In September, my two girls, ages six and nine, became responsible for dinner once a week. We’re home schooling, and a little kitchen responsibility seemed like a good way to practice fractions. Also, I thought it might allow the adults to spend a few minutes drinking beer on the couch.
So far, there has been very little couch sitting. It turns out, letting two children loose in the kitchen requires a certain level of oversight, and we are still figuring out exactly how much is the right amount. Still, I remain optimistic about the beer.
The way it’s been working is that on Mondays, before I make a grocery list, the girls submit their menu and pick out recipes. As the light starts to fade on Wednesday afternoon, I help them get out their tools and ingredients and they tie on their aprons and begin. So far, we’ve had black bean tacos, cream of tomato soup, homemade focaccia bread, Caesar salad, and baked potatoes. But mostly, we’ve had black bean tacos. It’s the kid cooks’ greatest hit.
“It’s all about the cumin, Mom,” my nine-year-old tells me every time they make tacos. She learned this from her father: that to warm up a little olive oil and garlic and cumin in a pan until the smell fills up the house can transform canned black beans into something special. “And the homemade salsa!” chimes in our younger daughter. Yes, that, too. Once, they even made tortillas from scratch.
That’s the great thing about tacos: you get to decide on any given night how much effort you want to put into them. Tired? Use tortillas and salsa from the store. Tacos are a great meal for beginners, and they also allow for challenge and growth. All the fixings make good chopping practice — our girls usually do shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and thinly sliced black olives. Plus, there’s all that cheese grating to take care of.
The only downsides are the clean-up and our house rule that whoever’s cooking gets to choose the music. Have you heard of the band the Toilet Bowl Cleaners? But I digress.
Black Bean Tacos
The inspiration for this meal came from chef Pascal Simon, who teaches an online cooking camp called Bake Austin. My kids attended earlier in the pandemic and loved it. This recipe is loosely adapted from her Kids Culinary School tacos, an instant hit. The homemade tortillas and salsa are fun, but we often use store bought.
optional, for homemade tortillas:
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1½ cups water
6 Tbsp. olive oil
If you’re doing homemade tortillas, you’ll want to start by making the dough first. Otherwise, skip ahead to the taco fixings. Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the water and the oil. When the dough is just mixed, dump it onto a floured countertop and knead for 1-2 minutes. Set aside for 10-15 minutes.
Then divide the dough into 15 balls. Flour the countertop again and use a rolling pin to flatten each ball into a roughly 6-inch circle. Grease a cast-iron skillet and cook the tortillas over medium heat until lightly browned, about a minute per side. Set aside in a basket or bowl with a dishcloth to keep warm until serving.
optional, for homemade salsa:
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/4 of a jalapeño pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 clove garlic, rough chopped
Juice of 1 lime
½ tsp. ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor. Use the pulse button to chop everything in quick bursts until the texture is the way you like it. (We go for a pretty fine chop.) Taste and add some salt and pepper, then taste again. Add more salt as needed.
for the tacos:
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
2 cups black beans (or one can)
4-6 oz. cheddar cheese
1-2 tomatoes, or about 1 cup cherry tomatoes
Handful of iceberg lettuce
8 oz. sour cream
1 can black olives (optional)
Warm up the olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until just fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in the cumin, cook another 2-3 minutes, and add the beans. Cook, stirring often, for another 5-10 minutes, until they’re warmed through and any juice is evaporated. Cover and set aside.
Grate the cheese and put in a small bowl. Chop the tomatoes into small pieces and put in a small bowl. Cut the lettuce into thin ribbons and put in a small bowl. Spoon the sour cream into a bowl and set aside. Thinly slice the black olives and put in a small bowl. Spoon about a cup of salsa into a bowl. These are your toppings.
Bring all your toppings to the table. Bring your warm wrapped tortillas, too (if you are using store bought, warm them up quickly in your cast-iron skillet, heating about a minute per side, and then wrap with a dishcloth to keep them warm). Spoon the beans into a large bowl and bring to the table. Tell your family it’s time for dinner! Everyone gets to assemble their tacos to their liking.