I shock myself how long I let it go between posts! I have been wanting to talk to you about MEXICAN BEANS… it’s truly surprising how many people show up to cook and confess that they have no idea how to make a pot of beans.
Beans are magical. Plant them and climb the stalk all the way to heaven; cook up a pot and feed a crowd for a pittance. Black, white, red, yellow or the beautiful spotted pintos I grew up on in Arizona–beans are packed with nutrition and phenomenal fiber which is so lacking in the modern diet. Quick like a bunny I would like to share my best tips for stewing up a good batch of beans.
Pick through your beans. They come from the field, and if you fail, your guests may bill you for ensuing dental emergencies! Wash well in a few changes of fresh water to remove dust and dirt.
Manuel and I like the quick soak method. You can soak beans overnight, but then you really need to throw out the soaking water (along with vitamins and minerals), which may even begin to ferment. We like to start with a quarter pot of beans (no matter what size pot you are cooking in) covered to 3/4 with water. Bring to a boil, turn off the fire, cover and let stand for an hour.
After an hour add extra hot water if necessary. If you add cold it stops the cooking and makes beans tough, so keep your tea kettle handy while cooking your beans. Bring to a simmer, add a medium white onion, roughly chopped, a clove or three of garlic, roughly chopped… and simmer until you can mash a bean against the roof of your mouth with your tongue. At this point you may add salt to taste and continue to cook until the beans are well cooked.
If you can get them, do what the Oaxacans do and toast two or three dried avocado leaves on your comal or over an open flame until they release their fragrance and simmer those into your beans, removing at the end of cooking like big dang bay leaves! Alternatively, at the end of cooking, add a big handful of rough chopped epazote, a traditional bitter herb critical to southern Mexican cooking, and let the heat of the beans finish building in the extra flavor. If you cannot find fresh epazote in your market, get the seeds. It will grow anywhere you can grow basil, and it will take your Mexican dishes to a whole new level. It even reseeds for me here in Cabo where we struggle for every drop of water!
A good indicator of well cooked beans is the smell–absolutely irresistible! I like to continue the cooking process after the hour of quick soak in my big crock pot. Overnight on low, the deep, rich fragrance of well cooked beans wakes us to breakfast beans that always hit the spot with fresh chopped onion, whole wheat or corn tortillas, some cheese and ripe avocado.
People want to know how to deal with the wind produced by beans, and have heard all kinds of lore for creating “fart free” beans! The truth is, most people are not used to eating the amount of fiber we were designed to eat to maintain healthy digestive systems. The trick is to start eating small quantities of beans and other fiber rich foods at a sitting, slowly increasing until your system becomes accustomed to the good stuff. Well worth the effort!
Beans freeze beautifully. We bag them up to serve the two of us for a few days, and pull a fresh bag out of the freezer as needed. To make refried beans, simply puree well cooked beans–black or pinto or whatever takes your fancy. Heat a quarter sized splash of cooking oil in a deep skillet and pour the pureed beans onto the oil. It will splatter, so be careful! Stir and “fry” the beans until they are as thick as you like. That’s all there is to it–virtually fat free homemade refried beans that sit perfectly on a tostada, burrito or huevos rancheros.
One last thing. If your beans refuse to soften, those are antique beans! If you get this year’s crop your beans may be softened and ready to add salt in as little as an hour and a half. If after three or four hours of dedicated cooking your beans are balking, you may want to compost those suckers, follow your local Mexican population to where they are buying their beans and get a fresh batch.
There you have it, MEXICAN BEANS! Who knew they were so simple, nutritious and delicious? On a southern or southwestern note, make a big pan of hot cornbread with your pot of beans and bask in one of the true delights of being a human being…