How in the world is it already May? April was a total blur. March was too, come to think of it. I met a bunch of new people. I moved. Last week I got sick for the first time since last May and it was terrible. And in the midst of it all, May sneaked up on us just like a bad cold. But now, I get the feeling things have settled a bit. Seven weeks or so of whirlwindy-ness and now I think I can chill out a bit. Just in time for Cinco de Mayo. A day on which, in order to counter all the chips and tequila I’ll probably be ingesting like it’s my job, I’ll probably also be making these tacos.
And just like colds and spring weather and the month of May, these tacos are sneaky. They’re spicy and limey and crunchy enough that they feel like the carnitas tacos you’ll stuff your face with to end Cinco de Mayo (buried under a whole mountain of sour cream and guacamole of course). But these sneaky guys are totally healthy! You’ve got sweet potatoes, black beans, cabbage, onion, cilantro, and lime juice. That’s it! Plus tortillas. These are the tacos you’ll want to start your night with, when vegetables of the non-fried variety still sound good. And then you’ll want to make them the next day and the next day and the next so you can feel like your cheating on your healthy eating streak and your grocery budget when really you’re being quite faithful to both. Let’s do it.
These tacos are crunchy, fresh, and just a bit spicy. Plus, you know, they’re tacos. Can’t really go wrong there.
Black Bean & Sweet Potato Tacos
Adapted a teeny bit from Joy the Baker
Serves 1 with a little leftover or 2 as an appetizer/snack
1 medium sweet potato, chopped
splash olive oil/butter
generous sprinkle of cumin
pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 can black beans, rinsed and drained
small corn tortillas
1/4 head cabbage, shredded
1/2 red onion, sliced
chopped cilantro to taste
lime juice to taste
Place the butter or oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Once it’s hot, add the cumin and pepper flakes and cook for a minute or so until fragrant. Add in the sweet potatoes and cook, stirring every so often, until they are softened and a little charred. Add in the black beans and cook until they are heated through, a minute or two more.
Meanwhile heat the tortillas however you like. Microwave, over a gas stove burner, or in oil.
To assemble, divide the sweet potato/black bean mixture between the tortillas. Top with cabbage, onion, cilantro, and lime juice. Enjoy!
I have a few things to say about this stew that aren’t necessarily related to each other, except for the fact that they’re all relevant to this stew. So I’m just going to list them, not really in any particular order, because lists are the only way to organize un-organizable things.
1. Lemongrass is both far more sturdy than I expected and way more fragrant when you have it at hand than in a smoothie or whatever else you can find it in. Seriously though. I was legitimately worried for the integrity of the blade of my knife while trying to slice the lemongrass. My arms got tired. My hand got a cramp. But the smell…..it smells sooooo gooooood.
2. Cooking rice noodles is really easy. Perfect for lazy people like me who still haven’t figured out how to be woken up by an alarm clock. All you have to do is put the rice noodles in a heat-proof bowl, boil some water, pour the water over the noodles, submerge them, and make sure they don’t get too mushy. The Kitchn has a really helpful tutorial.
3. The first step of this recipe calls for the use of a food processor. Something I don’t have. But I remembered the time I made pesto without a food processor, using this great recipe from 101 Cookbooks, where you stand at the counter with a knife for about 40 minutes, chopping and chopping until your wrist feels to weak to keep your hand attached to your arm, until finally what your chopping is almost as finely chopped as it would have been in a Cuisinart. So I figured I could do the same thing for this stew. Yes, it’s a pain, and time consuming, but put some music on and have a dance party and just think of all the stress you’re letting out with all that chopping!
4. I’m not sure this stew qualifies as a Valentine’s Day recipe, given the lack of pink/red/whipped cream/strawberries/chocolate/champagne, but if you’ve got some time and want to impress someone without garlic breath overload, this is the recipe for you.
I’m not going to lie, this recipe takes some work and some time. Though significantly less if you have a food processor and don’t do it the crazy way like I did. Here are the ingredients:
First, the lemongrass. Chop off the a couple inches at the bottom and about 4 inches at the top. Then, peel away a few outer layers.
Then we’ll chop it up with some garlic, ginger, and peppers. And process until we get a paste or something close enough to a paste.
Next we’ll brown the meat. I only have a picture of the end result because of all the boiling, jumping-out-of-the-pan oil involved. (And I now realize those silver tongs are a little menacing.)
Then we’ll add the beef and some water and let it simmer for a couple hours. Meanwhile, we toast some coconut to put on top.
When the meat is tender, we’ll add in some carrots and shallots and let it cook a bit longer.
You’ll know it’s done when the meat starts falling apart. Then you’ll add in some scallions and it’s done! Sprinkle some coconut flakes on top and serve with rice noodles and a lime wedge.
This stew is perfectly spiced and the meat literally falls apart. The coconut and cinnamon add just a touch of sweetness, and the anise a little licorice-y flavor that’s just what the stew needs. It’s worth taking Friday afternoon off. Promise.
Thai Beef Stew with Lemongrass and Rice Noodles
Adapted slightly from Bon Appetit, February 2014, original recipe is also here
Serves 6 (and makes great leftovers)
4 lemongrass stalks, trimmed, tough outer layers removed, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped peeled ginger
2 red Thai chiles, with seeds, sliced (I couldn’t find any 😦 so I used serranos which are too tame for this stew, I think)
3 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 2-inch pieces
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 whole star anise pods
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
4 medium shallots, quartered
1 pound carrots, peeled, cut into 2-inch lengths, halved if large
4 scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths
8 oz wide rice noodles (I could only find skinny ones, wide ones will have to sit a little longer in the hot water)
lime wedges for serving
Place the lemongrass, garlic, ginger, and chiles in a food processor and process until a fine paste forms.
Season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. In batches, brown the beef on all sides, about 10-15 minutes. (I used my cast iron pot for this recipe and did not leave the beef in there for that long – once the pan got hot the beef browned in about 30 seconds per side. And since it’s going to cook for 3+ hours there’s no need to worry about it being undercooked.) Transfer the browned meat to a bowl.
In the same pot, cook the lemongrass paste until the lemongrass begins to soften, 5-8 minutes. (How you’re supposed to tell when the lemongrass is softening when it’s a paste, I have no idea, but that’s what the recipe says.) Add the star anise, cinnamon, soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar, beef with any juices, and 10 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer partially covered for 2 1/2-3 hours, until beef is tender and the liquid slightly thickened. Skim occasionally.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 F. Toast the coconut flakes on a baking sheet until golden around the edges, about 4 minutes. If you can smell it, it’s done!
When the beef is fork-tender, add the shallots and carrots to the stew. Cook partially covered another 35-45 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and the beef is falling apart. (Mine took a little less time than that.) Add the scallions at the last minute; they will wilt slightly.
While the stew cooks for its last 10 or so minutes, cook the rice noodles according to package directions.
Divide the noodles between bowls and ladle the stew over them. Top with toasted coconut and more scallions and serve with lime wedges.
Can be made 3 days ahead without the noodles. Let cool, cover, and chill.