Sunday, August 15, 2010
Tostadas and a dissertation on cultural relativity
Okay, not a dissertation in the sense of the doctoral dissertation I'm not writing but one none the less, just shorter. But first tostadas. Tostadas are one of my wife's favorite foods. I grew up eating them pretty frequently and they never excited me that much. I don't make them too differently these days, but Rosie's excitement must've been contagious because they are now one of my favorite meals. For one, they are a healthy dinner. Baked corn tortillas, homemade refried beans and all the lettuce, tomato, avocado (and homemade salsa) you can pile on. And they're incredibly satisfying. What's not to like? They're also very leftover friendly. If you wanted to use up some leftover chicken, just chop it up and throw it on. Also, if you want the extra protein and want to make them a little heavier add a fried egg. Awesome...
So what is a tostada? Tostada means 'toasted' in Spanish but here it's a noun, not an adjective (since it's feminine, it's probably referring back to tortilla - 'the toasted tortilla/the thing that is toasted'). I've just finished teaching a 2 month long course on Spanish grammar for non-Spanish speakers (grad students who need to fulfill a language requirement who learn how to translate academic articles) and as a result my mind is stuck in the intricacies of the Spanish language. So back to that big what is a tostada question, and my whole thing. Cultural relativity is the kind of thing I think about when I'm writing about European colonization of the "New" World. So when I frequently hear that a tostada is an "open-faced sandwich", I have to disagree. An open-faced sandwich is an open-faced sandwich, a tostada is a tostada. Or, instead of submitting a culturally distinct cuisine to our own culinary standards, we could say that a tostada is like an open-faced sandwich. An obsession with political correctness? Maybe. But at the same time, why not let terms have their own referents? By the way, did you know that the pineapple, indigenous to the Americas, so astounded 16th century Spanish historian and 'ethnographer' Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo that he found himself unable to describe it? So astounding and original was its flavor that Oviedo could find no European referents, no equivalents and literally no words to describe it. Face to face with something so foreign (okay, so the Indians were much more foreign to him and he was a pretty ignorant dude), Oviedo named the fruit based on its appearance - piña, because it looked like a pine cone. Imagine, he could have named it 'artichoke fruit' because he also thought it looked like an artichoke. Wow, okay. Tostadas are tostadas, enough. Maybe Gertrude Stein would say a tostada is a tostada is a tostada. Hah hah...
Let's get on with the recipe!
We bake our corn tortillas to cut back on the oil from frying while keeping the nice crispy texture. Set the oven on 400 degrees, and lightly brush tortillas with some vegetable oil. Place tortillas on a flat baking sheet. To avoid tortillas curling, I put an upside down cooling rack over the tortillas while they bake. It keeps them nice and flat. Bake for 15 minutes, remove from oven, turn tortillas over and bake for another 8-10 minutes until brown and crisp.
When crisp, top with any of the following ingredients (pay attention to the order!)
Grated cheese of your choice
Rosie has the system all figured out. Forget the picture you see in the post, salsa and sour cream on top only cause messy tostadas and fingers. Put your runny stuff down first and then the loose ingredients. Rosie's good at figuring these things out, although she has to remind me about her system every time we have them.