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Wednesday 30 May 2018

Experiments with Gousto #7: Crispy Baked Tacos, Refried Beans & Pineapple Salsa

Apologies for the delay in following up the continuing experiments with Gousto - it's been a good couple of weeks since I cooked the last of this latest batch (and ate all of it myself, as my girlfriend was away for the weekend). There's no particular reason for the delay, I just haven't felt like writing about my cooking efforts lately.

Not that they went badly (until the last one - but more on that when I get to it), just that I've been trying and failing to get all kinds of things done, and I wanted to give this the attention it deserved, rather than bashing out three perfunctory posts. This was, I think, the first recipe for the relevant week that my girlfriend and I flagged as a definite choice. Everything on offer looked great, but we're both big taco fans, and we'll often make the fillings from scratch anyway, so this wasn't a massive departure from the sort of thing we've made in the past, just a specific recipe we hadn't tried yet.

The first thing I need to say about this recipe is that it really needs some way of ensuring the tortillas keep their shape during the baking. I spent quite some time trying to even up the distribution of the tortillas in the dish, and ensure they were as close to U-shaped as possible, only for them to curl up, flop over and basically do their own thing in the oven. This led to several of the tortilla/tacos being very difficult to fill when the time came, and at least one had to be cracked to get it open far enough to drop in the refried beans. The salsa, being quite chunky, proved even more tricky.

On the whole, preparing this one went smoothly and was fairly easy - the 30 minute estimate is probably quite accurate though, as usual, I did a lot of prep work ahead of time. The salsa was the first thing I made up, since it required only chopping, mixing and then keeping aside until it was time to dish up. The cherry tomatoes and pineapple rings only needed to be chopped roughly, which is always a good thing in my books, as chopping finely is something I have still yet to master. Next time I do this, I'll probably quarter them as halves are a little too chunky... and, to be honest, I'm not sure cherry tomatoes were necessary, as normal tomatoes could be more easily chopped into smaller pieces while remaining suitably chunky. I'd also query the necessity of adding a teaspoon of juice from the tin of pineapple because, unless the chunks are fully drained, they come soaked with quite enough juice for a reasonable salsa, and deliberately adding more just seemed to leave me with way too much fluid in my salsa - it includes a tablespoon of olive oil as well, after all.

The only really substantial task in this recipe is making up the refried beans, which is surprisingly simple... So much so, in fact, that I may take to doing it more often, since my girlfriend and I both like refried beans. The specifics of the process, as dictated by Gousto, seem a little strange to me - adding the dry stuff (smoked paprika, ground cumin and chilli flakes) before the chipotle paste, tomato frito and the hundred millilitres of water was more than a little counterintuitive as the powders tended to clump rather than properly mixing in with the beans. I think I ended up cooking the beans for longer than the 5-8 minutes suggested, but I'm still not entirely sure what constitutes "a medium heat" on my hob, and probably spent too long adjusting it up and down, according to how it seemed to be going. The final stage - adding in the lime juice, seasoning and following the instruction to "gently crush a few of the beans" - is very much a personal taste thing. When ordering refried beans in a restaurant, you can expect anything from a full-on bean mash to something where the individual beans are still easily discernible... The photos on the recipe card seemed to suggest a middle ground, slightly beyond the "gentle" crushing of "a few of the beans" the text described, so I just aimed to mash them up to the exteny that I, personally, prefer.

I do feel obliged to quibble the quantities, as a single tin of beans (plus the other stuff) ended up equating to approximately half the quanity of refried beans I would want to divide between six tortilla/taco shells... perhaps that just proves what a porker I can be but, like I said, I really like refried beans. Put it like this: The first three tacos each received a heaped tablespoon of beans... after that, I had to start getting stingy and, by the last taco, I was literally scraping the bottom of the pan for a decent portion.

As mentioned, actually transferring the beans into the part-cooked tortillas was troublesome, and I think what's really needed is a sort of toasting rack, where the tortillas can be wrapped around a framework to ensure they keep the optimal U-shaped-ness for the 5-minute initial bake. Once done, these can be transferred to the oven-proof dish to be (ahem) filled with the refried beans, and returned to the oven for the final 5-minute bake.

Given that - as mentioned at the start - the salsa was rather more fluid than it needed to be, the finished and garnished tacos were somewhat flooded, and really didn't need any additional lime juice to be drizzled over. Portion-size aside, though, the tacos were very tasty, and I'll definitely be giving this recipe another try at some point.

One huge advantage to this sort of thing is that the recipe for refried beans is so easy to embellish - more or less of the herbs or the chilli flakes, dark chocolate could be added, pinto and/or kidney beans could be used along with the black beans, etc - so the possibilities in that alone are virtually endless. I'll certainly double the quantity of beans next time, even if I don't add another variety. I'll likely chop the pineapple a little more, use normal tomatoes rather than cherry, and absolutely not add any additional juice. A standard onion - brown or red - could be used in place of, or as well as the shallot, too... so, really, this whole recipe encourages experimentation.

Aside from the frustrations caused by the uncooperative tacos, this was great fun to prepare and, being very simple, could easily become a go-to, either in and of itself for a quick veggie meal, or as a component of a more diverse, Mexican-themed dinner, since both the refried beans and the salsa could be served on the side.

One sidenote is that, where a recipe card states, for example, "this is your pineapple salsa", I've previously been inclined to read an emphasis on "your", because it's often come straight after the bit about seasoning... Looking at this particular recipe card, I suspect I have done so in error, as this seems to be more matter-of-factly stating "this is your x" by way of saying "this portion of the recipe is concluded".


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