AFRICAN-INFLUENCED PAN FRIED RICE AND BEANS.
I know beans are not for everyone, some people even gag at the very thought of them (my boyfriend is one of those people). Too bad for him, cause I happen to love them and make them all the time, and he has to find alternative meals when I do, or be a man and eat through the pain. If you are a bean eater pro like me however, today is your lucky day! In tune with Monday’s post about legendary cook Teresa Izquierdo, we’re sharing with you a recipe inspired by her cooking, that can be enjoyed any day of the week and never gets old. This satisfying dish of modest beginnings is easy to make, nourishing, and cheap as a chips, as the Brits would say. In fact, it’s even tastier when made with leftovers, and most legumes work well (lentils or split peas are a perfect choice, for example).
An added bonus is that it’s a perfect meal both for carnivores and vegetarians, as the base is just rice and beans and it’s completely up to you what you complement it with. Most people have it with breaded steak, but anything from a fried egg, to Salsa Criolla will do; creativity is Tacu Tacu’s best friend. Cucho La Rosa, the star of Novo-Andean cuisine, has created a recipe for a Christmas turkey stuffed with Tacu Tacu. The very famous Gastón Acurio gives us tenths of varieties of this dish in fashionable presentations and combinations. Beware of eating it in restaurants if you’re not a meat eater, as they usually make it with pork or other kinds of animal parts /fat. It happened to me once by accident and it made me cry (yes, I’m that sensitive when it comes to animals). Since then I prefer to eat it only inside my kitchen’s controlled environment, and usually have it with avocado salad and some crunchy Salsa Criolla made with onions or even radishes (use your imagination!). Or if I’m in the mood for some homemade junk food, a fried egg and fried bananas turn it into a pretty naughty meal, but still much better than Mc Donalds. Or at least I hope so.
According to the Dictionary of Peruvian Gastronomy, the name Tacu Tacu comes from the Quechua Taka-Taka, which means “well pounded” or “mashed”. Some people think that it was first cooked by African slaves brought to work in cotton plantations in the south of Lima. Just like so many other great dishes of our gastronomy, the odds and ends of the big rich kitchen were transformed by these African hands into savory creations that somehow reminded them of faraway lands treasured in their hearts. It definitely is a clear example of our cultural complexity. Most countries in Latin America have variations of this dish as part of their culinary heritage, and they all have the funniest names: Casamiento (“marriage”) in El Salvador and Honduras; Moros y Cristianos (“Moors and Christians”) in Cuba; Gallo Pinto (“Colored Rooster”) in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. But none of them is exactly the same, Tacu Tacu probably being the most different.
Peruvians in general eat beans very often, I would say at least once or twice a week, and some of the varieties of beans we use are native from the Andes. As always, every cook has his or her own style to prepare them. Some like to boil them with non-smoked bacon or with bits of different meats, and some cooks swear that they are even more delicious if put in the pan with a cob of corn (kernels removed). Sounds strange, but who are we to judge these knowledgeable taste magicians? If you want to prepare a Tacu Tacu the way we do, you can cook your own beans by simply soaking them overnight and then boiling them in water until they’re soft, with a whole onion and a couple garlic cloves (no salt added till they’re ready, or they’ll never get soft). This may take long though, so if you can’t be bothered to do this, don’t sweat it! Canned ones work just fine. Now sit back and enjoy the alluring simplicity.
Tacu Tacu (Serves 4)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon aji Amarillo, chopped (or to taste)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper
2 cups Lima beans, cooked
1 cup white rice, cooked
*Heat the oil in a pan, add and cook the onion, garlic, aji Amarillo and oregano.
*Add and stir the beans, mashing them with a wooden spoon, or even better, with a potato masher. Season with salt and pepper.
*Add the rice and continue stirring and mashing until the mixture is thick like a paste. Divide into four portions, fry every one and try to form a log moving the pan back and forth with a firm but light movement. The outside of the tacu tacu must be slightly crispy while the inside remains mushy.
*Serve with Salsa Criolla, fried egg, fried bananas, breaded steak, or anyway you like.