This is what you think of when you think of Mexican food, right—iceberg lettuce, red wine vinegar, parsley? Oh, the parsley! Just like I remember from Teotihuacan!
Nevertheless, Nonnie’s take on a chicken tostada—which, it must be noted, appears in the “salad” section of her cookbook, lolololol—is a lot tastier than I thought it’d be. After all, it’s pretty tough to mess up cheese, beans, and chicken; Taco Bell has built a vast fast food empire on that very principle. And it’s even harder to mess up those things when they’re smeared on top of a freshly fried tortilla, one that tastes even better because you made it out of nothing but a regular tortilla and brawn.
All in all, it makes for a satisfying meal that’s relatively light in Nonnie terms (despite, you know, the fried tortilla and melted cheese)—at least, if you only eat one. Which might have flown in the ’60s, but probably doesn’t fly today.
4 tortillas, fried [How do you fry tortillas? Let me explain below!]
1 small can refried beans
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped green pepper [I cheated, slightly, by buying poblanos instead of bell peppers, to add some kick. Hey, the recipe just said green pepper; it didn’t specify which kind]
2 tablespoons salad oil
2 tablespoons wine vinegar [Muy authentico]
1/4 cup chopped onion [Again with the raw onion]
1/4 cup chopped tomatoes
2 cups shredded, cooked chicken [Nonnie may have intended this as a use for leftover chicken; I didn’t have any, so I bought a few raw breasts (heh heh) and poached them gently in seasoned water with aromatics—the rest of the onion, some garlic—until they were just cooked through, which took maybe 15-20 minutes altogether. Then I removed them from the poaching liquid, let them cool, and shredded them with a pair of forks. In case you were wondering]
2 cups shredded lettuce [I used iceberg, because I was really going for that anglicized-Mexican-60s vibe]
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup mashed avocado
[Okay, so: To fry your tortillas, heat oil with a high smoke point—peanut, vegetable, grapeseed—over medium-high heat in a frying pan. It’s ready when a bit of water flicked onto the pan starts hissing and sputtering.
Next, use tongs to lower in your tortilla and let it cook for 40-50 seconds per side, or until it bubbles and gets golden brown; alternately, you can look to flip it when it starts to curl at the edges. Repeat with each tortilla. Psst: If you make more than you need, you can have homemade tortilla chips, and how GOOP does that sound?]
Cover fried tortillas with refried beans and half of the cheese. Place under broiler until cheese melts. [Watch it: if you let them go for too long, the tortillas will burn around the edges. I learned this from experience.]
[Also: Nonnie doesn’t tell you to do this, but you can turn off the broiler and keep the tortillas warm in the oven while you prepare the topping.]
Sprinkle tortillas with lettuce and top with remaining cheese. Combine chicken, celery [wait—what celery? Nonnie didn’t list it with the rest of the ingredients! Put some in, if you want, or don’t; I’m not the boss of you], oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, inions, green pepper, and tomatoes, and spoon over cheese-topped tortillas. Top with avocado. Garnish with olives. Serve with hot sauce.
The verdict: I left off the olives on my own portion, because sliced black olives from a can are gross; I also forgot to add the avocado before I took any pictures, but please, rest assured that avocado made it onto the final product. Which, as I said before, was surprisingly good, if completely and utterly un-Mexican.
Hell, you’re basically eating a crunchy, Old El Paso-style taco here, only it’s flat instead of half-moon shaped—and in an age of local this and organic that and earnest attempt after earnest attempt at full and total authenticity, isn’t it nice, every now and then, to eat some good, old-fashioned, Americanized cultural appropriation?