In many foods quality and popularity come from the simplicity of flavors. A perfectly in-season, ripe fruit comes to mind, a grilled steak with nothing but salt and pepper, a egg fried in butter, a hunk of warm bread with extra virgin olive oil for dipping, or a summer tomato with nothing but a little salt. Other foods, however excel when flavors build layer by layer to create a delightfully complex combination of textures and tastes. Tostadas win big by being literally and figuratively layered.
A traditional tostada from Mexico is not much more than a crispy fried corn tortilla with a few small bites of meat and toppings on it. It’s a snack not a meal. However, while the Mexican tostada is street food, the Texas tostada is a meal. When I was growing up there, almost every taqueria in Houston had tostadas on the regular menu of favorites. Tucked in between the flautas, tacos and enchiladas were the less popular, but none the less ubiquitous tostada plate. It was usually a pair of flat and crispy corn tortillas topped with beans (usually refried), ground beef, cheese, sour cream and fresh chopped tomatoes all buried under a mountain of thinly shredded iceberg lettuce. A bowl of salsa, sometimes two different kinds, were always on the table for topping off the tostadas. They were light enough to keep you from hating life the rest of the day, but more than enough to make a meal.
Now that I live in New England, I have to make them at home. I’ve noticed that with all the toppings, it’s easy for the meat to get lost. Which of course means that if the beans and other toppings are flavorful enough to make up for it, you won’t even miss the meat if it’s not there. To make them meatless, I use a combination of beans and avocado to take the place of meat. Then I top them with finely chopped romaine, greek yogurt (or sour cream) shredded Colby jJack cheese and fresh salsa roja. It may not be the most authentic tostada you will ever have, but it’s very good, and it’s a great Meatless Monday meal. Enjoy
Mild Salsa Roja – click here for a printable version of this recipe
Makes 1 cup
I love this salsa because it’s easy, authentic (except for the lack of heat) and tastes good on so many different things. It will keep for several days and is very good served cold or warm. To make a hotter salsa leave the seeds in the jalapenos, or substitute hotter chilis such as Serrano for the poblano.
½ onion, peeled and quartered
2 large tomatoes, halved and cored
1 jalapeno pepper, halved with seeds removed
2 cloves garlic
1 poblano pepper, halved with seeds removed
½ teaspoon salt
Heat a large skillet over high heat for two or three minutes until hot. Add the peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and onions.
Rotate the vegetables in the pan until all sides are slightly charred.
When charred, move the vegetables to a food processor and pulse until well blended, but with some texture still remaining. Add salt (season to taste). Serve warm or cold.
Simple Ranchero Beans – click here for a printable version of this recipe
(based on Rick Bayless Brothy Beans found in Authentic Mexican, by Rick Bayless. William Morrow and Company, 1987.)
makes 2 cups
1 cup pinto beans, soaked overnight or simmered for 5 minutes and then left to soak for 1 hour.
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small onion, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon taco seasoning (I prefer Penzey’s)
½ teaspoon salt or more to taste
Once beans have soaked, drain off liquid and cover with 2 cups of fresh water. Place over medium heat and add garlic, onion and olive oil. Once the beans come to a simmer, cover and cook until very tender, about 1 ½ hours, adding more water as necessary to just cover the beans. Season with taco seasoning and cook for another five minutes. Season with salt to taste.
Ranchero Bean Tostadas with Salsa Roja – click here for a printable version of all the recipes in this post
Many of these toppings are optional. You can build your tostada with anything you think sounds good. There is no reason you can’t use pre-made salsa and beans, but it tastes so much better when you make it yourself.
8 6-inch corn tortillas
oil for frying tortillas
1 recipe simple ranchero beans (recipe above)
mild salsa roja (recipe above)
sliced romaine lettuce
shredded Colby Jack cheese
sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
chopped fresh tomatoes
Pour one inch of oil into a medium skillet and heat on medium-high heat until hot, but not smoking.
Drop tortillas in one at a time and cook until golden brown on each side; about a minute a side. Remove to a pan lined with paper towels for draining.