Bean tacos with onions, cilantro, lime, and salsa on corn tortillas

Although I haven’t mentioned it here yet, beans are hands down my absolute favorite food. A strange proclamation, I know, but they have so many great things going for them! They’re cheap, full of fiber, full of protein, filling, easy to prepare, keep in the fridge, extremely varied, endlessly adaptable, and amazingly tasty. Some people think beans are “fillers” or used to stretch your “real” protein, but really they are delicious in their own right. There are also so many different kinds- creamy pintos, even creamier mayacobas, assertive kidneys, pleasantly soft lentils, ubiquitous black beans; and every culture has a different way to cook them.

Every cook has an opinion about cooking beans: salt or no salt, high heat or low heat, soaking or no soaking… I’m not going to join the argument, but will simply share my observations. I cook beans a lot.

– Adding salt or acidic ingredients (like tomatoes or chiles) at the beginning of cooking can toughen beans, sometimes
– The only benefit I can see in soaking beans is a slightly shorter cooking time… but since I almost always cook them in the crock pot, I don’t really care
– Cooking beans at a rolling boil will destroy their shape, so you won’t have many whole beans. Depending on their destination dish (like frijoles refritos), that might not matter

This is my weekly (sometimes more often) recipe for beans- pinto, black, mayacoba, kidney, whatever. They’re all good! This is more or less based on traditional Mexican frijoles de olla, or “pot beans.” The base recipe can be the starting point of a delicious chili or baked beans, or an accompaniment to a main course.

FRIJOLES DE OLLA a la Beckstrom

Crock pot (or dutch oven)
Dry beans (my favorite are pinto)
Half a white onion
Epazote (fresh is best, dried will do, both smell horrible)
Mexican Oregano (dried is actually preferable)
Cilantro (never ever ever use dried cilantro!!)
pretty awesome looking beans
1) Get good beans – Even though they are dried, freshness still counts. If bulk dried beans are an option, and there seems to be good turnover, choose those. They are likely fresher than those in plastic on the shelves, and fresher dried beans will cook faster.
2) Put the beans and half an onion in the crockpot, and put water up to the top. Add salt if you’re feeling lucky. Don’t worry about a beans to water ratio- you’re not cooking rice! The more water you add, the more room the beans have to cook, and the more delicious bean liquor (that’s seriously what it’s called) you’ll have to slurp up later. And don’t worry about cooking beans in stock- once they’re done, you’ll have plenty of super delicious bean stock anyway.
If you want to get fancy, you could sauté some onions and garlic in lard, grab some árbol chiles, and some kind of pork product and throw it all in the crockpot with the beans. Honestly it’s not always necessary; you can always add flavors once the beans are cooked and there’s no danger of all your flavor being cooked away.
Epazote- smells bad, tastes bad,
but it’s good with beans
Epazote is a pungent herb native to Mexico and the American southwest. I think it’s actually a common weed in Los Angeles backyards (if you live there, go check!). It pretty much smells like gasoline, and not really in a good way. You might think it would make your beans taste like &%@#, but it actually adds a nice bite and subtle herby flavor. Epazote is often added to beans in Mexico, and almost always if they are black beans. Some people think it counteracts all the farting, but I don’t buy that. The best way to fart less when you eat beans is to eat more beans! Your digestive system gets used to all the extra fiber and whatnot, and after a week or so you won’t be driving all your coworkers and spouses away.
3) Put the crockpot on low
If using a dutch oven, bring it to a boil, then turn the heat down to a very gentle simmer. Make sure it doesn’t boil over!
4) Go fishing for 7-8 hours (You could probably do something else during this time)
5) After 8 hours, come back to your house, which now smells like delicious beans (I think beans naturally have a hint of porkiness)
6) At this point, you can eat them as is, or add more ingredients (like chiles, salt, pepper, oregano, cumin; those are all good choices) OR use it as the start of a new recipe…. Like
It seems like “refritos” translates to “refried,” but it most definitely does not. In colloquial mexican spanish, “re” is used to add emphasis. So if you take the verb “freír,” add “re” to the front, it becomes “refreír” – to fry well. “Refrito” is the participle (or something) so “frijoles refritos” are “well-fried beans.” Why fry beans? Because they taste even better that way! There’s a whole lot of frying sauces and purées in traditional mexican cooking, and this is a great example of why that can be so tasty.
Cooked beans, with all their juice from cooking (like the ones you just made above, or in a pinch, canned whole beans)
Oil (don’t use olive oil, it makes the beans taste like olives. Canola oil works)
bean masher
More salt
Put the beans and spices in a blender before you fry them
Get a bean masher
or use a potato masher
or use a regular old spoon
1) Heat up a pan – I always use my beloved cast iron skillet (more on that later)
2) Put some oil in the pan – This is actually optional… I have trouble not getting oil everywhere when I add the watery beans to the hot pan… Lately I’ve been adding oil AFTER adding the beans. I haven’t quite figured this part out. If you don’t add it here, add it in step 5 or 6. Or not.
3) Add a bean, make sure it sizzles. If it doesn’t sizzle, the pan should be hotter
4) Add the beans and their liquid to the pan and enjoy the delicious sizzling sound
mashin’ beans
5) If you want completely smooth refried beans, you probably should have put the (cooked) beans in a blender before step 4. If you want homestyle beans, mash the beans in the pan until they’re mostly blended. I like the little bits of whole beans interspersed, but that’s just me.
6) Add salt, and any other seasonings you want (I usually stick with cumin)
cumin seeds in a pepper grinder-
easy way to get fresh-ground cumin
7) The goal is to get the beans to become one mass of bean-pile, so when you scoop some across the pan, you can see the bottom of the pan. If things get too dry, add more bean juice. If your beans are too liquid-y, just give it time, and let the liquid escape as steam.
8) This should take around 5-10 minutes, but what you should have is a delicious, steaming, bubbling pan of nutritious, tasty beans. Adjust seasoning to taste, and either eat as is, or use in yet another recipe… like tacos, tostadas, bean burritos, sopes, tamales, 6 layer dip or whatever it’s called, the list goes on!
Whether you eat the whole beans as is, or “well fry” them, great additions/toppings include cilantro, white onion, pickled red onion, jalapeños, hard mexican cheese, soft mexican cheese, that shredded “Mexican” blend cheese you get at the gringo store… but my personal favorite is a few spoonfuls of salsa. I like to eat the beans with warm tortillas (flour or corn, both are delicious) and hot sauce, and maybe a squeeze of some lime.
nice gloppy delicious beans
But this is just the beginning- the crockpot method works for pretty much any long-cooking bean (not lentils or split peas). Instead of buying canned beans full of preservatives and who knows what else, why not spend 2 minutes filling your crockpot with dry beans and enjoy the next 8 hours when your house smells delicious. And then you get to eat them!
Other dishes that start with whole cooked beans:
– Chili (pintos, kidneys)
– Baked beans (white beans, navy beans)
– Hummus (garbanzos, favas)
– Red beans and rice (red beans)
– Pasta i fagioli (white beans, garbanzos)
…. and more

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