American culture has a remarkable power of absorption—we appropriate food, fashion, television shows (speaking of which: goodbye, Michael Scott!). Holidays, like St. Patrick’s Day and Chinese New Year, are no different. Heck, I’ve even celebrated Bastille Day. Any excuse to throw a party, right?
And then there’s Cinco de Mayo, a holiday now more popular in the US than in Mexico. When I recently mentioned to a Mexican acquaintance that I sometimes celebrate Cinco de Mayo, he looked confused, and asked, "Why?"
Tlayudas (lie-yoo-das) are a native specialty in Oaxaca, Mexico. I ate my first in a tiny restaurant with an enormous, old-timey bike standing outside the door. And I'd like to refrain from using the phrase 'Mexican pizza' here, because although I understand the very human compulsion to relate some unfamiliar item to something we already know, a tlayuda is very much its own entity.
The tlayuda I ate in Oaxaca (where I also learned to properly drink mezcal, but that's a story for another day) was topped with mole, the original cacao sauce, which in Oaxaca is big and bold, sharp and sweet all at once. Jarred mole is a poor substitute, so I've created a black bean paste to take its place.
Since my Spanish vocabulary isn't enormous, I wasn't entirely sure what toppings would arrive on my tlayuda in that little Mexican restaurant. The toppings turned out to be simplicity itself: scarlet slices of tomato, creamy avocado, a few torn shreds of fresh lettuce. The toppings are infinitely variable—I prefer the lightness of this vegetarian tlayuda at this time of year, but it would work just as well with chorizo or shredded chicken or pork.
Serves 2, or up to 8 as an appetizer
I can think of about a dozen ways I'd like to serve tlayudas, but my favorite idea might be buffet-style at a Cinco de Mayo party: six or seven different bowls of toppings for your guests to choose their own. (Second favorite idea, which is what Merrick did with his tlayuda: tomatoes for eyes, avocado for a nose, lettuce for a mouth, and voila, Mr. T.)
Note that any meat, if you choose to add it, should be pre-cooked.
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 can of black beans, drained, liquid reserved
1-3 teaspoons chipotle in adobo (I use two, which gives the sauce the essence of smoke but doesn't overwhelm)
8oz mozzarella, shredded or grated
2 flour tortillas
Toppings (all optional and open to endless variety):
A squeeze of fresh lime juice
1. Heat your oven to 450°. In a saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then toss in the onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cumin and sauté, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
2. Add black beans and chipotle in adobo and cook until warmed through, about 2 minutes.
3. Transfer the mixture to food processor and pureé until the mixture takes the consistency of a chunky paste, adding a few tablespoons of reserved bean liquid if necessary.
4. Spread a thin layer of the bean mixture on each tortilla; top with half of the shredded mozzarella. Bake on a baking sheet or pizza stone for about 5 minutes, or until tortillas have crisped and browned at the edges (start checking the tlayudas at 4 minutes; because they are so thin, they can brown very quickly).
5. Remove from the oven and top tortillas with tomato, avocado, and lettuce. Slice the tlayuda into wedges if you’d like, or else just tear off pieces with your hands. Serve immediately.