Icing on the Cake

tortilla and black beans

Black beans are a staple in our kitchen. I cook up a batch nearly every week. They’re not fancy food, nothing glamorous or particularly photogenic about them. But they taste so good and never disappoint. Often I’ll serve them on top of brown rice, garnished with grated cheese, salsa and veggies. I think I love them best, though, with a batch of home made flour tortillas.

Tortillas are high on my list of things that I could easily buy but they are so much better made from scratch. I tell myself I am saving money since we already have flour, water, salt and oil. I’m just making silly excuses. Tortillas are usually inexpensive to buy, but the homemade version are a simple luxury. When we have black beans for dinner these warm floury disks are the icing on the cake, if beans can be called cake and homemade tortillas can be called icing.

I know that most people these days are looking for ways to save time and buying a bag of tortillas and can of beans will make a good meal in fewer minutes than cooking it all from scratch. On the other hand the minutes of kneading, rolling and cooking might give you the time you wouldn’t other wise have to day dream, talk, catch up on the day’s news, listen to music or a podcast.

whole wheat tortillas

Black Beans and Whole Wheat Tortillas
Making beans and tortillas this way takes extra time but most of that is not doing active work, just letting things cook or rest. Sometime this fall, from a few different sources, I discovered my new favorite method of cooking beans. It requires a bit of planning ahead but no need for hours of soaking the dry beans. I’ll list the ingredients and then explain.

1 cup dry black beans
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Turn the oven to 350 degrees. In a dutch oven or other oven proof pot and lid, place the dry beans. Dice the onion, mince the garlic and toss them into the pot. Add the cumin and salt. Add water to the pot until the beans are covered by at least an inch. Cover the pot and put it in the oven. After about 30 minutes, open the oven, take the lid off and make sure the beans are simmering away, make sure the water has not evaporated and add more water if it has. Check after another 30 minutes to see if they are ready — they should hold their shape but give no resistance when you bite into one. If you are planning on serving them soon, remove the pot from the oven.  If you are cooking them ahead of time, you can turn off the oven when the beans are done and leave them there for a few hours. When you are ready to eat, you can reheat them on the stove.

If the beans are soupier than you want them to be, simmer them on the stove to evaporate some of the water. I love the flavor of the beans just like this, but once they have cooked you could add corn, peppers, chilies, tomatoes. Just make sure you don’t add anything acidic (like tomatoes, vinegar or lime juice) before they are fully cooked as acid will keep them from cooking. A few minutes before you are ready to serve them, stir in the cilantro. Yields about 4 cups of beans.

I like to set up a little buffet with beans, fresh greens, avocado, salsa, grated cheese and sometimes rice to go in the tortillas.

rollingout tortillas

Whole Wheat Tortillas
You can make these entirely with whole wheat or with a mix of white and wheat flour. Adding white flour will make them a softer and more flexible. Once the tortillas cool the might become a little bit stiff, just gently reheat them so they can be easily folded.

3 cups (14 ounces) whole wheat flour or 2 cups whole wheat and 1 cup white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (2 ounces) olive oil
about 3/4 cup very warm water

In a medium bowl, mix the flour and the salt. Add the oil and stir to distribute in the flour. Add the water, a little at time. Mix the water into the flour to create a smooth, elastic dough. Add more water if you need to, but the dough should hold together well and be slightly stiff but easily kneadable. Cover the dough and let rest on the counter for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.

Divide the dough into 12 pieces, as evenly as possible. Place a cast iron skillet (at least 12 inches in diameter) over medium-high heat. Take a piece of dough and use your hands to shape it into a small disk, about an inch thick. On a floured surface (or on parchment or other non-stick surface), begin rolling the dough with a rolling pin. Turn it frequently to keep the tortilla fairly round (the shape does not affect the taste!). Roll it until it is about 1/8th of an inch thick and 7-10 inches in diameter. 

When the pan is hot, place the rolled out tortilla flat on the pan (do not grease or oil the pan). When it begins to bubble and puff up a little bit, flip it over. You will see it puff up a bit on the other side, too. Cook the tortilla until the bubbles are just beginning to brown, if you cook it too long it won’t fold and bend easily. While one tortilla is cooking, you can roll out the next one. If you get ahead on rolling, don’t stack the uncooked tortillas because they will stick together. After each tortilla is cooked, stack in in a clean tea towel on a plate. They are best served warm, but will keep in an airtight container for a few days.



  1. HA

    March 17, 2011 at 11:27 pm

    I just came across your blog via your comment on Progressive Pioneer. You are discussing and doing many of the things that I am trying to incorporate in my life right now (I, too just made cotton bags to use in place of plastic produce bags at the grocery store) and it has been a delight to share in your experiences. Apropos to this post, I have been feeling guilty about buying tortilla shells at the store because their ingredient list is so contrary to our family's eating philosophy. You can be sure that these whole wheat tortillas are on the top of my to-bake list this week! Thanks!!

  2. Anna

    March 18, 2011 at 1:23 am

    HA – Glad you found me here and thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy the tortillas!

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