August 23, 2007
Cilantro Pesto and Black Bean Cakes

Black bean cakes with heirloom tomatoes, Mexican pesto, and a little quesoIt got into my head recently, while enjoying a delicious caprese sandwich with pesto, that there ought to be such a thing as Mexican pesto.

Think about it - traditional Italian pesto consists of basil, pine nuts, olive oil, lemon, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. Mexico has counterparts to all those ingredients - cilantro, pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds with the shells removed), sunflower oil or corn oil, lime, garlic again, and queso aņejo. What works for one culture might very well work for another.

For practical purposes (that is, I lacked the courage of my convictions), I stuck with olive oil instead of using corn or sunflower oil, but created my cilantro-based pesto based on the outine above. I also added a jalapeņo because it seemed to want to be there, and in the final recipe, you can't taste the heat, but the jalapeņo adds to the flavor.

Of course you can't exactly eat pesto by the spoonful Or at least normal people can't eat pesto by the spoonful. I needed something to put the pesto on, and black bean cakes/burgers seemed to be a good choice. This recipe makes much more pesto than you'll use on these black bean cakes, but who ever complained about leftover pesto? Uh, the black bean cake recipe also makes way too much and I currently have a batch of the stuff in the fridge for dinner again this week. That's what happens when you improvise, I guess.

This is not going to be a highly scientific recipe. I felt my way through both of these, and I can recapitulate some of the steps I took, but you will have to feel your way through these two recipes with me. If that's OK with you, here's how to make a vivid green cilantro-based Mexican pesto to enjoy with black bean cakes.

Cilantro Pesto and Black Bean Cakes

For the pesto:
Three big bunches of cilantro
1 cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
2/3 cup olive oil (or so, that's a guess)
one jalapeņo, seeds removed,
3 cloves garlic
salt to taste
1/2 cup queso aņejo, a hard salty Mexican cheese like Parmesan

For the black bean cakes:
2 14 oz. cans black beans, drained
one large white onion, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chile powder/cayenne
1 teaspoon oregano
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1/2 cup - 3/4cup bread crumbs

light vegetable oil for frying

two heirloom tomatoes, cut into 1/4" dice as a garnish
optional chihuahua cheese as a garnish

Put the garlic in a food processor and pulse until minced well. Add the cilantro and process until you have a paste. Add the pepitas and jalapeņo and pulse again until they are incorporated. Add the cheese and pulse until it is incorporated.

Using the feed tube, slowly add the juices and oil until you have a nice paste that flows smoothly. Taste and add more or less of any of the main ingredients as well as salt. You should end up with a bright fresh greens and citrus-y paste with earthy undertones.

Clean out the food processor and store the pesto.

Add everything but the breadcrumbs, oil, salt and pepper to the food processor and process until you have a purplish paste of even consistency. You'll notice the paste is a little loose. Add 1/3 of the bread crumbs and pulse until they are fully incorporated. Continue with the rest of the breadcrumbs until you have a sticky paste that hangs together.

Preheat the oven to 200 F and put paper towels on a plate into the oven.

Heat 1/3" of oil in a pan until it is shimmering but not smoking. With a large spoon and a silicone spatula carefully spoon some of the bean mix into the hot oil. Repeat making six or seven separate bean patties.

After about one minute in the oil, VERY CAREFULLY flip each bean cake so the uncooked side is now in the oil. Press lightly on the tops of the cakes with the spatula to flatten out the bottoms and cook an additional 60 seconds.

Remove the cakes to the paper towel covered plate in the oven to keep warm. Add a layer of paper towels to the top.

Repeat until you've made enough black bean cakes/burgers to serve your diners. Store the rest of the bean mix for another night.

On a plate, arrange three bean cakes per person. Top each with a dollop of cilantro pesto and add the diced heirloom tomatoes and chihuahua cheese as a garnish. Serve immediately.

You can also serve these as sandwiches on hamburger buns. Spread the pesto on the bun, and slice the tomato if you choose that route.

ANOTHER IDEA: We had the rest of the batch for dinner again and you can get great results if you put down half a pattie's worth of the black bean mix, then a stripe of cilantro pesto on top, then another half-pattie's worth of black bean mix to top it all off, and fry it up. The nice fresh citrus and cilantro taste in the center of the earthy burger is fantastic.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at August 23, 2007 7:49 AM Print-friendly version

I use a similar cilantro pesto as a dip for carrot sticks (or in this day and age, those "baby" carrots you can buy in the bag). Yummy indeed.

My cilantro pesto is a little less complicated -- cilantro, lime juice, almonds [it used to be really hard to get pepitas], and oil -- but the garlic addition sounds yummy.

Posted by Meg on August 23, 2007 at 10:55 AM


OoOOoOo, that sounds darned fine, nicely done. I believe if Biggles made some of these fine items, he'd add the chorizo. His meat dealer has fresh El Salvadorian chorizo, hooya.


Posted by Dr. Biggles on August 23, 2007 at 12:42 PM

Just last night I took my left over Rick Bayless tomatillo salsa tossed it into the food processor with more cilantro and another jalepano, added a little olive oil to thin it our and wham bam, cilantro pesto bright green yumminess!

I marinated some chicken in it and served the rest with dinner. It was very good.

Posted by Monica on August 28, 2007 at 8:59 AM
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