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Sandal-Shaped Masa Cakes with Diced Cactus Paddles and Beans

Huaraches con Nopales y Frijoles de Olla (Sandal-Shaped Masa Cakes with Diced Cactus Paddles and Beans)
Serves 4
Fresh cactus paddles are often available at your local Mexican or Latin food market. You can use canned ones if fresh aren’t available—they just need to be heated through.
    1. 1 pound masa
    2. 1 tablespoon corn oil
    1. 2 cups dry black beans, rinsed
    2. ½ small white onion, quartered
    3. 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
    1. 4 medium tomatillos, husks removed, coarsely chopped
    2. 1 whole serrano pepper, stemmed (remove seeds for milder salsa)
    3. 2 medium cloves garlic
    4. 1 tablespoon finely chopped white onion
    5. ¼ small bunch cilantro, tough stems removed, roughly chopped
    6. ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
    1. 4 nopales (cactus paddles)
    2. 2 tablespoons pork lard
    3. 8 ounces quesillo cheese, shredded
      1. Combine masa with enough water to make a firm paste (about 2½ cups). Divide into four equal balls and cover with a moistened kitchen towel while working. Roll each ball into a cylindrical shape, about 8 inches long and 1 inch thick. Place a cylinder between 2 large pieces of parchment paper and press down lightly with the palm of your hand until you have a long, oval ¼-inch-thick masa cake. Repeat with remaining cylinders.
      2. Warm a comal or skillet over low heat for 5 minutes. Drizzle with corn oil and wipe off excess with a paper towel. Cook each huarache on the hot comal, 3 minutes per side. Remove and, while still hot, pinch a border about ¼-inch-wide around the huarache, creating a well. Have a clean, moistened kitchen towel nearby to wet fingers and prevent them from burning. Set huaraches aside.
      1. Add beans, onion, salt, and 4 cups water to a large pot and bring to a boil. Boil 5 to 7 minutes. Lower heat and simmer until soft, about 90 minutes. Add water if beans seem dry. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
      1. Add tomatillos, pepper, garlic, and onion to blender and process to a smooth consistency. Add cilantro and salt; blend briefly. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
      2. TO SERVE: Warm comal over low heat for 5 minutes. Working one at a time, add cactus paddles to the hot comal and sear 6 minutes per side. Transfer cactus paddles to a clean cutting board and dice.
      3. Melt lard in a small saucepan over low heat. Drizzle 2 teaspoons melted lard onto hot comal and 1 teaspoon inside the well of each huarache, making sure it is evenly coated. Place huarache on comal, well side down, and cook until crispy, about 2 minutes. Turn over and crisp base of huarache, about 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and transfer to a warm platter.
      4. Top each huarache with ¼ cup frijoles de olla, followed by ½ cup diced nopales, a handful of quesillo, and 2 tablespoons salsa de tomatillo. Serve warm.
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      Chef Hugo Ortega

      Hugo Ortega is executive chef/co-owner of four of Houston’s top restaurants – Backstreet Cafe, Hugo’s, Caracol and Xochi, and winner of Best Chef: Southwest at the prestigious 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards. (He was a finalist for the award for six consecutive years, 2012- 2017.) Ortega has been recognized locally, nationally and globally for his inspirational story and his passion for sharing traditional Mexican cooking and culture.

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