dry and flaky pie crust. It might take longer to finish the pie, but this technique really works.
Even a par-baked crust needs a layer of protection between the crust and the filling. For this recipe, I decided to baste a thin layer of Dijon mustard across the bottom of the pre-baked crust. The mustard adds some tang and will mix well with the ricotta cheese. If you do not like Dijon mustard, baste a layer of egg wash over the bottom of the par-baked crust. It does the same job as the mustard without adding any additional flavor.
Try this recipe for potato salad with tomatoes and summer vegetables.
Firing up the grill this weekend? Grilled Chicken with Poblano Chili Cream Sauce
Spread over the mustard, I added a layer of ricotta cheese. Good quality fresh ricotta is so creamy it is worth the higher price. If you can find some at your grocery store, I recommend it. In this tart, the ricotta cheese layer absorbs any of the juices from the tomatoes which helps keep the ricotta from drying out and the crust dry. A lot of tomato tart recipes do not call for ricotta cheese. I added it because it was another leftover ingredient I needed to use up before it expired. The ricotta’s creamy flavor is a nice contrast to the roasted tomatoes. Also, adding the ricotta makes the tart more substantial as a main course for lunch or a light super.
For the final step, I seasoned the tomatoes and let them marinate for an hour. The salt with the spices cause the tomatoes to release some of their liquid. Later, before I arranged the tomatoes around the tart, I used a paper towel to blot the tomato slices and dry them up a bit. The tomatoes marinate while the crust par-bakes, so no additional time is added to the whole process.
It might seem like a lot of steps, but they all add up and work. The result is a tomato tart with a nutty and flaky crust, with a creamy ricotta and roasted tomato filling. I started making this tomato tart with blind faith and fingers crossed. Fortunately, after thinking ahead I came up with solutions to solve any challenges along the way. With inspiration from creative chefs as guidance, I made a tomato tart that I am proud of. There is no false advertising with these photos. What you see is what you get.
Tomato Tart with Ricotta and Mediterranean Seasoning
- Walnut Pastry Dough recipe follows
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 3/4 tsp Kosher salt
- 1 tsp sumac*
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
- 2 to matoes medium to large size
- 1 cup 8 oz / 241 g fresh ricotta
- Zest of one lemon finely grated
- 2 tsp lemon thyme roughly minced
- 4 medium size leaves of fresh basil chiffonade
- Kosher salt if needed
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 1 TB 3/4 oz / 11 g Dijon mustard
- Finely grated Pecorino Romano Cheese optional
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Garnish with fresh lemon thyme and torn basil leaves
Walnut Pie Dough
- 1/2 cup 2 oz / 58 g walnuts
- 1 2/3 cups 7.25 oz / 208 g All-purpose Flour, plus more for rolling
- 1 TB granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
- 4 oz 113 g cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (1 stick)
- 2 TB ice cold water more if needed
Walnut Pie Dough - Makes enough for one 9-inch (cm ) single crust pie or galette
Place the walnuts in a food processor and pulse until a fine and even crumble. Be careful to not over-process the nuts into walnut butter. Pour the walnuts into a mixing bowl and add the flour, sugar and Kosher salt. Mix the ingredients together with a wire whisk until evenly combined. Add the cold butter pieces to the flour mixture and toss to coat the butter with flour. Smush the butter with your fingers into the flour until you get a pebbly mixture of all different sizes. Add 2 TB of ice water and using your hands briefly toss to mix and form a ball. If the dough seems dry add more ice water, one tablespoon at a time.
Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour and place the dough ball on the surface. Starting at the upper edge of your dough, use the heel of your hand to press down and smear a portion of the dough away from you. Use only one motion per part. Continue to smear a portion of the dough away from you until you have worked your way through the ball of dough, about 4-5 smears. Gather the dough and form a disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 days. The dough will keep in the freezer for 3 months.
When you are ready to bake, take the tart dough out of the refrigerator and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. This is also a good time to pre-heat your oven to 400°F (204°C). If you have a baking stone place it on a rack in the middle of the oven. Once rested, sprinkle your counter surface with flour and place the dough in the center. Whack the dough with a lightly floured rolling pin. Whack the dough moving from left to right to flatten it out. Turn the dough a quarter turn and whack 4 more times, moving across the disk from left to right. Turn the dough over and repeat 2 more times. Turn the dough over again and repeat. This process helps the dough to form a circle shape.
Roll out the dough with your rolling pin. Always starting at the center of the dough, place your rolling pin in the center and roll away from you. Turn the dough a quarter turn and roll across the dough beginning in the center and roll out. Repeat. Turn the dough over and roll our the dough until you have a 12-inch (30 cm) circle and the dough is about 1/4-inch (6 mm) thick. Dust the countertop with flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking.
Once you have completed rolling out your dough, place your rolling pin across the middle and lift and drape the dough in half over the rolling pin and towards you. Lift your pastry draped rolling pin across the center of a 9-inch (23 cm) tart pan with removable bottom, and unfold the dough over the pan. Lift the dough edges and ease the dough into place, carefully pressing the dough into the corners without stretching it. Trim the edge of the dough and fold over, into the tart pan to form a thicker tart side. Press the sides of the dough up against the side of the tart pan and even out the edge. Fix any cracks. You want the sides of the tart pastry to be even all around and not too thick. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Par-bake the walnut pie dough. Once the dough in the tart pan has chilled for 30 minutes cover the dough with aluminium foil and make a well. The foil should be wider than the tart pan to lift the sides and remove it filled with the pie weights. Fill the interior of the foil well with pie weights or dried beans. Spread them out so they evenly cover the surface of the tart bottom. Place the tart pan on a sheet pan the place the whole thing on the middle rack or baking stone. Bake for 15 minutes then remove the aluminium foil with the pie weights off the tart shell and remove. Turn the heat down to 325°F (162°C) and continue baking for 20 minutes. You want to dry out the crust, but not let it get too brown. Reduce the heat to 300°F (149°C) if the crust edges starts to get too dark. Remove from the oven and cool on a cooling rack for 15-20 minutes. Turn the oven temperature up to 375°F (190°C)
Meanwhile, while the dough is chilling for the first time (before you roll it out), mix together the minced garlic, sumac, ground colander, ground cumin, Kosher salt, and red pepper flakes into a small bowl.
Slice the tomatoes into thick slices across the middle about 1/4-inch (6 mm) thick. Set the tomato slices on a sheet pan in one layer. Sprinkle the seasoning evenly over the tomatoes and let it marinate for one hour.
In a small mixing bowl, stir until smooth and creamy the ricotta cheese, lemon zest, minced lemon thyme and basil. Taste the ricotta. If your fresh ricotta is salty leave it alone. If you think it needs salt, add about 1/4 tsp Kosher salt and stir to combine. Set aside or refrigerate until needed.
While the par-baked tart shell is cooling, line a couple of plates with paper towels. Place the seasoned tomato slices on the paper towel lined plates, seasoned side facing up. Pour any tomato juices and seasoning into the bowl with the ricotta cheese and stir.
Once cooled baste a thin layer of Dijon mustard across the bottom of the tart pastry. If you are not a fan of mustard, baste a lightly beaten egg across the bottom of the tart.
Spread the ricotta cheese evenly over the mustard in the tart.
If using , sprinkle a light layer, about 1-2 TB, of Pecorino Romano cheese over the ricotta cheese.
Layer the tomato slices, seasoned side up, evenly around the tart in a decorative fashion. You will need to overlap each slice because they will shrink while baking. If you have large heirloom tomatoes, you might need to cut them in half to fit as many tomatoes as you can in the tart pan. Any leftover tomato slices you can eat for lunch or a delicious snack.
If using, lightly sprinkle Pecornio Romano cheese over the tomatoes, then drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the tomatoes.
Place the assembled tart on a sheet pan, then place in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, then check to see if the crust is browning to dark. If the crust edge is browning too quickly, cover the rim with a aluminum foil, but careful not to cover the tart filling. Continue baking, checking the tart every 10 minutes or less, when you get closer to the end. It could take around 50 minutes total time. The tart is done when the juices all around the tart are bubbly, the tomatoes are shriveled and the Romano cheese is browning on top. Also, the crust is a nice golden-brown color.
Remove the tart from the oven and cool on a cooling rack for 20 minutes.
Remove the tart pan rim. Carefully place the tart on top of a large can of tomatoes or other can or bowl with stable flat top. Carefully hold the pan rim and slide it down off the tart. Place the tart on a cooling rack and continue to cool. When cool use a wide spatula to help slide the tart off the bottom portion of the tart pan. (Or you can leave it alone if you don't want to take any chances). Garnish right before serving with fresh lemon thyme and born fresh basil leaves.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Best eaten the day it is made.
Sumac is the ground berries from a Sumac bush. It has a slightly bitter taste and a popular seasoning in Mediterranean cuisine. There is no great substitute to resemble it. If you do not have it, or cannot get it. Sprinkle finely grated lemon zest over the tomatoes when it is done baking.
If you do not own a tart pan, you can make this tart a galette. However, there are some changes in the preparation and baking. There is no need to par-bake the dough. After rolling out the dough, Move the dough to a sheet pan covered with parchment paper. Arrange the tart ingredients over the pastry dough in the same order as in the instructions, leaving a 2-inch border. Fold the rim of the dough over the ingredients and pleat to seal. Refrigerate the galette for 30 minutes. Brush the dough with melted butter, olive oil, or egg wash and bake, following the instructions above.
Some Mediterranean spices are easily available at your grocery store. Kalustayan’s in New York City is a very reliable store for all kinds of spices and food items. You and buy online or in person. Click here for Aleppo Pepper, and Sumac.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.