How to Dye Everything Orange and Other Yucatan Observations

Rice in Annatto Oil

Have you ever looked at your food and thought – you know what would make this better? If it were the color of Midwestern cheddar cheese. Well, you can achieve that effect using Annatto Seeds. You can get them powdered or whole, and they are at the Mexican aisle at the Big Shaw’s in Berlin, which is now my favorite Shaw’s aisle. I took the whole seeds and simmered them gently in neutral oil for 10 minutes, at a ratio of 1/2 cup seeds to 1 cup oil as explained on the package, then strain. You can add the oil to rice while it’s cooking, or cook the rice as you normally would,  then fry up the rice in the oil and some tomato puree – the flavors go well together.

One thing I’ll warn you – annatto smells. How something with such a strong scent has a mild flavor, I do not know. It’s primarily a dye (sometimes called “lipstick plant”) and the scent is reminiscent of art class at a progressive, all-organic preschool – kind of art class meets mud-rooted weeds in a primordial swamp at dawn. The smell fades quickly . . . I think, or maybe my kitchen has smelled like it came from Jurassic Park all week and no one pointed it out. 

From the stinkiest and most colorful item of the week, I’ll go to the most surprising item of the week: vegan refried beans. You’ve probably figured out by now that when you read a refried bean recipe and it says to just leave out the lard to make it vegetarian, that’s bad advice. I reconfirmed that fact early in the process, and rallied to come up with my own vegan beans that are the best. I say, modestly. Here’s a recipe:

Vegan Refried Black Beans

  • 1 pound of dried black beans
  • 1/3 cup canola (or other neutral) oil
  • 2 habanero peppers (add more if you like it spicier)
  • 1 white onion, cut in small dice
  • 1 Tb ground cumin
  • 2 tsp Ancho Chili Powder
  • Juice from 1 orange
  • Tomato juice from a 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes (save the tomatoes inside to grind up or mince and fry with the annatto rice described above. . . if you’re make Mexican food, you will have a use for them).

Soak the beans in a large saucepan in hot water for 1 hour. After 1 hour, bring up to a simmer on the stove with enough water to cover them well (you may need to add more), 1 1/2 Tb salt, and 2 bay leaves – cook until they are soft. You can save the water from cooking the beans to later cook rice in (this will give you arroz negro, which goes well with steak). Mash the beans with a potato masher. It is fine to have some chunks remaining, you don’t need to get them to the smoothness of mashed potatoes. 

Take the stems off the habaneros, pull the seeds out, and split them along one side so they lie sort of flat. Simmer them (you’re not fry, just gently simmering) in the 1/3 cup of oil in a small sized, thick bottomed skillet or small saucepan for 10 minutes. Fish them out. Find some other use for them. It’s the oil you want. 

In a large saucepan, gently cook the onions, with a generous pinch of salt, in the habanero-d oil until they are soft. Stir in the cumin and chili powder. Stir in the mashed beans, orange juice, and tomato juice. Cook over medium low heat, stirring with a spatula as you think of it, until the mixture is relatively dry (you’ll have to stir more often at the end so it doesn’t burn on bottom). Adjust seasoning to your taste. Ta da, you’re done. 

Another bean recipe that I’ve known for a while and tastes great in a beans & rice application:

Cilantro Braised Beans

Save the cilantro stems from when you use bunches of cilantro elsewhere. Soak 1 pound of dried pinto beans overnight. Put them in a slow cooker. Cut a washed but unpeeled red onion across its equator and put it ring-side down on the beans, add the stems from a cilantro bunch, and two small parsnips. Cover generously with water and salt to taste (I’d start with 1 Tb and adjust as you go). Turn the slow cooker on to high and cook until beans are soft. Remove the onion, stems, parsnips. Drain extra broth (but don’t drain entirely dry – keeping a little of the broth tastes good). If you want these beans to taste overtly of cilantro, add cilantro leaves on top when serving. Serve on top of rice cooked in a flavorful vegetable broth – some of us consider “flavorful vegetable broth” to mean “chicken stock”, use your own judgement.

I seem to be on a vegan roll with Yucatecan cuisine here – not indicative of the feelings of actual Yucatecan people towards meat, dairy, and eggs – and here’s another vegan thing: salad. There were two salad dressings at play on the menu this week.

Cilantro-Citrus Dressing

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 – 3 Tb lime juice (about one lime, depending on how juicy it is)
  • Zest of 1/2 orange
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tb white vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper de-seeded
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro (you can chop the top of a bunch, including the thin parts of the stem – save the bottom part for the cilantro-braised beans above)
  • generous pinch of black pepper
  • 1/4 cup high quality olive oil (also works well with avocado oil)

In the small bowl of a food processor, puree together but the olive oil. Once smooth, add the reserved oil and give a pulse to combine fully. Olive oil can get bitter if you add it too early.   

Orange-Cumin Dressing

In a small skillet toast

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/4 tsp peppercorns (generous 1/4 tsp)

Remove skillet from heat. While seeds cool, simmer

  • 1 cup of fresh squeezed orange juice

in a small saucepan until it is reduced by half (about 15 minutes). 

Put the spices in a spice grinder and grind to fine powder. In a medium bowl, whisk these with the reduced orange juice plus:

  •  1/2 cup good quality olive oil
  •  2 Tb rice vinegar. 

Adjust final flavor with salt and sugar.

Note: The process here is more complicated than it might seem. Because there is bitterness in the orange, and a great disparity in the bitterness of olive oils, you might find the final dressing on the bitter side. Also, because oranges may have different concentrations of sugar, you may end up with sweet depth being off too. Use salt (offsets bitter) and sugar to adjust accordingly. 

This dressing is a great way to revive day old pork for tacos (ie pork that has congealed together). You mix it up with the pork and serve that on lettuce as salad.

This dressing also works well with the Polkanes Salad. If you purchased this salad from this week’s menu you might have guessed that the little croutons taste better hot out of the oil, which is true. You can experience this at home by assembling a salad with either mixed greens or baby spinach tossed with the orange-cumin dressing, spicy pepitas, and Polkanes Croutons (recipe below). You can dress it up further with pickled red onions, chopped hard boiled egg, and cooked pinto or white beans. 

Polkanes Croutons

  • 1 cup pepitas finely ground and toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
  • 1 cup masa harina
  • 2 Tb corn starch
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Water

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add enough water for them to hold together in a damp (but not sticky or falling apart) dough. Let sit covered for at least 15 minutes.

Form the dough into small balls, about half the size of a walnut (these are croutons so whatever size you like your croutons). Fill a heavy bottomed, high-sided skillet with about one inch of neutral oil with a high smoke point (ie canola oil, peanut oil). Pinch up some crumbs of dough and put that in the center. When it begins to happily sizzle, you’re ready to fry your croutons. You want it to be sizzling (so it’s not just soaking in warm oil) but not to sizzle so aggressively it burns before being done. Fry the dough in batches small enough to give each piece some breathing room. It will take 2-3 minutes per side. Flip onto a cooling rack set over a baking sheet to drain; pat the top with paper towels to soak up any extra oil. If you like salty, sprinkle them with salt. Now, use in the polkanes salad mentioned above or just snack on them while they’re still warm. 

 Those are Lawrence's hands, not mine (in case you didn't catch that)

Those are Lawrence’s hands, not mine (in case you didn’t catch that)

Last but not least, tortillas. I have broken many a tortilla press (2) in my life. If you’ve seen a tortilla press, this seems improbable, yet it is true. So I went with a tortilla dough designed to be easily roll-able for the takeout week. But then preparing for Saturday dinner, Lawrence and I were listening to this Splendid Table episode and decided to give a press one more try. It makes a difference, primarily because then you can do an all-masa tortilla (you need a press for these because the dough has to be at a level of softness that makes trying to use a rolling pin frustrating bordering on impossible). 

 Tomatillo Pie - Last night at our Mexican dinner we had tomatillos in salsa, soup, and dessert. Here with tequila crust and apricot-almond ice cream. The inciting recipe was this one from Rick Bayless http://www.rickbayless.com/recipe/chef-margaritas-tomatillo-tart/

Tomatillo Pie – Last night at our Mexican dinner we had tomatillos in salsa, soup, and dessert. Here with tequila crust and apricot-almond ice cream. The inciting recipe was this one from Rick Bayless http://www.rickbayless.com/recipe/chef-margaritas-tomatillo-tart/

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