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This week, a dip into (an old edition of) a non-vegan, totally classic cookbook just snagged from the second-hand bookseller's shelf: Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen.

Again, decidedly a cookbook for omnivores, but one that honors beans and masa and masa and beans. To wit:

Talk about a crowd-pleaser. And the book itself is pretty lovely, too.

As tempting as it is to pour a whole bunch of oil into the pot and fry up some puffy masa, that's a hot, stinky, and delectable chore for another day. In fact, much of Mexican Kitchen involves a few separate processes per recipe. They look to come together smoothly with only minimal multitasking (and the notes helpfully provide make-ahead options throughout), but right now just isn't the time for ambition on any level in the MSV kitchen.

So today, two entrees that are low-demand and high-reward. The flavor construction is elegant and the textures deeply comforting, which makes for a winning combination for the home cook.

First up, black bean chilaquiles (the full dish, slightly more appetizing in appearance, is at the top of the post). Cook your beans, toss in tortilla chips, and there you have it. The core of the dish is entirely vegan, and it's garnished with chipotle, avocado, and Mexican Thick Cream. (Bayless's instructions for Thick Cream are the precise at-home creme fraiche mock-up ones I learned in my omnivore days.) Pictured here is a vegan experiment that showed great promise but ended up a bit underwhelming. You may see it again in the future if it works out. For a mystery-free version, thinned vegan sour cream, a little extra avocado, or a drizzle of poblano coconut sauce could easily replace the called-for dairy garnish.

The revelation in these chilaquiles, however, were the beans. Chipotles en adobo are frequently used as a bold addition to condiments—they're a generously flavorful shortcut. But used sparingly in a pot of beans (cooked from dried), they provide a surprisingly subtle, yet robust depth that likely forever changes the way beans get made around here. Seems obvious, and yet.


One of the great things about this book is Bayless' candor about the inherent corruption involved introducing a dish from one culture to another, especially for the home cook. He's clear about these being translations. So if this one is a cinch for a kitchen in the U.S., why not a vegan kitchen in the U.S.?

Here we have a tofu scramble, but this mixture of tomatoes, poblanos, onions, and garlic would also be gorgeous, naturally, over white beans. It's fairly lean, so extra avocado on top along with the cilantro really rounds it out. (And to stray from the recipe and stretch the dish, this also works tucked into warm corn tortillas.) The book offers an optional shortcut using canned tomatoes, which will do in a pinch, but freshly roasted will make the plate sing.

Back next week with a new recipe. Until then, happy reading.

About Hitting the Books: You know that shelf in your house with all the great cookbooks you don't get to nearly as often as you'd like? Yeah, there's one of those over here, too. The Hitting the Books series allows for occasional opportunities to dig into that shelf and highlight some handy cookbooks.