Recently back from a week in Costa Rica, where monkeys howl and waves crash and the local people envelop you in their incredible warmth, I was inspired to try making one of their customary dishes called Casado. Oddly, the word "casado" means "married person" in Spanish, but since I was basically married to this meal the entire week, it started to make sense!
While my handmade corn tortilla technique is still, um, a developing skill, and the meal looked ...rustic (keeping the euphemisms flowing like tequila over here), it was actually super yummy - my whole family loved it. By using store bought corn tortillas and canned black beans, prep time could drop to about 15 minutes, making it a practical dish for working families, too. If it's a Sunday and you're feeling patient, try making the tortillas by hand, while chanting the following mantra: ugly tortillas are people too.
INGREDIENTS (serves 3 - 4)
- One bag of masa harina
- Hot water per masa harina instructions
- 2 cans of organic black beans, rinsed
- 1/4 cup vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 cup cotija cheese, crumbled
- 1/2 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
- 2 cups cooked, organic brown rice or quinoa
- 3-4 plantains
- 3 T vegetable oil of choice for sautéing
- 2 avocados
- 2 limes, one halved, one quartered
Ideally, you'll want to make the dough an hour ahead of time, and save the tortilla cooking for the last 20 minutes before the meal so they are served toasty and warm.
I used the gluten-free masa harina from Bob's Red Mill, but any masa harina flour will do if you're not super-sensitive to gluten. It's corn flour that's been treated with a lime water solution to make it more digestible. Making the dough is absurdly easy - you just add warm water. The hard part comes with rolling it to the right thickness and cooking for the right amount of time, but the only way to figure it out is to start making them! I used parchment paper, a cutting board, and a rolling pin, but the Costa Rican women do it by hand. I'll get there one day. Until then, try this technique: pull off golf-ball sized piece of dough, roll it into a little sphere, and put it between two pieces of parchment paper. Then, use the cutting board for the initial smoosh of the dough into a disc. Pull the paper away on both sides, and then use the rolling pin to roll it into a thinner disc, peeling the paper away often, until you have what feels like an uncooked tortilla to you. Place the tortilla into a hot, dry cast iron skillet over medium heat and cook for 1-2 minutes per side, or as long as necessary to make you feel that you now have a cooked tortilla. Keep warm in the oven or in a tortilla warmer while you finish cooking the others. Like I said, don't be mad if the first one looks scary. They're like children - the first one is the hardest, and then you get the hang of it.
So easy! Heat black beans on low heat with 1/4 cup of vegetable stock, a generous squeeze of lime, cumin, chili powder, and coriander. Keep warm and set aside.
Have you worked with plantains before? They're like grumpy bananas. Not as sweet, very fibrous, and harder to peel. Using a sharp knife, slice the skin along the length of the plantain in two places and peel the skin. Cut each diagonally into 1.5 inch slices. Heat vegetable oil in a skillet and add the plantain slices, sautéing for 4-5 minutes until brown on one side. Flip and brown the other side, then remove and drain on paper towels.
Putting the dish together is much like putting paint colors on a palette. The component parts of the meal are not all heaped together but served in little, adjacent piles so you can customize each bite. It's so pleasing, really.
To assemble, spoon 1/2 cup of rice or quinoa and 1/2 cup of seasoned black beans onto a plate. Add 3-4 slices of avocado, a few tablespoons of cotija cheese, and a handful of cilantro. Place a fresh, warm tortilla in the center, and serve with a juicy wedge of lime.
As you enjoy this healthy, vegetarian meal, consider two Costa Rican phrases that permeate the culture and infect your spirit in the most positive way. First, rather than saying hello or goodbye, they say "pura vida", which translates into their life philosophy: "A real living - to live a peaceful, simple, uncluttered life with a deep appreciation for nature, family, and friends." Second, instead of saying "de nada" for you're welcome (translates to "it's nothing"), they say "con mucho gusto", which means "with much pleasure". These small changes in vocabulary make a profound difference in the culture of the country, just as your genuine smile can affect the whole flavor of someone's day.
Food for thought :)
With love and lumpy corn tortillas from us to you,