Oaxacan-style, salad-topped tostadas perfect for lighter spring fare

The most humble foods can be some of the most delicious. Take, for example, this tostada.

It starts with homemade blue corn tortillas, toasted in the oven until crispy.

Next, simmer canned black beans with classic Mexican aromatics — jalapeño, onion, garlic and a pinch of ground cumin, until the beans are softened and slightly spicy.

Transfer the beans to a blender for a quick whirl, then spread them on the crispy tortillas.

Uncoil the Oaxacan cheese, then tear it into thin strands and spread it across the beans. Return the tostadas to the oven. Toast just until the cheese melts, and the edges of the tortillas take on the slightest, but oh-so-tasty, char.

While the tortillas are toasting and the cheese melting, toss a quick salad together.

Tender yet crisp baby greens take a tumble with cotija cheese, toasted and salted pepitas, radish batons and a good drizzle or two of creamy cotija-pepita dressing.

Finally, the salad gets mounded atop the bean and cheese tostadas, topped with more pepitas and cotija cheese, creating one of my favorite crunchy, earthy, salty, perfect bites.

This week’s recipe is my take on a classic Oaxacan street food called a tlayuda, a 10- to 20-inch thin round bread made from corn tortilla masa. A cross between a tortilla and a tostada, it is not quite soft and not overly crispy. It is served spread with refried black beans and Oaxacan cheese (the Mexican version of mozzarella), and diners choose various toppings such as salad greens, tomatoes, avocado and various meats like chorizo and carne asada, to name just a few. It’s often folded in half but can be served open face (some people call it a Mexican pizza).

I love these tostadas, which are easier to make at home and easier to eat than a traditional tlayuda. I had a version of this at an event some years ago and became so obsessed with it that I spent time afterward developing a homestyle version.

The first thing to tackle was coming up with a cotija-pepita dressing for the greens. After much experimentation, I’ve developed a very versatile dressing that’s great for more than just salads. I’ve used this dressing as a spread for sandwiches, as a marinade for baked chicken breasts, drizzled on my beer-battered fish tacos and used as a dip for slices of cucumber and radish.

Easy to make, the dressing recipe yields about 2 ½ cups (if that sounds like a lot, halve the recipe or share a cup with an appreciative friend).

Make the components over the weekend as part of your meal prep (the tortillas/tostadas, dressing and simmered beans), so they’re ready to use for an easy, light, midweek meal. Keep this vegetarian or top the tostadas with shredded rotisserie chicken for added protein.

Oaxacan Black Bean Tostadas

If you must, skip the homemade tortillas by either toasting store-bought corn tortillas or buying premade tostadas.

Makes 4 servings

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, including the liquid
1 cup water
1 ½ teaspoons Knorr granulated chicken bouillon
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ white onion, peeled
1 jalapeño pepper, sliced in half, stem and seeds removed
1 fat clove garlic, peeled

8 blue corn tortillas (recipe follows)
2 teaspoons canola oil
Sea salt
¾ cup shredded Oaxacan cheese

5 ounces organic baby spring greens mix
⅓ cup toasted and lightly salted pepitas
⅓ cup grated cotija cheese
3 to 4 radishes, julienned
¼ cup cotija-pepita salad dressing (recipe follows)

Toasted pepitas
Grated cotija cheese

Doctor the beans: Add all the ingredients for the beans into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower to a gentle simmer, cooking on medium-low for 35 minutes. Transfer to a blender and let cool for 8 minutes. Puree until smooth (about 45 seconds to 1 ½ minutes, depending on the power of your blender). Set aside.

Make the tostadas: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with the racks set on the upper third and lower third of the oven. Place tortillas on baking sheets (preferably with a rack insert to help even toasting), ensuring that they don’t overlap. Lightly brush both sides of each tortilla with oil. Bake for 4 minutes; flip them and bake for another 4 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with sea salt and set aside for 5 minutes. Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of the pureed beans evenly on each tostada. Evenly distribute the cheese among them. Return to oven and bake for 4 minutes or until the cheese has melted and just started to turn golden in spots. Remove from oven and set aside.

When ready to assemble, toss the salad ingredients together until well coated. Divide the salad among the tostadas. Top with additional pepitas and cheese.

Note: This recipe makes more beans than needed. Refrigerate cooled leftovers in an airtight container.

Blue corn tortillas are as easy to make at home as regular yellow corn tortillas.

Blue corn tortillas are as easy to make at home as regular yellow corn tortillas. Blue corn (maize) is sweeter than yellow corn.

(Anita L. Arambula / Confessions of a Foodie)

Blue Corn Tortillas

You will need two 7- to 8-inch squares of plastic (reusable shopping bag or a quart-size resealable bag work well), a tortilla press or other flat smooth object such as a dinner plate or small cutting board to evenly flatten the dough into a tortilla shape.

Makes 9 (6-inch) tortillas

½ teaspoon of coarse sea salt (or kosher salt)
1 ¼ cup plus ½ cup of very warm water, divided
2 cups blue corn instant masa flour (harina)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (optional, to help with pliability)

Dissolve the salt in 1 ¼ cups of warm water. Add the flour to a bowl and pour in the salted water and oil. Use your hands to mix until a soft dough forms. If the dough is still a little dry or crumbly, knead in additional water a tablespoon at a time. The dough should feel very moist, a little tacky, but not overly sticky. Cover dough with a clean, damp cloth, then seal the bowl with some plastic wrap. Set aside for 30 minutes and up to 4 hours to fully hydrate.

Warm a griddle over medium heat for 10 minutes.

Divide dough into nine equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Keep balls covered in the bowl while working with one ball at a time. Line the bottom of the tortilla press with plastic. Slightly flatten a dough ball and place it slightly off-center, away from the hinge side. Cover with a second sheet of plastic, close the press, bring the arm across and press down gently. Open the press, spin the tortilla around, so the fatter side is now on the hinge side, and press again to evenly flatten the tortilla to a ⅛-inch thickness. (If you don’t have a press, place the plastic on your work surface, add dough ball to center, cover with plastic, then use a small chopping board, dinner plate or baking sheet to flatten, using firm, even pressure.)

Carefully peel away the top sheet of plastic. Lift the tortilla and place it, wet side, onto your dominant hand so that at least half of the tortilla is hanging off the side of your palm. Carefully peel away the second piece of plastic. Position the tortilla over the griddle and gently lay it on the surface, moving your hand away from you in one slow, fluid movement.

Cook the tortilla for about 30 seconds. Carefully flip; cook for 1 minute or until it releases from the griddle. Flip again, immediately tap down firmly in the center to help encourage it to puff (don’t worry if it doesn’t). Cook for another 30 seconds. Transfer the tortilla to a bowl lined with a clean kitchen towel. Repeat with remaining balls of dough.

Serve immediately or cool completely, then place in a zip-top bag and refrigerate. Use leftover tortillas within four days.

Mexican-inspired Cotija-Pepita Salad Dressing flavored with cotija, pepitas, cilantro, garlic and roasted Anaheim peppers.

This Mexican-inspired Cotija-Pepita Salad Dressing is flavored with cotija, pepitas, cilantro, garlic and roasted Anaheim peppers. It’s great on salads, as a dip for crudités, tossed with roasted vegetables or even as a spread for sandwiches.

(Anita L. Arambula / Confessions of a Foodie)

Cotija-Pepita Dressing

Cotija cheese is a salty, crumbly Mexican cheese. I don’t add additional salt as I find the cheese brings more than enough. Try this dressing for a fresh take on a potato or macaroni salad. Toss in fresh chopped cilantro, a squeeze of fresh lime juice and some minced jalapeños for an added kick.

Makes approximately 2 ½ cups

2 fresh Anaheim peppers, rinsed and dried
½ cup roasted and salted pepitas
½ cup cotija cheese
2 fat cloves garlic, peeled
⅓ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup mayonnaise
1 bunch cilantro, bottom third of stems removed
½ cup avocado or safflower oil (or other neutral oil)

If you have a gas stovetop, place the peppers directly on the grates over a high flame to char, turning so all sides blister and start to char. Remove the roasted peppers to a plastic bag and twist to seal. Set aside to sweat. (If you have an electric stove, heat a skillet or griddle to roast the peppers on.)

Add the pepitas to a heated skillet over medium-high heat. Shake pan continuously, flipping pepitas until they are fragrant, about 45 seconds to 1 minute. Transfer to a blender. Add the cheese, garlic, vinegar, water, black pepper and mayonnaise; blend on high until smooth. Remove the peppers from the bag. Peel off the skin, removing as much of it as possible but do not rinse; a few flecks of blackened skin left behind are fine. Cut the tops off, discarding the stems. Slit the peppers open, removing and discarding the seeds. Rough chop the peppers; add them and the cilantro to the blender. Pulse until the cilantro and peppers incorporate into the dressing. Remove the clear plug for the lid; with the blender running on high, slowly pour in the oil. Continue blending for 30 seconds after the last of the oil has been added.

Transfer to a tightly sealed glass jar and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Recipe is copyrighted by Anita L. Arambula and is reprinted by permission from “Confessions of a Foodie.”

Arambula is the food section art director and designer. She blogs at confessionsofafoodie.me, where the original version of this article was published. Follow her on Instagram: @afotogirl. She can be reached at [email protected].

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