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:
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!
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.
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)
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. Go here for some information about ghee as well as a recipe.
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:
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!
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 🙂