Writing a recipe for tacu tacu might strike many a Peruvian as a somewhat unnecessary act: Tacu tacu is usually whipped up as a way to use leftover rice and beans, and isn’t generally something one sets out to make from scratch. Context is everything, though, and for those of us who don’t have Peruvian leftovers in our fridge with frequency, there’s more of a rationale to outlining the entire process. Once you get the general idea, though, feel free to ditch the recipe and just mix your rice and beans together in a pan with seasonings and fry it into a hearty meal, as that’s the true spirit of tacu tacu.
Given its role as a method of using up leftovers, there are lots of possibilities for variation with tacu tacu. One of the most common beans used is the mayocoba, a creamy beige bean that also goes by the names “canary” and “peruano” and is, as the last of these names suggests, very popular in Peru. But tacu tacu can also be made with lentils and lima beans, and, while less traditional, black beans, which is how my friend Raquel (who taught me to make tacu tacu) prefers it—and given that she’s a phenomenal cook who grew up in the Peruvian city of Trujillo, widely considered one of the country’s gastronomic centers, I fully trust her opinion.
Tacu tacu can be served any number of ways—with a fried egg for breakfast, alongside a piece of pan-seared or fried meat, or with leftover braises, stews, and other saucy dishes. If you’re using a leftover stew, you can even mix a bit of the stew’s juices into the tacu tacu, just to amp up the flavor. Frequently served atop or alongside the tacu tacu is zarza (a.k.a. salsa criolla), a simple salad of sliced red onion with cilantro, lime juice, and some thinly sliced chile pepper (ideally ají amarillo, which you can buy frozen in markets with a Peruvian food section). It adds a welcome bright and punchy note to the otherwise earthy rice-and-bean cake.
Frankly, the basic idea of tacu tacu can be applied to rice and bean leftovers even outside the Peruvian tradition with great results. The dish is just one example of the many rice-and-bean dishes of the African diaspora, from Puerto rican arroz con gandules to Jamaican peas and rice and Southern American hoppin’ John. No matter the source of your rice and beans dinner, there’s always potential for a rice-and-bean pancake breakfast the next day.
For the Beans: In a large bowl, cover beans with at least 2 inches cold water. Stir in 2 teaspoons salt and let soak at room temperature for at least 8 and up to 24 hours.
Transfer beans and their soaking liquid to a large pot, then top up with enough water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook at a simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are very soft and creamy and enough have broken down that the cooking liquid has thickened to a creamy glaze, about 3 hours; add additional water, if needed at any point, to prevent the beans from becoming overly dry. Season with salt, if needed.
In a small skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add bacon (if using), and cook, stirring, until fat begins to render, about 2 minutes. Add onion and cook, stirring, until onion has softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in achiote paste, ají amarillo paste, and dried oregano, and cook for 2 minutes. Stir onion mixture into beans. Set aside.
For the Rice: In a 2-quart saucepan, heat oil and garlic over medium heat until garlic is fragrant and has lost its raw smell but not browned, about 1 minute. Add rice and cook, stirring, until coated in oil and heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Add water, bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to low, and cook until water is absorbed and rice is tender, 15 minutes. Fluff rice, season lightly with salt, then cover and let stand for 10 minutes.
For the Zarza: In a small bowl, toss sliced onion with the ají amarillo pepper, and cilantro. Just before serving, toss with lime juice, a few drops of olive oil, salt and pepper, and ground cumin.
For One Tacu Tacu Cake: In a small bowl, stir together beans with their creamy cooking liquid and rice; how much rice you add will depend on how thick the bean cooking liquid has become (the thicker it is, the less rice you will need to thicken it) and personal preference. In an 8- or 10-inch nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add rice-and-bean mixture, press into a flat, round shape, and cook, using a spatula to press and pack the mixture into a thick disc shape, until tacu tacu is browned on first side, about 6 minutes.
Flip tacu tacu (either by inverting a plate over the skillet, flipping the tacu tacu onto the plate, and the sliding it back into the skillet, or by launching it into the air and catching it back in the skillet, if you’re confident in your flipping skills). Continue to cook, using the spatula to press the tacu tacu into a disc shape. Slide tacu tacu onto a plate and serve with zarsa and any sides of your choice (such as a fried egg, fried plantains, a seared or fried steak, or some leftover stew). Repeat with remaining rice and beans, if desired, to make more tacu tacu as desired.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The beans and rice can be made ahead and refrigerated separately for up to 5 days (that it, after all, what normally happens with the leftovers used to make tacu tacu).