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07.19.2004

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best mexican tostadas
by Nora Fussner

I first experienced the wonder that is a tostada in a Mexican restaurant in Philadelphia that had been hailed as "Best of Philly." I expected it to be something like an enchilada. To my surprise, what I got was basically a salad on top of a tortilla. But with fresh mozzarella, crisp lettuce, and spicy beans, I was instantly hooked.

This recipe approximates the kind of tostadas you would get in a restaurant, adjusted to fit a recent grad's budget. What makes it the "best" is that you can add anything you like to suit your particular tastes. This version is vegetarian, but I see no reason why you couldn't fry up some ground beef in a separate pan and add it to the beans. Some restaurants serve tostadas with salad dressing; I prefer guacamole.

ingredients
10" flour tortilla shells (one per person is generally enough)
vegetable oil

1 onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic (depending on size), minced
1 can black beans
hot sauce of your choice (preferably one with some sort of devil or burning skull on the label)

lettuce, loosely chopped -- green leaf is my favorite but, again, it's your call
2 medium tomatoes, diced
cheese of your choice -- Monterey jack works well, or you can buy those pre-shredded cheese bags with flavors like "Mexican" or "Taco"
sour cream (optional)
salsa (optional)
guacamole (optional)
fresh cilantro (optional) -- chopped roughly

prep time 30 minutes
serves 2, or 1 with plenty of leftovers.

1 Get a big frying pan, one with deep sides. Heat about an inch of oil in the pan. When a water droplet tossed from a safe distance into the pan sizzles, the oil is ready. Cook each tortilla individually for about 1 minute on each side. It should puff up, then get slightly crispy, but don't let it brown.
2 Remove the tortillas and place between paper towels (to absorb oil). Keep the fire burning. Dump at least 3/4 of the oil into a jar to be discarded, leaving enough to coat the bottom of the frying pan. Toss in the onions and heat until translucent, adding garlic about halfway through. When the onions are soft and clear, dump in the can of beans -- do not drain the beans! Most of the liquid will cook off anyway, and it's nice to have that gloopy mess at the end. Trust me.
3 Heat the beans. Add hot sauce to taste. At this point, you can add anything you like; the essential ingredients are already there. Try spices like cumin and coriander, chopped bell peppers, corn, whatever you think would work. For an upscale adventure, the Moosewood cookbook suggests adding the juice of an orange, then letting the orange rind cook in the pan for a little while with the beans.
4 While the beans are heating, prepare the toppings: Roughly chop the lettuce and tomato. Grate the cheese.
5 Layer the tostadas. I usually put the lettuce and tomato down on top of the tortilla first, followed by a pool of beans in the center, topped with cheese, then sour cream, guacamole, and salsa. For a professional touch, fresh cilantro on top makes this dish simply amazing.

Ah. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

o

Nora Fussner works at an office during the week, and works on her tan on the weekends. She lives in New York City.

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