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Chickpeas and Pasta

19 Oct

Chickpeas and Pasta

“Just go away.”  I have uttered this often to my teenage students, in a variety of contexts, over the last twelve years since I started teaching high school English. I’ll say it as I attempt to take roll and a student asks me for the fortieth time if they need to skip lines when writing an essay, even though I have a large poster at the front of the room that clearly asserts, “Yes! Skip lines!” I’ll say it as I am but three words away from totally explaining the most impassioned and profound concept, which will alter their lives invariably thereafter, when one kiddo raises his hand and asks if he can go to the bathroom. I’ll say it when everyone is taking a final exam and the antsy, gregarious, loquacious student who finishes first asks me what I’m cooking for dinner that night. Loudly.

But truly, the context in which I most often say “just go away” relates to what they do after high school. I tell them to travel, to get away from their familiar environs, and just go away. You want to see South America? Good! Just go. Castles where knights rose and fell? Go. You want ninjas? Go. Where Napoleon died? Why? Never been to San Francisco? Go. You want to see hot Spanish chicks and dudes? Go. Make it happen and don’t wait.

Usually this is precipitated by me sharing about my backpacking trip around Europe when I was 23, fresh out of college. For two months, my best friend Pat and I went from Ireland, to Spain, to Germany, to Austria, to Czech Republic, to Netherlands, back to Spain, to France, and then home. We partied every night, slept on the floors of trains, saw Europe before it was the EU and before the internet localized the world, partied more, ate stuff that I still can’t identify, and basically changed our lives for good.

Physically, mentally, economically, or realistically, I cannot and will not ever be able to do this type of trip again. It was once in a lifetime, and I try to instill this in my students. “Do it now, kids, because you won’t be able to later. Trust me.” No money? I didn’t have much either. It took me until I was thirty to pay it off, but it was interest well bought. Just get out of town. Just go away.

As usual, I tangentially bring this up because, until that trip to Europe, chickpeas were something I refilled in the salad bar at Straw Hat pizza in my teens, not something I ate knowingly. Amsterdam changed that. Without going into details, I will posit that Amsterdam’s “coffee” shops are intentionally and strategically located next to shwarma and falafel stands (and KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s, for that matter), so patrons succumbing to the munchies have no choice but to belly up to some serious grub on every side of them. They’ve got you by the balls convincingly. Before this time, I had never even heard of falafel, which is ground chickpeas and spices rolled into balls, deep fried, and then served in a pita with veggies and sauces. But after leaving a coffee shop and letting the holy grail of street food create new universes in my expanded mind, I ate them every day for a week. Sublime.

As the Food Network Empire and Darth Rachel came to power, chickpeas (garbanzos, or if you’re a pretentious prick, ceci, pronounced che’-chee) started getting some coverage in a variety of contexts. Unbeknownst to me, “chickpeas and pasta” are an Italian staple all over the boot. Although I personally had never had the dish, Darth Rachel’s scratchy voice assured me that it is “yum-o,” which of course comforts me in the recesses of my mind, Sand People pursuing or not.

In any case, this is a Weight Watcher’s recipe and I took only a few liberties with it. A good-size portion is a mere 7 on the old system (PointsPlus and 360° can fuck off frenetically). It’s vegetarian, filling, and good for you. It’s easy as hell to make, too, so it’s a perfect weekday dinner. And you will see that, as you eat this, you will tell people to just go away.

Chickpeas and Pasta

Serves 4

1 1/2 cups serving is an old Weight Watchers 7

Ingredients:

4 tsp. olive oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

3 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly

1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary (or a teaspoon dried, I’m guessing)

2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley, divided

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

1 14 1/2-oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 16-oz. can chickpeas (garbanzos), drained and rinsed well

1/4 tsp. each of salt and freshly ground pepper

1 or 2 zucchini or yellow squash, peeled and made into ribbons (I used the peeler to make thick ribbons, but only shave the meaty parts rather than the seedy parts)

2 cups cooked pasta, like rotini, penne, or ditalini

1/4 cup parmesan

Makin’ It:

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat. Saute the garlic for a minute and then add the carrots, rosemary, red pepper, and 1 tablespoon o’ the parsley. Saute this for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Add the tomatoes and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring often. Start cooking the pasta about halfway through this.

Then, add the chickpeas, salt, pepper, and squash.  Simmer this for another 5 minutes, stirring here and there. Add in the pasta, parmesan, and the other tablespoon of parsley. Divide into four bowls and serve. Bob’s your uncle.

Chickpeas and Pasta 7

Now just go away.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

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Israeli Couscous with Apples, Mint, and Feta

11 Oct

Isreaeli Couscous with Apples, Mint, and Feta 6

Sometimes, I admit, I take it upon myself to right the wrongs of this world. In many ways, I’m surprised that I haven’t gotten the shit kicked out of me at some point in the last 30 years. I’d like to think that my beard and size make me appear brazen, but probably not. I usually give enough contempt to get my point across while managing to stave off any potential ass-kicking coming my way. Perhaps bringing forth some examples might conjure up the reasons why I still have most of my teeth, only self-inflicted facial scars, and a largely in-tact nose.

In Santa Maria, California, the city in which I live, people generally do not regard “No Parking” signs or red curbs. One afternoon, a gentleman parked his truck right underneath a “No Stopping Anytime” sign to let his wife into the local mall and to enjoy what appeared to be a Marlboro Red. His obstruction basically caused a traffic jam on the little two-lane mall frontage road, and he was oblivious to it all. When it came my turn to pass him, I stopped, rolled down my passenger window, and addressed him thusly:

“I wish I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Like parking in a no parking zone, like you.”

“Me too!” he replied.

“You’re a complete asshole!” I replied, and sped away quickly.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone behind me in a grocery store line starts putting their items on the conveyer belt when I haven’t finished placing my items on there. As the conveyer belt keeps running, their items come towards me and slowly leave me no room for the rest of my stuff; I basically have to hand my groceries to the cashier because there’s nowhere else to put them. One time, a very tall and large man did this to me, and I pointed out his seeming lack of attention to the situation at hand.

“Calm the fuck down,” he generously replied to me.

“Oh! That’s wonderful! And thanks for giving my 3-year-old a new vocabulary word!”

“Get over it, jerk,” was his next insight.

“How about you wait until I’m finished and then put your stuff on the belt, which would be normal and intelligent.”

“Why don’t you just shut up?” he queried.

I said nothing at this point. But when I left, I got his attention and blew on my thumb until my middle finger popped up in his direction. I then left quickly.

Lastly, a few years ago in the autumn, my neighbor Mark alerted me that middle school miscreants were jacking apples from my tree on their ways home from school. “Jon, they’re filling their backpacks and takin’ ’em home. I mean a shitload of ’em.”

“Oh yeah?”

Well, that warranted a bit of stealth on my part. So, the next day, I hid in my garage with a view of the apple tree and my angry beard in tact. I waited until the first pair o’ kiddos was under the tree when I came around and cornered them. I’m guessing one had to do an underwear check at home after I lifted him up by his backpack a foot off of the ground, spewing vitriol and police threats, his friend darting toward the sidewalk. I’ve never seen two teenagers run so fast in my life. After five more confrontations that afternoon, I was exuberant and my tree protected. To this day, almost three years later, kids walk on the other side of my street and eye me suspiciously. The lore has been passed down. Siblings know who I am if they get my class and I get a full load of apples every year now.

So, after reviewing these instances, I realize that cowardice underlies a lot of the reasons why I haven’t gotten a good beating. Alas. But I’m getting braver, so we’ll see…

Most importantly, now that I have all of my apples, I can make all sorts of bitchin’ dishes, such as this Israeli Couscous with Apples, Mint, and Feta. This is an easy fall side which pairs excellently with any Mediterranean dish, I would think. I got the base recipe from delish.com and only tweaked it a bit. They make this a cold salad, but I made it as a warm side dish. Both rock, I would guess.

Israeli Coucous with Apples, Mint, and Feta

Serves 6 or so

Ingredients:

3 tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 cup Israeli couscous

2 cups water

1/4 tsp. salt or to taste

2 tbsp. minced shallot (use onion in a pinch)

2 apples, cored, peeled, and diced (Use whatever kid you have; I have Granny Smith and they work famously.)

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (I omit them to cut the fat and calories)

1/2 tsp. oregano (1 tsp. freshly chopped, if you have it)

4 oz. crumbled Feta cheese

Freshly ground pepper to taste, about 1/2 tsp.

Makin’ It:

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil over medium heat. Add in the couscous and get it golden brown, shaking the pan occasionally, about 3 minutes or so. Add in the water and the salt and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer it until it’s tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Drain the couscous.

In the same pan, add another tablespoon of olive oil and heat it over medium heat. Add in the shallots and saute them until soft, about 3 minutes. Add in the apples and the drained couscous and let them get happy for a few minutes, stirring a few times. Remove this from the heat and transfer it to a large bowl.

In that bowl, add in the lemon juice, chopped mint, pine nuts (if using), and the oregano. Stream the last tablespoon of olive oil over it and toss it all together lightly. Transfer it to a serving dish. Top it with the Feta crumbles and pepper. Serve. Easy as a hippie needing a beer at Burning Man.

Isreaeli Couscous with Apples, Mint, and Feta 7

And if you need apples, I got a ton. You’ll find me hiding in the garage.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Mashed Butternut Squash a la Weight Watchers

3 Oct

Weight Watchers Mashed Butternut Squash 5

Since I’m Italian, I get to tell Italian jokes. So there’s an old joke that goes something like this:

A Frenchman, an Englishman, and an Italian are lined up at the pearly gates to get into heaven. When they approach the gates, St. Peter says to them, “To gain admittance to heaven, each of you much pass a spelling test.”

The Frenchman, never daunted, goes first. “Spell ‘house,'” says St. Peter. “House. H-O-U-S-E. House.” The gates open and he enters.

The Englishman comes next, cocky bastard that he is. “Spell ‘goal,'” says St. Peter. “Goal. G-O-A-L. Goal.” The gates open and he enters.

Guiseppe walks up next and St. Peter asks him, “You’re Italian, right?”

“Yes.”

“Spell ‘onomatopoiea.'”

I felt like this a few weeks ago when I and my student partner were dismissed from the podium for my misspelling of the word “cromlech” (pronounced crom-lek) in my first spelling bee since I was probably ten. “Cromlech,” you see, is a word that describes prehistoric megalithic structures. Stonehenge would be an example of a cromlech. And of all of the people that could have been asked to spell it in that room, I would guess that I would be most qualified to do so correctly; I majored in English, my specialty is medieval and Renaissance British literature, I watch archaeological documentaries on ancient Europe whenever I can find them (I remember at least three focusing on Stonehenge, no less), I am an anglophile to the hilt. I actually touched a cromlech in Ireland, I later learned.

I spelled it “c-h-r-o-m-l-e-c-h,” and was thus stripped of a potential trophy for a good cause (“ch” at the end, so it should be at the beginning, too, right? No. It’s Welsh, and therefore makes little sense linguistically). What’s worse is that the team after us got the word “hoary,” as in hoarfrost, or the lichen and mossy stuff that hangs off of old trees. It’s also used to describe old, grizzled people, like Gandalf. Hoary I read regularly. It’s actually one of my senior English class’s vocabulary words because it’s so common in British literature. Cromlech vs. hoary? What the fuck. It’s my beard they distrust, I know it.

So how does this figure into a recipe for mashed butternut squash? I think that when I first started the Weight Watchers program, I would sincerely pine for certain items, mashed potatoes being one of them. How can there be a substitute, a worthy substitute, for buttery, starchy goodness? I was biased against them at first, saying to myself, “Those can’t possibly be good. And they’re hard to make, I bet. Too much work,” etc. In essence, I was treating the substitutes as the Italian at the pearly gates and I at the podium were treated: I didn’t give them a fair shake. And if I continued to be slanted against those recipes, I surely should have gone to hell, just like the whore-y female announcer, the one who picked “cromlech” for my team and “hoary” for the next team, should and will.

This recipe will have your cockles tingling. It’s got some substance, it’s unbelievably tasty, and it works well with roasted or grilled chicken. It screams “autumn,” which can get annoying when I’m trying to cook. I got it from a website called skinnykitchen.com and didn’t mess with it much. Each 1/2 cup serving is a 2 on the old Weight Watchers system (PointsPlus and 360° can go fuck themselves).

Mashed Butternut Squash a la Weight Watchers

Serves 5 or so, 1/2 cup servings (2 points on old WW)

Ingredients:

1 butternut squash, about 2 pounds peeled and cubed (if you want to know how to do this, go to the bottom of this recipe: https://dinnerwithjonny.com/2013/02/15/pasta-e-zucca-squash-and-pasta/)

2 tbsp. brown sugar

3 tbsp. lite margarine or reduced fat butter, melted

a dash o’ cinnamon

1/4 tsp. salt or to taste

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1/4 cup low-fat milk (I use 1%), heated a bit

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 400°. Put the cubed squash in a big bowl and sprinkle on the brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Pour on the melted margarine and toss this all together well.

Pour this onto a cookie sheet and spread it out evenly. Make sure you pour out all of the liquid over it, too. It’ll look runny, but that’s ok. Put this in the oven for 40 minutes, tossing them with a spatula after about 20 minutes.

Once they’re cooked, put the cooked squash, the pan liquids, and the heated milk in a food processor (a masher doesn’t work, kids. A blender? Maybe.).  Process this until the it’s pureed. Transfer it to a bowl and serve it hot. Bob’s your uncle.

Weight Watchers Mashed Butternut Squash 1

May you find a hoary cromlech on the road ahead of you.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino

p.s. This post is dedicated to the friend and colleague who got me to compete in the spelling bee and has been an inspiration in so many ways.

T.J.’s Artichoke Ravioli in a Toasted Bread Crumb and Butter Sauce

15 Sep

T.J.'s Artichoke Ravioli in Toasted Crumb Butter Sauce 10

In his book Heat, Bill Buford chronicles his adventures as an amateur slave cook for Mario Batali, and his immersion into the professional cooking world. Amongst the people he mentions in the novel is Lidia Bastianich. If you’ve never seen her show, try to find it. She is about as close to one of my Italian aunts in the kitchen as one could get. Her recipes will make your legs shake and you’ll get that squishy feeling like you did when your crush passed you in 2nd grade or when you straddled a swing too long.

I mention Lidia because one of my favorite pieces of wisdom comes from her in Buford’s book. He talks about the link between food and sex, and he refers to a conversation he had with Lidia on this very subject. When pressed to explain further, Lidia states that, of course food is like sex, and then throws him a rhetorical question, “‘What else do you put in someone’s body?'” I never thought of it that way, but it’s dead on when you think about it, and it’s why good food and wine can lead to a euphoric, erotic level of being.

And the connections can be drawn from there. Perhaps the encounter is a fifteen-minute exercise in lust on the kitchen counter, or a quickie in the front seat of your car as you take a break from a long road trip, or the clumsy first time when all the ingredients are there, but you’re unfamiliar with timing and how everything works together. Or maybe it’s a languid evening that requires four hours of musical ambiance, punctuated by the brief recognitions of humanity’s inherent beauty and the privilege you feel in recognizing it, or maybe you’re just starving and you tear open everything and scarf it all down while closing the front door with your back left heel. This could be food. This could be sex.

This recipe effuses sexuality in that it’s indulgent, but also smooth and simple. Most importantly, it’s easy. When I first read it over, I was uneasy about using a whole stick o’ butter, but it was the perfect complement to these ravioli. Serve this with some greens in a light vinaigrette, and you’re getting lucky on two levels.

I mentioned Lidia because it so happens that this sauce is from her book, Lidia’s Family Table. Also, I use Trader Joe’s Artichoke Ravioli for this, but I think any good filled pasta would work famously with it. The recipe below serves 4, but I usually halve it since there are only two of us.

T. J.’s Artichoke Ravioli in a Toasted Bread Crumb and Butter Sauce

Serves 4 or so

Ingredients:

2 packages Trader Joe’s Artichoke Ravioli, or a filled pasta of your liking

2 tbsp. dry bread crumbs

8 tbsp. butter (1 stick)

Lots of freshly ground black pepper

1 cup of the pasta-cooking water

2 tbsp. chopped parsley, Italian would be optimal

1 cup Parmesan or Grana Padano

Makin’ It:

Get a big ol’ pot of salted water boiling for the pasta.

In a small skillet, toast the bread crumbs over medium to medium-high heat, tossing them often so that they get browned evenly. When they are almost all brown, drop in 2 tablespoons of the butter. Remove the pan from the heat and swirl the pan around to melt the butter and stop the crumbs from getting too brown. Set this aside.

In a big skillet, melt the rest of the butter over medium heat. Grind in the black pepper generously. Ladle in 1 cup of the hot pasta water and get it simmering. Keep stirring and simmering it as it reduces a bit while you wait for the pasta to finish.

Remove the cooked pasta from the big pot o’ water and add it to the skillet. Toss it with the sauce. Off the heat, toss in the Parmesan and parsley. Plate your pasta portions (dividing the sauce among the four plates, obviously) and sprinkle the toasted bread crumbs on top of each right before serving, like this:

T.J.'s Artichoke Ravioli in Toasted Crumb Butter Sauce 2

Make and serve this, and it will be one of those encounters you remember in the wee hours of an insomniac night.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Italian Green Beans

28 Aug

 

Italian Green Beans 2

I often find myself paging through my memory for a “good” side dish to whatever I’m making that evening. As Ina Garten has said many times in effect, you have to figure out what the “star” of any given meal is. Is it the main course? Is it that odd potato recipe you had at Chez Sexy that you tried to replicate and for which you want your family to salivate? Is it simply a kick-ass veggie dish that’s good for you AND complements the main dish? What’s the new trick you have up your sleeve?

Most of us aren’t entertaining every night, so it follows that mealtime can be repetitive. I admit, I get bored easily with repetition. It’s a drummer thing, I think, so I’m always looking for variation on least one part of the meal. I could be making a solid main course, one I make every week, in fact. But my curiosity makes me wonder how I can add some oomph to whatever I’m cooking. Does my day revolve around it? No. But, it spices dinnertime up for me. It’s part of being creative. It’s part of living.

I’ve had these green beans regularly since I was a lad, and every member of my family knows how to make them. If I’m making a heavy main dish, often I will forgo the veggie or salad just because I know I’ll be full and, truth be told, I want to scarf more pasta or steak or whatever instead of obligatory greens. These green beans fix that problem. I want to eat these as much as the main course.  They can serve as the “star” of what would have been an ordinary meal. Moreover, they’re good for you. A lot of veggie recipes get their flavor from adding tons o’ fat in the form of cheese or butter, but not so with these guys. A little olive oil is the only indulgence.

Italian Green Beans

Serves 6, I would think

Ingredients:

1 pound green beans, regular or French, trimmed

3 tbsp. olive oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

1 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes, or use diced tomatoes, undrained, and crush them by hand

1 tsp. oregano

1/2 cup water

salt and pepper to taste

Makin’ It:

First you need to parboil the green beans, which means you have to cook them partially before you finish them in the tomato sauce. How long you parboil them depends on how big the green beans are; for example, thin French green beans will be quick to parboil. So, get a pot of salted water boiling, add the green beans, and cook them until they’re fork tender but still retain a crispness to them. Drain them and set them aside.

In a saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic slices. Saute them until they’re golden. Then add the tomatoes, oregano, water, and the drained green beans. Get this to a simmer and cook them for about 10 minutes, until the sauce reduces a bit. Season with salt and pepper and you’re in business.

Italian Green Beans 1

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

T.J.’s Arugula and Parmesan Ravioli with Easy Homemade Pesto

23 Aug

Arugula and Parm Ravioli with Pesto (10)

As the years progress, I keep adding to my list of items that I will no longer buy in a grocery store: croutons, pot pies, Brut Aftershave, certain salad dressings, frozen cream pies, pizza rolls, Texas toast, last minute gifts for family members, anything from Little Debbie, lingerie, et al. Amongst these items is pesto sauce.

I admit, I used to think pesto was pretty highfalutin when I first started cooking. It’s probably because of how it was first marketed. I remember around the time that I actually read Under the Tuscan Sun (in the ’90’s at some point), the whole summer-in-Tuscany-while-dining-al-fresco-with-really,-really-sexy-people became ubiquitous in t.v. commercials, cooking shows, and advertisements in general. To indulge in pesto, I believed, meant that I had to be not just a “foodie,” but I had to be a foodie cool enough and affluent enough to buy most of my home furnishings from yuppie catalogs and then practice recreating the pictures in those catalogs with any skinny, sexy white friends that I might have had (I had maybe 2, total, at the time. Now, none.). I imagined I’d have to be fluent in Chardonnay, sweaters, nanny-comparison-talk, South Orange County faux-Mediterranean architecture, and the brief history of Irvine north of the 5 freeway. Alas, I was, and still am, horribly deficient in these categories, so I felt that pesto was beyond my reach socially, intellectually, and sexually.

But as I learned my ways around the kitchen, the mystique around pesto started to dissipate for me, probably in part due to the Great Recession sending the once al-fresco-dining-really,-really-sexy-people to shop at WalMart instead of Eddie Bauer. Furthermore, my wife lived in Florence, Italy, to study abroad in her early twenties, and she has had a love affair with pesto ever since, so I had to get it on the menu somehow. I started cautiously with the store bought stuff and it pleasantly surprised me. “I’m loving this and I’m not nearly that sexy,” thought I at the time.

After a few more years in the kitchen, I finally decided to tackle homemade pesto. Searching for recipes assuaged my fears; pesto is probably the easiest, quickest pasta sauce to make if you have the ingredients, which can be found at any grocery store nowadays. I nailed it the first time I made it and I had an epiphany about something I already knew: Italian food is generally simple to make. Advertisers and marketers would have you think differently, though, so fuck them. Thus, pesto is now on my list of items never to buy at a store.

On another note, I have a deep love for Trader Joe’s, and generally every pre-made item I get there tastes fantastic. The Trader Giotto’s Arugula and Parmesan Ravioli are marvelous and this homemade pesto sauce perfects them. Top it with a few shaves of Parmesan or Grana Padano, and you’re gettin’ laid.

Easy Homemade Pesto

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 cups packed, fresh basil leaves

3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

1/4 cup raw pine nuts

2/3 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp. salt or to taste

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Makin’ It:

Put the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor (or blender, if you’re ghetto like that) and pulse it until it’s chopped. Add in the olive oil and process this until it’s smooth, scraping the sides as needed. Add in the salt and pepper and pulse a few times more. Transfer this to a bowl and stir in the cheese. Easy as a divorcee with oats to sow.

Assemblage:

You’ll need:

1 package of Trader Giotto’s Arugula and Parmesan Ravioli (or any ravioli or pasta that tickles your taint at the time)

1/2 recipe or more of the above pesto recipe

Shaved, shredded, or grated Parmesan, Romano, or Grana Padano

Assemblin’ It:

Cook the ravioli according to the package instructions. Drain and toss the ravioli with about 1/2 of the pesto recipe until each ravioli is well coated. Use more pesto if it blows your hair back. Top with the cheese and you get this:

Arugula and Parm Ravioli with Pesto (1)

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Carol’s Beans and Chips

15 Aug

Beans and Chips 002

As we grew up, my house became a magnet for my brothers’ and my friends in large part because of my mom’s cooking. While I am sure that our gregariousness has attracted multitudes over time, my bros and I know that behind it all lurked the desire for my mom’s lasagna, burritos, pizza, and these here beans and chips. She always made enough and it was always that goddamn good.

For the past few years on Facebook, I’ve posted a picture of a little tradition we have at my house. On my mom’s birthday in March, we set up a mini “Carol feast” with her picture as an effigy, complete with Lipton’s Instant Iced Tea and a pack of Parliament Light cigarettes from the last carton she owned before she passed away (her actual last half-smoked pack of grits is in her coffin alongside a jar of Lipton’s, fyi). This little celebration always features potato chips and onion dip, brie with almonds and honey, and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne to round it all out. She served this to guests 90% of the time she entertained after we all had grown up. Rather than cry, we toast a great woman and try to imitate her cackling laugh as closely as we can.

Inevitably when I post a picture of this, a few of my friends will comment on the post with “dude, Carol’s beans and chips. Best thing ever,” or similar sentiments. The beans and chips, so simple to make, were a staple for me and my friends at least twice a week during my teenage years. The key to their beauty is in the homemade chips; it can neither be fathomed nor appreciated using a suitcase o’ Mission tortilla strips or rounds. You have to fry corn tortilla triangles in oil, salt ’em hot, and dip ’em into seasoned refried beans while warm. Nothing like it.

Another component of this dish involves a Southern California institution: Del Taco. We call it either “Del” or “the Del,” and the chain evolved from another beautiful SoCal institution, Naugles (one can still be found in Fullerton, I believe). I am pretty sure that most truly old-school OC natives will tell Taco Bell to take a flying fuck over the Del, to be honest. We all have our routines when we eat there, too, and can readily identify our friends’ Del routines without batting an eye. For example, Jimmy and Griz always put fries in their burritos. My brother Chris’s go-to is a large red burrito with sour cream. Here’s Griz representing:

Griz

One of the most crucial parts of experiencing Del is the Mild Sauce they serve in packets. I am convinced that they have never bottled it so people will still indulge in their Del addictions. People might kill for this sauce. For example, one of my best friends got a box o’ Del Mild Sauce packets, a whole box, for his birthday and he’d be hard pressed to tell you of a better present. One of my most egregious fouls had to be when I stopped a friend from filling a large bag of Mild Sauce to take back east to college because I thought we’d get in trouble. I now realize that I was being a large pussy, but I have since apologized to him profusely.

Why do I bring this up? Well, that Mild Sauce is the perfect seasoning for the canned refried beans needed for this recipe. And yes, you have to rip open and squirt all 15 or more packets into the beans: it connects you to them. It reminds you of Del’s beauty and singularity. It’s both euphoric and sublime. Still you can use any hot sauce you like and it’ll work; I just wanted to pontificate about the Del for awhile and make this post longer because the recipe itself is short and basic.

Carol’s Bean and Chips

Serves 4 normal people or 2 teenagers.

Ingredients:

2 or 3 cans of refried beans, any type you like

15 packets (or more) of Del Taco Mild Sauce or 1/3 cup of hot sauce of your liking

1/4 cup sour cream

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup or more vegetable oil for frying

1 package of corn tortillas, cut into triangles

salt to taste

love

Makin’ ‘Em:

In a medium sauce pan, add the refried beans, Del or hot sauce, sour cream, and 1/4 cup of the cheddar cheese. Heat this over low to medium low heat, stirring fairly often to mix it all up and to keep it from burning on the bottom and sides. Keep this going as you fry the chips.

In a large skillet, add the oil and heat it over medium-high heat. When a drop of water cracks in the oil, it’s ready. Working in batches, fry about 6 to 9 chips at a time, turning them as needed to get a golden brown. Be careful doing this as the oil is muy dangerous. I use a fork and tongs for the flipping and removing. When they’re golden, remove them from the oil and drain them on paper towels. Salt them while they’re hot (it melts onto them) and then add another layer of triangles to the oil. Do this until you’ve fried them all. I usually remove the done chips to a serving basket to keep them warm.

Add the warm beans to a serving dish and sprinkle it with the rest of the cheddar cheese. Serve it warm with the chips and thank me (and Carol) later. You’ll get this:

Beans and Chips 006

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013