In college I dormed with three other girls my junior year. We didn’t do much cooking (since there was one kitchen for the whole floor and it never seemed to be without a sink full of dirty dishes, a food-spattered stovetop, and a sticky counter…and who wants to have to clean someone else’s kitchen mess before they can make dinner?), but when we did one of our favorite things to make was fajitas with refried beans. We didn’t make them often, not only because of the kitchen issues, but also because making fajitas was always a whole night affair.
We’d go shopping for what we needed, bring our goodies back to the kitchen, (clean up a little…*sigh*), and then set to work on making dinner. One of us chopped bell peppers and onions, another heated the tortilla shells and shredded cheese. And my friend S always, always made the refried beans. She made them from scratch, basically just mashing up a can of pinto beans and adding garlic and a meticulous blend of spices. (Yeah, we didn’t keep food around, but we did have a pretty gourmet spice rack, lol!) And her secret ingredient was a touch of sugar. The beans didn’t taste sweet, she just added enough sugar so that when you taste them you have to pause a moment to savor...and then you think, wow, these are some good beans…what’s in there?!
Fresh Tomato, Avocado, & Red Onion Salsa is a great topper for refried lentil tacos.
My refried lentils are based on S’s incredible refried beans. My favorite way to eat them is in soft corn tortillas topped with fresh tomato, avocado, & red onion salsa (recipe below) and a dollop of Greek yogurt. (They’re pretty fantastic with corn chips too…or, if no one’s looking, a spoon also works just fine.) Of course serving them with a scoop of corn cake casserole on the side makes them even better. ;)
Anyone remember Chi-Chi’s restaurant before their unfortunate incident? I used to go crazy for the corn cake casserole that they generously adorned each entrée with. I’ve looked high and low for a recipe for it and (finally!) found one Keeping it Simple. This recipe looked pretty spot-on, but it called for a box of Jiffy cornbread mix, which I didn’t have on hand. It must have been my lucky day though, because I found a recipe on CD Kitchen for Jiffy’s corn bread mix. The recipe I share below is a combination of both recipes, with a few of my own slight adaptations. It’s amazing, and every bit as delicious as I remember Chi-Chi’s corn cake casserole was.
⅔ cups dried brown lentils (or 1 (14 oz) can lentils, rinsed and drained)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional; more or less to taste)
1 bay leaf
Optional garnishes: Minced onion, tomato, and parsley
If you’re using dried lentils: Sort through the lentils to remove any small stones or pieces of dirt, and then rinse with cold water in a colander. Bring the rinsed lentils and 3 cups of water (or low-sodium broth) up to a boil (don’t add salt because it can toughen the lentils). Cover the pot, turn heat down to a simmer, and cook for 20 to 30 minutes (adding more water as necessary) until the lentils are tender but not mushy; strain. (Skip this step if you’re using canned lentils.)
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat; add the onion and sauté until softened but not browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, sugar, salt, cumin, black pepper, chili powder, oregano, cayenne pepper, and bay leaf and cook 1 minute. Add the lentils and 2 cups of water, turn heat up to high, and bring it up to a boil. Cover, turn heat down to simmer, and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove the lid, coarsely mash the beans with a potato masher (or if you prefer a very smooth consistency, you can puree them in a blender or food processor), and cook (uncovered) until thickened, about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Corn Cake Casserole (Adapted from a combination of Keeping it Simple’s recipe for Corn Casserole and CD Kitchen’s recipe for Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix Clone)
Serves 4 to 6
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornmeal
4 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 (15 oz) can cream-style corn
¼ cup frozen or canned corn (thawed if frozen and drained if canned)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (plus a little more to grease the pan)
1 tablespoon canola oil
Preheat oven to 350F; lightly grease a loaf pan with butter.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the cream-style corn, corn, butter, and oil and stir just until combined.
Pour batter into baking pan and bake 1 hour.
Fresh Tomato, Avocado, & Red Onion Salsa
1 pint (2 cups) cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered or halved depending on their size (or 2 medium-large tomatoes, chopped)
1 small-medium red onion, minced
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley (or cilantro)
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 avocado, diced and gently tossed with 3 tablespoons lemon juice
Stir together all ingredients and serve immediately.