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Alt-tacos

It all started, as so very many things do, with Jeopardy! You see, a friend of mine from high school, Marc, was to appear on the brain-tickling quiz show last night. A party was in order.

I’ve mentioned that Schenectady, NY is a nice place to be from. Clearly, many others share my sentiment, or at least the part about it being a nice place not to live anymore. Marc himself now lives in LA, but a surprising number of my former classmates live right here in the Bay Area. For example, Marc’s brother Steve and his partner Domonick (and their adorable schnoodle Sophie) have recently relocated to the Oakland hills, and I have also reconnected with my friend Daniela, who has the best job ever. She teaches trapeze. Seriously.

Anyway, we’ve had beans on the brain lately. And by beans I of course mean Rancho Gordo. Ever since Señor Sando mentioned the always-enticing beans-and-greens combo as a taco filling, it’s been on my mind. A plan was hatched. Two pots of beans, one vegetarian and one not, some tasty toppings and voilà. But if you think our tacos would be just pintos with guacamole and jack cheese, you simply don’t know us very well.

Since I’m a carnivore now, it’s facile to use bacon and chicken stock as major flavoring agents in all kinds of things, most especially beans. And true to form, we used both in the meaty beans.

Meatybeans

Anything that starts with homemade chicken stock and a simple mirepoix is on the road to happiness. The bacon was Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked Bacon, which lent not only a pleasant smoky flavor but also a gentle sweetness on the finish. The Rancho Gordo cellini beans were creamy and soft. Add to that some chipotle pork sausage from Prather, and you’ve got some serious beany goodness.

It was my goal to make sure the veggie beans were at least as flavorful and interesting as the meaty ones, but also different enough that we meat-eaters would be tempted to try both kinds. I started with yellow eye beans, that winked at me while soaking in their vegetable broth bath.

Once again I used a mirepoix, but this time blitzed it in the food
processor to come up with a smoother pestata, or paste. After frying
that off a bit and adding some tons of chopped garlic, in went the beans and their bathwater, plus a little more to cover.

Veggiebeans

Once the beans were a quarter to done, I threw in a bunch of beet greens for texture and flavor, and got a lovely brick hue as a bonus prize. Only after the beans were done did I salt them up, along with a few dahes of Tabasco and some red wine vinegar to wake the flavors up.

Right. On to the toppings.

Toppings

A little shredded cabbage for crunch; some roasted romanesco for chew; a dollop of Papalote salsa for fire; a crumble of Bulgarian feta for salty-creaminess; and a sprinkling of red onion for brightness. A study in contrasting and complementary flavors and textures. And yes, the tortillas were Rancho Gordo as well.

"Gee," marveled Daniela during the show, "March sure knows lots of things I don’t." "Yeah," I said, "but I bet he’s not nearly as good on the trapeze."

Marc won, thereby proving the intellectual superiority of Schenectadians everywhere. We’ll be watching round two with alt-taco reruns in hand.

One year ago today … we had an upsetting run-in with our until-then Indian delivery place. And then they closed. The end.

  • Hey, I grew up in the Hudson Valley, too! I grew up in Ulster County and am moving back there at the end of April.

  • “It all started, as so very many things do, with Jeopardy!”
    Probably, without a doubt, the best opening line EVER.