Do you all remember those old Pace Picante commercials with the cowboys? Someone tries to hand a cowboy a jar of salsa and he hollers, “This stuff’s from New York City!” The other dusty cowboys in the group respond in harmonized, exaggerated disbelief, “New York City?!” Every time that commercial came on when I was a kid, my dad and brothers would chime in and crack themselves up. I’m planning my first trip to New York City at the end of the month, and every time I think about it, I hear those cowboys and my family’s voices echo in my head, “New York City?!”.
A couple of months ago, when I was in San Antonio, I met a girl my age who was visiting Texas for the first time. As someone who grew up just half a state away from that behemoth, it was a bit of a shock to realize that not everyone has been to Texas. I’m sure that’s how many East (and West) coasters feel about the fact that I’ve never been to the country’s most iconic city. I’ve always wanted an excuse to visit, so when Saveur Magazine invited all the Best Food Blog nominees to a little soirée (their terminology, not mine), I rounded up a friend and bought tickets. Although I’ve been to my fair share of big cities and I’m ecstatic that I finally get to visit NYC, I am experiencing a bit of trepidation as well. I blame those cowboys!
Growing up, we ate quite a bit of Pace Picante from San Antonio, but not while my dad was on a salsa-making kick when I was in elementary school. We’d stand around in the kitchen, taste testing the salsa and suggesting more lime or vinegar. That may have been my first real cooking lesson, if you can call it cooking. A few years later, my youngest brother, Zane, and I held competitions at the kitchen table to determine who could tolerate the spiciest salsa. Pretty sure I always won. After my grandmother passed away during college, my family and I escaped to Playa del Carmen for a week, during which time I fell in love with a Mexican condiment—pico de gallo. I put it on everything, from salad, pasta, toasted bread to the more obvious chips and tortillas.
This Saturday, which happened to be Cinco de Mayo, I spent the day with my family celebrating my brother Reed’s college graduation. We snacked on what very well could have been Pace Picante an the reception while I marveled, once again, at how grown up (and good looking, good grief!) my little brothers have become.
This tomatillo black bean salsa is too late for Cinco de Mayo. No matter, I’ll happily agree to Mexican food and margaritas any day of the year! Alissa of Big Eats Tiny Kitchen, who I am glad to call a real-life friend, picked out a versatile salsa recipe for this week’s installment of The Food Matters Project. I chose the fresh tomatillo and black bean variation and couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out. It’s light and refreshing, perfect for warm days.
This was my first time to buy tomatillos; their rough, papery husks made me hesitant to pick them up. Behind their crinkly exterior belies smooth, bright green skin and tart, apple-flavored flesh. Zesty lime juice, garlic, scallions and jalapeño punch up the salsa, while earthy black beans ground the brighter flavors and lend substance. It’s a sweet and spicy spin on traditional pico de gallo, which makes it a perfect burrito bowl or quesadilla filling. My favorite way to enjoy it is piled high on a baked tostada with a sprinkling of salty, crumbled feta cheese. You’ll find the recipes below!
- 1 pound tomatillos, chopped (about two heaping cups of chopped tomatillos)
- 1 small shallot (an entire bulb), finely chopped
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
- ½ cup cilantro, chopped
- 1 small lime, juiced
- 1 cup cooked black beans, rinsed and drained
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- Corn tortillas (about 2 per person)
- Cooking spray
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Black beans, cooked (canned beans are fine), cooking liquid reserved
- Hot sauce of your choice
- Red pepper flakes (optional)
- Tomatillo black bean salsa (see recipe above)
- Toppings: crumbled feta cheese (highly recommended), diced avocado, sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, red pepper flakes and/or more cilantro.
- To make the salsa: In a medium bowl, combine all of the prepared ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary (more lime juice, salt and pepper, etc.). Cover the salsa and let it rest for at least 30 minutes in order for the flavors to meld and the beans to soak up the surrounding flavors.
- To make the tostadas: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray each tortilla with cooking spray on both sides (I used organic olive oil spray) and place on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for about ten minutes, until golden and crispy.
- In a skillet over medium heat, pour in a little drizzle of olive oil. Add black beans and their cooking liquid, and mix in some hot sauce and red pepper flakes. Mash the mixture with a potato masher for five minutes or longer, until the beans have reduced to your desired consistency. (This is the lazy way to do it, if you’d like to go all out, make the beans as directed in my chipotle-glazed squash recipe).
- Spread bean mixture evenly over each tortilla and top with tomatillo salsa. Finish with your selected toppings. Pick it up with your hands or be fancy and eat it with a fork.
Change it up: Feel free to sub pico de gallo or any other fresh salsa for the tomatillo salsa. For inspiration, check out Big Eats, Tiny Kitchen! If you want the really lazy variation, just skip the black bean mixture altogether since the salsa already has beans in it. It's like a big baked chip with salsa and cheese—you can't go wrong!