Cooking Food General Recipes

Delicious Re-fried Beans are Surprisingly Easy to Make!

Loads of people I’ve met and blogs I’ve read tell me to buy a can of re-fried beans at the store when I am making burritos or quesadillas or whatever else I might be making that call for re-fried beans. Not being Mexican myself, and never having researched the issue, I assumed it must be difficult to make good re-fried beans at home, that there must be some secret to it.

Then, I talked to one of my best friends who happens to be Mexican and she told me that I was most certainly misinformed. This friend of mine happens to live in a wooden hut, a-top some wooden stilts, in a little village in Panama, with an indigenous community called the Embera-Wounaan. I shall write more about this later, I promise.

Here is her house:

Embera-Wounaan village in Colon Province, Panama
A hut in an Embera-Wounaan village in Colon Province, Panama

While I was visiting her in Panama, we talked about re-fried beans and she even suggested making some right there in her little hut. And so we did!

Re-fried beans for breakfast!

We had the beans with eggs for breakfast, and they were delicious, even though we had no cheese (there is no electricity in the village and hence, no fridge). Oh and we also had fried sweet plantains, which in my opinion, are overrated.

This homemade re-fried beans adventure really encouraged me, so when I was back in North America, I did some general research on making re-fried beans, namely, the process, spices etc., and then proceeded to make some myself.

Spicy homemade refried beans
Spicy homemade re-fried beans

You should try it too! Here is my recipe!

(I based this recipe off my friends’ recipes, but I tweaked the quantities of the spices (you guessed right, I increased them) and incorporated some of the useful tips and information I got from my internet research.)

What you will need:

1 cup beans (you can use kidney beans, pinto beans or black beans)


3-4 tablespoons ghee

1 medium sized red onion

2-3 cloves of garlic

2 small (or one large) jalapenos

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon red chill Powder

1 tablespoon cumin Powder

Two handfuls of  (I use either cheddar or Chihuahua (this is one aspect of the recipe I need to do more research on. I need to find out what cheese is best for this recipe!))

Cilantro/Coriander for garnish

Preparing the beans:

Soak the beans in plenty of water (at least tree times as much water as beans) overnight or at least 7 hours. This soaking is important; if you don’t soak the beans, they won’t be soft enough and the result won’t taste as good. There are allegedly short cuts to this, but I don’t believe they can produce the same results.

The next step is to cook the beans. Here’s a little tip, don’t use the water the beans were soaking in, to cook them. This water contains ‘oligosaccharides’ released from the beans, and they cause.. eerm..  flatulence! If you don’t follow my advice, there is always this yoga pose:

Pavanamukta Asana (Wind-relieving pose)

(Image by The Holistic Care Yoga Wiki. The above image is CC licensed, for more information go here.)

It’s a pretty easy pose, but it’s also easy to just throw the water out 😉 . So with fresh water, cook the beans in a pressure cooker until the cooker whistles about 4 times. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can simply boil them, it’ll just take longer. If you’re cooking them in a pot with water, the beans will be done when you can take one out and squish it between your fingers. I suppose you could use canned beans instead of going through all this trouble, but I am somehow not a big fan of things in cans. I feel, and obviously this is subjective, that beans from a can don’t taste as good as beans that have been soaked and cooked.


Finely dice the red onion, crush the cloves of garlic, and chop up the jalapenos.

Now we begin cooking! Start with some oil or ghee (Indian clarified butter) in a frying pan. (Apparently, what makes really great re-fried beans is cooking with lard. Since I am a vegetarian, that was not an option for me. But, it turned out quite well when I used oil, it also worked well with ghee.) Since I believe in Ayurveda (an ancient system of Indian medicine see here for more) I actually prefer cooking with ghee; it’s supposed to be healthier than oil. If you’d like to read my recipe, go here.

Of course a Mexican might be bemused or even annoyed by this bizarre substitution, but I think fusion and playfulness in cooking are good, as long as you are aware of what you’re doing, and acknowledge how the recipe or method has been changed. This ensures that you are more aware of how these changes affect the end product and this makes you a better cook. (I didn’t mean to sound preachy here, it’s just that I feel strongly about the difference between being playful and creative on the one hand, and being just, well, plain lazy, on the other.)

Anyway, I really ought to get back to writing about the beans eh?

When the oil is all heated up, add the diced onions and cook until slightly browned.

Now it’s time for the Jalapenos and garlic.

Once they’ve cooked for a few minutes, add 1 tablespoon each of cumin powder and chilli powder and 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Mix it all up and fry until you smell the spices. Mmmm the fragrance will make you hungry!

It’s time for the beans! Add the cooked beans to the pan and let them cook for a while. Until they go from this:

To this:

Add salt to taste.

Now taste it and see how you like it. If the flavour is rich and intense, you can stop cooking the beans. If you think the beans taste like they could use a little more cooking, add a little of the water left over from cooking the beans to the pan, and let the beans cook some more. When you think the beans are done, turn the heat off and add a handful or two of grated cheese to the pan. Mix it all up until the cheese is melted and evenly mixed in.

Your beans are ready. Garnish with coriander/cilantro and enjoy!

Hot, homemade refried beans

I’ve use these re-fried beans in enchiladas, burritos and tacos, I’ve even made a re-fried bean-pizza. But most often, I like to just scoop some beans onto a plate and go at them with a spoon 🙂


Tulips in the Spring!

The newest addition to my apartment! Beautiful red tulips!


The odd thing is, I almost don’t want all the flower buds to go into full bloom! To me tulips are the prettiest when they are half-open like the two little flowers on the plant in the photograph. I know, it’s a cliched and tired metaphor, but it’s really true, half blooming tulip buds make me smile and think of the lovely summer to come. Sometimes, that anticipation is a more wonderful feeling than the joy the actual summer brings, not least because when I dream of summer during the long cold winter, I don’t usually think of how sweaty and stuffy and painfully bright it can get in June 😛

Don’t get me wrong though, the summer is great and I can’t wait to barbecue and swim in a lake and do yoga in the park!

Cooking Food General

Salmon Burgers with Goat Cheese and Basil

Yay! Spring is here and it’s warm enough to grill already! To celebrate, we grilled salmon burgers from Whole Foods (some day, i am going to make burger patties at home, I’ve decided!) for dinner this evening.


Mine was served with whole wheat bread, fresh basil from the indoor potted basil plant (pictured in a previous post) and, goat cheese. I thought about the sort of cheese we should use, and decided I would give goat cheese a try. So I used soft, fresh goat cheese.


Mmmm! Despite some opposition to goat cheese that my friend offered, the burger turned out well and went perfectly with a Belgian white beer. The beer had notes of coriander and a citrussy flavor as well, so it was very fresh and went with the ‘spring is here’ theme of the evening.

The truth is, the burger was so good that I ate two! I also drank 2 beers. It didn’t help that I’d had a pre-dinner snack that consisted of Denali Extreme Maximum Fudge Moose tracks ice cream with hot fudge on top. I felt bloated and ill for 2 whole hours after dinner. I am a disturbingly greedy person. Sigh.

Anyway, I can’t wait for the summer! More burgers, salmon steaks and, most importantly, I can make paneer tikka, achaari fish tikka and tandoori fish again! You can make these awesome Indian dishes indoors in an oven, but they just don’t taste right that way. They need to be grilled in a type of Indian oven- a tandoor, and I it turns out a BBQ grill is the next best thing! So, for the summer I can hardly wait!

Cooking Food General Recipes

How to Eat Delicious Homemade Pierogies Part II

Remember my earlier post about how to cheer yourself up on a cold gray winter afternoon by eating some delicious pierogies? In that post, I suggested heating up some classic pierogies on a pan and topping them off with some irish cheese and oregano. Well here is an alternate way to be lazy AND eat pierogies that proved to be equally delicious:

Homemade pierogiesIf you want to re-create this, here’s how you go about it. First get your polish Nana to make you some pierogies. If you don’t have a polish Nana, and your best friend or partner doesn’t either, go buy some from an eastern European store. Alternatively, figure out how to make some (or wait until I write about it) and then freeze them (by individually wrapping them in plastic/cling wrap and then throwing them all in a big freezer bag).

Next, melt some unsalted butter in a pan and heat the pierogies up. I recommend covering the pan at first and setting the flame on low so that the insides of the pierogies can cook. Then take off the lid and raise the heat slightly to toast the outsides of the pierogies a little. Place the pierogies on a plate and then caramelize some thin slices of white onions in the same pan.

The next step is garnishing the pierogies. Begin by sprinkling some freshly ground pepper on top followed by the caramelized onions. Then grate some Irish Dubliner cheese on top. I know, it sounds odd and inauthentic, but it works very well, better than parmesan, cheddar or pecorino (I tried all three). This cheese is sharp, so it complements the relative blandness of the pierogies. And anyway, anything Irish and anything with potatoes go together in my book 😛 The final touch was a sprig of basil freshly picked from our indoor herb garden:

Indoor herbsHere’s the end product:

PierogiesAgain, I feel I must clarify that I don’t generally take short cuts like this. This dish was something I resorted to on the day I returned from Panama. I’d been on a long flight and I was far too exhausted to cook up something; this was an extenuating circumstance. Normally, I tend to cook up fresh meals from scratch and have been known to make Paneer butter masala, brownies and even truffles in the wee hours of the morning. But we all have those days when we need to cut corners and this post is about how to embellish even a short cut meal so it tastes and looks delicious 🙂

Adventure General

Evening Light in Ann Arbor

Spring is finally here! I happened to be in Ann Arbor today and was overjoyed when I saw the sun out and shining with a little touch of actual warmth. Even this evening was gorgeous! The light was absolutely beautiful at sunset and dusk so I took some pictures around town while I ran errands.

I thought they turned out very well considering I used an iPhone and took them from a moving car while my friend was driving.

Spring Sunset in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Ann Arbor on a Spring Evening
A shot of the sun setting on the first spring day of the year, in Ann Arbor
Dusk ahead of us and sunset in the rearview mirror.


The beginning of an eery spring night.


Adventure Reviews

More Panama: Pirates in Portobelo

In a previous post about Panama I wrote about Isla Grande- this beautiful island in the Caribbean. When it was time to leave Isla Grande, we took a boat to the coast (to La Guaira) and then got on an another quintessentially Panamanian bus to Portobelo. Portobelo is a picturesque, sleepy, colourful (literally) town in Colon Province. See how brightly coloured the houses are:

It’s also full of adorable little dogs:

But what it’s really famous for are the following:

– The Black Christ

– Gold; and

– Pirates

1. The Black Christ

A famous statue of the black christ or El Cristo Negro is housed in a church called Iglesia de San Felipe in Portobelo.

Inside the Iglesia de San Felipe in Portobelo
Inside the Iglesia de San Felipe in Portobelo

Legend has it that the statue of the black christ was carved in Spain and was being taken to Colombia, but the crew decided to leave it behind in Portobelo because it was bringing them bad luck. Portobelo is now the site of an annual festival called the Black Christ Festival.

2. Gold

Apparently, one third of all the gold in the world passed through Portobelo. All this gold was processed in this spanish customs house built in 1630:

Spanish Custom House, Portobello
Customs house Portobelo.
Close-up of Spanish Customs House, Portobello
Close-up of Spanish Customs House, Portobelo
Angled Profile of Spanish Customs House, Portobello
Angled Profile of Spanish Customs House, Portobelo

3. Pirates

Because there was gold, obviously there were pirates! Apparently, Portobelo was attacked repeatedly by pirates. The most famous one to attack and sack the town was Captain Morgan! As a result, the Spanish fortified the port. The beautiful forts are now in ruins.

A fort called Batteria Santiago in Portobello, Panama.
Batteria Santiago, Portobelo, Panama.
Cannons in Batteria Santiago, Portobello, Panama.
Cannons lined up and ready to fire! Batteria Santiago, Portobelo, Panama.

Now, I’ve seen plenty of forts in India and Europe, but I found two things to be particularly striking about these forts. First, dead coral was used in the walls!

Coral used in building Forts, Portobello, Panama
Coral Forts, Portobelo, Panama
Close-up of coral in the walls of forts, Portobello, Panama.
Close-up of coral in the walls of forts, Portobello, Panama
Close-up of coral in the walls of forts, Portobello, Panama
Close up of walls of a fort (Batteria Santiago) in Portobelo

The other thing that was absolutely magical about these forts was the unparalleled beauty of the Caribbean; I’ve never seen a more gorgeous backdrop to a fort in my life! Here are some of the vistas I am talking about:

Ocean-view from Batteria Santiago, Portobello, Panama
View from Batteria Santiago, Portobelo, Panama
Vie of the caribbean, Portobello, Panama
Caribbean waters, Portobelo, Panama
Caribbean waters, Portobello, Panama
Ocean-view from Batteria Santiago, Portobelo, Panama

What made the forts absolutely gorgeous in my eyes was the contrast between the coral and the Caribbean blue-green; the ocean was such a striking and wonderful backdrop to the textured off-white of the coral walls of the forts.

I can honestly say that Portobelo is one of the cutest, prettiest, sleepiest little towns that I have ever been to. As I said, it was indeed full of beautiful colours.

Chocolate Food Reviews

The Best Ice Cream Money Can Buy: the Most Superlative-Filled Rant About Ice Cream Ever to be Written.

Normally, my posts are about things I make at home like chocolate, fish curry and body butter; I like using fresh ingredients and where possible homemade ones. So for instance, when I made chocolate brazil nut truffles, I made the brazil nut butter for the filling at home. Today, however, I am doing something entirely different. I am going to write about an unhealthy, commercially made, probably very-processed and nevertheless utterly delicious food, namely: Denali Extreme Maximum Fudge Moose Tracks.

This is not to be confused with ‘Denali Extreme Moose Tracks’. Oh no, these are two entirely different things- like apples and chocolate. If you like chocolate and are prone to excess, go that extra mile for the ‘extreme maximum fudge’ version, it IS worth the effort.


This ice cream is FULL of chunks of chocolate and this chocolate has a slight salty taste to it that balances its sweetness oh so perfectly. Mmmm.

In the photo below, that chocolate chunk you see is actually a giant rock of chocolate. Apart from the little bit of ice cream you see stuck to its surface, the rest of what is in that bowl is solid chocolate! When I saw that chunk I squealed in delight, it was like finding pirate treasure, except better. If it had been treasure I would have had to convert that treasure into money and then traveled to an American grocery store to buy this ice cream and then dug in the tub with a spoon for chocolate, whereas now, I had a big chunk right here on my plate!


And another example of this wondrous chocalatey stuff:

Whoops, I just realized I ruined this photograph with my thumb. This is what happens when one takes photographs whilst simultaneously squealing.

And a shot of the inside of a half eaten tub of the stuff:


It’s absolute incredible that this ice cream isn’t available everywhere. It’s even difficult to find in the US. The only places that I have found it in so far are Kroger and Meijer. If I haven’t said this before, here it is: this ice cream is unparalleled in its chocolateyness and really is my favourite kind of ice cream ( just a clarification, gelato is a whole different thing, I am talking about ice cream here). So if it’s available in your grocery store, I say go ahead and try it! But, be warned, that stuff is probably stronger than you are and isn’t for the faint of heart.

It came to a point where I was eating scoops and scoops of this stuff with Sanders dark chocolate fudge on top. I knew it was going to make me obscenely fat, but I felt like I couldn’t stop! In fact, recently, scientists at the Oregon Research Institute have claimed that in some ways one’s reaction to ice cream can be like that of an addict’s to her drug of choice. Reportedly, their studies show that people who eat a lot of junk food can be experiencing cravings similar to what dependent drug users experience. They used Haagen Dazs in their study as a sample of high-sugar junk food.

So kidding aside, I recommend moderation! If you eat it in small, controlled portions, at regulated times, you will enjoy it’s deliciousness in all it’s glory. Don’t go down the dark path that I have gone down multiple times, eating sickeningly large quantities of the stuff and then feeling sick- both metaphorically and literally.

Adventure General

Panama City: A Ride on a Diablo Rojo (Red Devil)

Apparently, old American school buses are shipped over to Panama and used for public transportation. This is the most sober specimen of such a bus I could find.

Red Devils (Diablo Roho)

Most of them are brightly coloured and decorated. I rather liked the art-work on them.

Panama City Red Devils (Diablo Roho)

There is even a gallery in Panama City’s historic Casco Viejo neighborhood called Diablo Rosso gallery that sells painted bus doors by one of the more popular red devil artists.

I wish I’d taken better pictures of them. They are not only done up on the outside but also decorated inside with all sorts of coloured tape and some sort of furry banners. They also play incredibly loud music inside these buses, mostly spanish hip-hop and Reggae-tone.

I think they’re unique and an interesting addition to the roads, so much better than the usual boring buses we see on the streets. Unfortunately, these red devils are apparently extremely dangerous and have caused many accidents. Not only this, they cause a lot of pollution. As a result, they’re on their way out, being replaced by Government owned, clean, modern new buses.

While these new buses are more environmentally friendly and less likely to causes accidents, I think phasing out the red devils entirely would be a travesty. Perhaps the solution is clean, environmentally friendly buses, driven by well-trained, careful drivers, which are also decorated creatively with wild colours. It isn’t my place to say though. I don’t live in Panama and know very little on the subject, it’s just that I thought they were full of character and quite iconic even.

Adventure General

Part I of my trip to Isla Grande and How to Make a Delicious, Impromptu Beach Cocktail

I’ve been missing in action for over a week now, and the reason for this is that I have been away in lovely, warm, sunny Panama. I enjoyed all of my trip, but I would have to say that my favourite bit was visiting the Caribbean coast and some islands around it. This is why my first post is going to be about the beach part of my vacation.

To get to the coast one has to travel by road from Panama city to the Panamanian province of Colon, up until a little port on the coast called La Guaira. From there we took a boat ride to Isla Grande, an island off the coast. We spent two days there; it was both a beautiful and puzzling little place. It was an extremely laid-back and sleepy town, and people seemed somewhat erratic in their niceness and willingness to serve customers. (I feel I must clarify here that we visited the island during the week, and apparently, it gets much busier during the weekends.)

There were for instance, little stores on the island that sold snacks, toilet paper, water, alcohol etc., Now these stores seemed to keep arbitrary timings and on top of this, the store-keepers also randomly, decided not to sell a customer things even though they were seemingly open. On second thought, their decision not to serve you wasn’t random, I think that if you asked too many questions they decided it wasn’t worth the trouble and refused to deal with you. Now, this didn’t happen to me, but it happened to my friends, and I have it on good authority (my friends who actually live in Panama) that this isn’t out of the ordinary at all. One morning for example, two of my friends went over to a store/café and asked if the Cafe was serving breakfast. The lady behind the counter asked what they would like for breakfast. My friends said they weren’t sure, “how about eggs?”, they casually asked. She then promptly told them that both the café and store were closed and wouldn’t even sell them bottled water.

Despite the island’s eccentric (but also friendly) inhabitants, all in all, I enjoyed myself and really liked the place. I would even recommend it to anyone who wants a relaxed Caribbean vacation. It isn’t crowded, it’s fairly inexpensive and there aren’t a lot of resorts, relatively speaking. This is a good thing in my opinion because the place was empty and peaceful. There are also very few foreign tourists here, and most visitors were Panamanians. I would recommend however, that you go during the week, rather than the weekend.

When we arrived, I was disappointed because much of the shore was either rocky or had restaurants and hotels built on it. The town seemed somewhat disorganized and it seemed as though the bars, restaurants and hotels were not making the best of the wonderful natural beauty around them. Most importantly, there didn’t seem to be a nice, sandy beach about, except for little sandy bits between hotels and houses. But after lunch we went out wandering and found a lovely, deserted beach on the other side of the island.

Beautiful beach, Isla Grande, Panama
Isla Grande, Panama (Photo: Matthew Snyder).

There was a part of the beach that looked like a Peninsula; waves broke on either side of it. You can see it more clearly in the picture below:

Beautiful virgin beach, Isla Grande, Panama
Isla Grande Beach, Panama (Photo: Matthew Snyder)

It was empty and beautiful, as you can see:

Secluded beach, Isla Grande Panama
Deserted beach stretch, Isla Grande, Panama (Photo: Matthew Snyder)

There was a café right on the beach, but oddly it had only one type of beer and only served fried plantains. It didn’t even open until about 4 p.m. This was another example of the inexplicable moodiness of the service industry on the island.

So the next afternoon, we went back to this beach with supplies of our own. We had snacks, pineapple juice and this insanely cheap Panamanian rum called Seco. As we were walking to the beach, we ran into a sole and very out-of-place looking vendor who was trying to sell fresh coconuts on an almost-empty beach. We bought some and while we were sitting on the beach sipping fresh coconut water, my friend Andrea pondered aloud if it would be weird for her to put some rum in the coconut. No it wouldn’t Matt and I exclaimed! The next thing we knew, we were making impromptu pina-colada inspired beach cocktails. Here’s how YOU can do this too, the next time you’re on the beach. (That’s my friend Andrea in the photos.)

First, take a fresh coconut and drink up some of the coconut water in it, to make space for the other ingredients:

Then, add a few generous ‘glugs’ of rum:

Next, add some Pineapple juice to taste:

Impromptu beach cocktail recipe
The best beach cocktail ever!

Swirl everything in the coconut about. Lastly, drink up!

It was a truly delicious cocktail!