The mess is part of the fun

tostada-headerA tostada is the Mexican version of an open-faced sandwich. I challenge you to eat it gracefully, but the mess is all part of the fun!
The tostada has a pretty simple construction; it’s similar to a taco, but flat. It’s usually made with a tortilla, topped with refried beans, shredded cheese, salsa, and other toppings. Anything that could go in a taco could also go on a tostada, so you can have fish, shredded chicken or beef tostadas.

Traditionally tostadas are made on homemade corn tortillas. I applaud you if you have the time and patience to make your own. For those of us looking to cut out that step, the best I have found in Dar can be purchased at the Taste of Mexico (off Chole Rd. near the Slipway.)

Mashed refried beans are usually used as the first layer because they spread over the tortilla well, and the other toppings have a better chance of sticking to the beans than they would the straight tortilla. (My refried bean recipe is also included below.) But if you are short on time, Taste of Mexico makes a tasty, almost-as-good version, you can purchase pre-made.  I do not recommend canned refried beans. They have an unappetizing consistency and metallic flavour.

Mexican Tostada Recipe

Tasty tostadas.

Tasty Mexican tostadas.

Yield: Serves 4-6
This recipe details how to bake, much healthier than frying, corn tortillas to make the tostada shells. Spread the tortillas out on a baking sheet, or directly on oven racks, and heat them at 350°F for 4-5 minutes, or until you can smell the aroma of them cooking. Don’t keep them in the oven too long, or they will get burnt. Just heat them enough to lightly toast them.


•  12 corn tortillas
•  Salt
•  Refried beans
•  1/2 head iceberg lettuce, sliced thin and seasoned with salt and vinegar (no oil)
•  2 medium tomatoes, chopped
•  1-2 coarsely mashed peeled and pitted avocados or guacamole
•  8 ounces grated cheddar, or crumbled feta
•  sour cream, plain yogurt or cashew cream
•  1 cup of salsa or 1/2 cup sliced pickled jalapeños
•  A handful of chopped fresh cilantro


1.  Heat refried beans in a frying pan, until warm. For extra flavour for the beans you can stir in a tablespoon of bacon fat and/or a big slice of cheddar cheese. Keep the beans on warm while you prepare the tortillas, adding a tablespoon of milk as necessary to keep a creamy consistency.

2 . To serve, place toppings in separate bowls, with a larger serving dish for the beans. Bring out the tostada shells in batches, keeping those unused warm in the oven. To prepare one’s tostada, spread a large spoonful of mashed beans over a tostada shell. Sprinkle on cheese and other toppings (sliced lettuce, avocados, salsa, etc.) Don’t load the tostada too much or you’ll find it difficult to eat. Eat by picking up the tostada with both hands (like a pizza slice).

Refried Beans

Refried beans: best made fresh and never from a can.

Refried beans: best when home-made and never from a can.

Refried beans are like the mashed potatoes of Mexican cooking; they are versatile, addictive, and a delicious accompaniment to many dishes.

My first experience with refried beans was on a farm in Belize where the same huge vat of refried beans was heated up daily for everyone to mash into eggs or smother on piping hot tortillas.  That vat of rich creamy comfort became more delectable with every reheat until I ravenously finished off the last bowl with satisfaction.

•  2 – cups dried beans then cooked (kidney, pinto or black beans) or two 14 oz cans of beans reserving liquid
•  6 tablespoons lard, bacon drippings, vegetable oil, or butter
•  1/2 cup onion, chopped
•  2 clove garlic, finely chopped
•  2 tsp. cumin
•  1 tsp. turmeric
•  1 tsp. salt
•  2 tbsp. milk (may need more)
•  pepper to taste

Cook 50 -70 min depending on amount of liquid

1.  If using dry beans, in a large pot, cover the beans with cold water by at least 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until beans are very tender, about 1 to 2 hours. Season with salt. Drain beans, reserving bean-cooking liquid. You should have about 3 cups of cooked beans, if you have more, measure out 3 cups of beans and reserve the rest for another use.

2  In a large skillet, heat lard, bacon drippings, or oil until shimmering, or butter until foaming, over medium-high heat. Add minced onion, chopped garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and lightly golden, about 7 minutes.

3.  Toss in cumin and turmeric, stirring until spices are aromatic (approximately 1-2 minutes).

4.  Stir in beans and cook for 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of reserved bean-cooking liquid. Using bean masher, potato masher, or back of a wooden spoon, smash the beans to form a chunky purée; alternatively, my preference is to use a hand blender to make a smoother purée.  Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring, until desired consistency is reached.

5. Add 2 tablespoons of milk to give a creamy consistency.  If refried beans are too dry, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed.

Season with salt and serve.

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About the Author

Chakula Chick
Teacher extraordinaire by day, creator of good food by night. Join me as I cook my way through Tanzania with (mostly) local ingredients!