This bean and cheese taco recipe takes just minutes to make
Total time:25 mins
Servings:2 to 4 (makes 4 to 8 tacos)
On Monday, I shared a recipe for Carrot, Cumin and Kidney Bean Burgers developed by the activist cook and author Jack Monroe. Tuesday’s newsletter featured techniques from the Italian canon of cucina povera and a recipe for a simple pasta with bits of bacon and kale. On Wednesday, we talked leftovers, how to stretch ingredients and why frittatas are a great outlet for scraps, helping minimize food waste. Today, I thought I might write a bit about fast food.
I grew up on fast food. As a young kid, KFC’s fried chicken — original, not extra-crispy — was my favorite meal, and I loved ordering Taco Bell’s bean and cheese burrito, which happens to be the inspiration for tonight’s recipe. Even into my teens, McDonald’s was a regular road trip stop, and every once in a while, a tired parent dropped a bag of Burger King on the dinner table.
It’s not hard to see why fast food is so popular, especially among busy, working parents: Massive corporations spend millions of dollars engineering food that’s designed to make us salivate. A careful balance of salt, sugar and umami guarantees that everyone age 2 to 92 will want bite after bite. Billions of dollars in marketing helps maintain demand. And economies of scale, both on the purchasing end and the production side, keep the price of this food extra low. In a lot of ways, if you’re on a tight budget, a fast-food dinner is a sure bet**.
But if you have the time, a kitchen and a little extra cash, almost any home-cooked meal is going to beat the pants off a fast-food dinner.
So tonight I thought we might re-create some of the flavors of my youth and make saucy, creamy refried beans for bean and cheese tacos. It’s an easy formula that requires just one pan and comes together in under 30 minutes.
You’re going to start by making what I think of as cheater refried beans: Saute onions and garlic, add beans, seasoning and a splash of water, and use a fork to mash them. (For a smoother texture, puree this mixture in a food processor.) Stir in the juice of a lime to give it a little brightness, and keep it pretty hot on the stovetop.
Then, heat up some tortillas — I like warming each one over the flame of my gas burner, but you could also warm them in a pan or steam them in the microwave. Then, assemble: Sprinkle cheese on each tortilla and top with the hot, creamy beans, letting the warmth of the beans melt the cheese. Fold the tortilla over and assemble the rest. Serve as-is, or with salsa, sour cream or crema, and/or hot sauce on the side.
💸 Tonight’s recipe cost me a total of $7.38, or $1.85 per person for 4 people. 💸
*The majority of Americans purchase most of their food at their nearest grocery store. All of the shopping for this week’s Eat Voraciously recipes was done the week of Sept. 5, 2022, at a Safeway grocery store in downtown Washington, D.C. Store discounts and coupons were used when applicable and available. Safeway is a subsidiary of Albertsons, which is the second-largest grocery chain in North America.
Cooking oil, salt, pepper and optional ingredients were omitted from the cost of these recipes.
**I am very fortunate in that I don’t have to rely on fast-food restaurants for a hot meal. These days, I try to spend my dollars at businesses that source their raw ingredients with sustainability and nutrition in mind and pay their workers living wages.
- If you don’t have garlic or onion >> use one or the other, or, if you can’t have either, use 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin in place of both.
- Want to make burritos instead? >> Fill 2 large flour tortillas with the beans and cheese, fold them up, and then toast them in a greased skillet until hot and crisp.
- Out of pinto beans? >> Any pink, red or black bean works fine here.
NOTE: You can make a large batch of sazón or, for this recipe: Use 3/4 teaspoon fine salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1/4 teaspoon hot paprika or ground black pepper.
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- 3 tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil
- 1/4 small white or yellow onion (about 1 ounce), coarsely grated
- 2 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
- 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, preferably no-salt-added, drained and rinsed
- 2 teaspoons sazón, plus more to taste (see NOTE for instructions to make your own)
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 to 2 limes)
- 4 to 8 (5- or 6-inch) tortillas, preferably flour
- 6 ounces cheddar or other melting cheese, grated, plus more if desired (about 1 1/2 cups)
- Sour cream, for serving (optional)
- Pico de gallo or other salsa, for serving (optional)
- Hot sauce, for serving (optional)
In a small skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the onion and cook, stirring constantly, until it begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, and add the garlic, cooking just until it is very fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the beans and sazón. Using a fork, mash the beans into a rough paste. Stir in the lime juice and taste, adding more sazón, if desired. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm. (If beans start to dry out, stir in a splash or two of water to loosen.)
Wrap the tortillas in a clean, damp kitchen towel and microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until hot. Or, heat tortillas in a dry skillet or individually over a gas burner, until lightly burnished on both sides.
To serve, spread a scant 1/4 cup of shredded cheese (about 1 ounce) in the center of each hot tortilla. Top with a thick layer of hot refried beans. Sprinkle with additional cheese, if desired. Fold the tortillas over and serve hot, with sour cream, salsa and hot sauce on the side, if desired.
Per serving (2 tacos, based on 4 servings)
Calories: 549; Total Fat: 29 g; Saturated Fat: 11 g; Cholesterol: 44 mg; Sodium: 795 mg; Carbohydrates: 50 g; Dietary Fiber: 8 g; Sugar: 2 g; Protein: 22 g.
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
From staff writer G. Daniela Galarza.
Tested by Kara Elder; email questions to [email protected].
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Catch up on this week’s Eat Voraciously recipes:
Monday: Carrot, Cumin and Kidney Bean Burgers
Tuesday: Pasta Alla Gricia (Cheesy Pasta With Bacon and Kale)
Wednesday: Vegetable Frittata
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