I had cooked before. My mother still talks about the summer when I came home from college and cooked dinner every night. But it was the Miami Herald's recipe for Mexican pizza that helped set me off on years of food exploration.
This was more than 20 years ago. Cumin was exotic. Dieters wanted carbs. And Macy's sold pizza stones, but no one had imagined wood-fired ovens.
I moved into my first apartment and learned to cook solo from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant and the Herald's food section. The food section editor was really old. She was probably 35. She came through our bureau sometimes, but only talked to her friends among the editors. Once, I asked her a question. She was so dismissive that the memory surfaced regularly later when I had to decide whether to be distant or friendly to younger folks.
But she did print the recipe for Mexican pizza. Basically pizza with a sauce made of beans, oil, cumin, cilantro and salsa. Top with cheddar. It was completely exotic, and, in an era when my paycheck didn't justify much meat, it was a staple. Eaten month after month for my own dinner. Taken as leftovers to work. Served the sauce with nacho chips at the first parties that I hosted. Brought as two trays of mini-pizzas to a friend's event to the first time that I remember people being actually impressed.
It's still a great recipe. Or at least a great idea because you can adjust any ratio. Honestly, I don't make anything today like the recipe from 1992. Last time, I got inspired on a trip to Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia, and I snapped up ingredients -- cilantro, beans, cumin, canned chipotle peppers. I had tomatoes that I canned from Larriland.
But it really marks out an era. Black bean pizza was on the menu for my first real independence. Out of college. Cashing a paycheck. Paying my own bills. Back then, it was just something that I ate. Now, I realize it was a real start of an exploration of food as ran through years in the kitchen and years of this blog.
Sometimes you don't know when a new era of your life is about to begin. And, then again, sometimes you do.
Mexican Pizza 2.0
The beauty of this recipe is that you can adjust the flavors. The original recipe just called for salsa. That works, but I have made fresh salsas by pulsing my own canned tomatoes with other ingredients. You use the same blender it doesn't add to the clean up. As a bonus, the black bean sauce is a spectacular dip. It's beans and vegetables. You could eat the whole bowl and be healthy. Great with chips at a party or watching a game.
A pizza dough
Black Bean Sauce Ingredients
1 can of black beans, drained
1/2 to 1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 jalapeño or chipotle pepper, seeded if you use a jalapeño
1-2 tsp or more olive oil (unless used to make a fresh salsa)
1/4 cup or more cilantro (unless used to make a fresh salsa)
1/4 to 1/2 cup or more salsa or the fresh ingredients below
1/4 to 1/2 cup red onion, chopped
shredded cheddar cheese to taste
chopped cilantro to garnish
Fresh Salsa Alternative Ingredients
1/2 cup or more canned tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup or more cilantro
1/4 cup or more chopped onions
the oil from above
1) Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Spread out your dough and bake it. A pizza stone is ideal, but a cookie tray works. Bake it until it begins to brown. You want a crisp dough before you pour on the toppings.
2) If you're making the fresh salsa, put the ingredients in a blender and pulse until chopped. Add more vegetables according to your taste. I like strong flavors with the cilantro and onion. But don't puree smooth.
3) Put half of the black beans in a blender with the cumin, pepper, olive oil, half the cilantro, and half the salsa. Puree until smooth. Adjust the flavors by adding spices or vegetables. Add the remaining beans and pulse once or twice. You want a chunky texture. Stir in the remaining salsa.
4) Spread the black bean sauce onto your partially-based pizza. You may have extra. It makes a great dip. Sprinkle chopped onion and cheddar cheese.
5) Return the pizza to the oven and bake until the cheese melts and the toppings head through. Remove. Garnish with cilantro and serve.