Cooking with EL CHAVO!

How to make Frijoles de la Olla

(otherwise known as a pot of beans)

A friend of mine not-so-recently asked for my refried beans recipe, and I figured instead of just giving it to him, I'd just share it with everyone.

They are not exceptional beans by any means but they are quite good in their simplicity, and most of the taste comes from some hints that have been passed down to me from my grandma, as well as some tips I've picked up along the way. Also, I don't use any lard as that is unbecoming to a vegetarian.  It took longer than expected to write this up (sorry Bob!) but for whatever it's worth, here it is!

Make sure the beans you use are fresh! Buy them in bulk at a Mexican grocery store as those are almost always the freshest, Big Saver on Ave 26 and Figueroa usually have fresh beans. Beans sealed in 1 or 2 lb. bags are usually much older than those in the bulk bin. Good beans feel light, their color is bright and clean, and they sound kinda hollow when you cascade a handful in the bin.  Beans that look very brown and wrinkly are too old and a waste of time; you will be disappointed with the results. 

Clean the beans super good, this is really important. I sort them a handful at a time taking out the little rocks, ugly beans, and those with lots of dirt caked on. If you skimp on this process, somebody is bound to bite into one of those overlooked pebbles, and nothing kills the enjoyment of a meal like a chipped tooth!

I usually just eyeball the amount I want to use, which I think is about 3 to 4 cups of dry beans, though thats an amount for a full-fledged beaner, and it lasts/keeps in the fridge for about a week, so you may want to adjust the quantity according to your own upbringing.

Next we fill the bowl of sorted beans with hot water and let it sit for about 3-4 minutes to loosen up the grime. Then you agitate the beans, dump out the water, and repeat. I do this about 5 or 6 times until they start looking really clean, beans tend to have lots of dirt caked on in a thin layer which is easy to miss. 

If you don't take off all the grime, the cooked beans will look dark and murky rather than reddish/brownish, and the taste will be negatively altered. Unlike the recommendation of most American cookbooks, I never soak my beans, be it for a few hours or overnight; they still take just as long to cook, the "gassiness" isn't diminished (it may be worse), and they come out tasting odd. Having to plan ahead for beans is unnecessary especially when the benefits are negligible, or non-existent as I insist.

Get a large pot, add lots of cold water, and bring the water to a strong boil. Not kinda hot, a strong boil! Now add some salt to the water. Fuck that shit about your diet and high blood pressure, if you're not going to put salt in, then don't make beans: steam some broccoli instead.  Salt is one of the secret ingredients, and you need to cook the beans with the salt as it helps to break down the hardness and it changes the flavor throughout the bean; adding salt afterwards only makes it salty on the surface, and it's pretty lame. Again, I eyeball it to my tastes but you'll need at the very least a teaspoon or two or three, start off with a little, you can taste the beans during the cooking process to see if they need more salt and add some throughout.

Once the water and salt are boiling like crazy, add a small amount of oil, preferably corn, to the mix. My grandma sez it "brings out the color" so I'm going to trust her. A tablespoon seems about right.

Now you add your sorted, cleaned, and drained beans to the boiling water. Keep the burner at high to get the water up to a boil again. Once it's there, let it boil for a minute or 3, then turn down the heat to, to a low, medium-low, setting.  Basically, you want the water to be just hot enough to bubble and boil, this makes for the best temp at which to cook beans.  Too low, the beans don't cook right, too hot, they break down really fast and you have a soup!

Set your timer as you'll be cooking them for awhile. I set it for 2 hours and then check them to see how much longer they'll need, most often another 30 minutes will do.

Some people like to add garlic or onions to the cooking beans, but I don't think it's necessary. A good bowl of frijoles de la olla should taste quite basic, and if you want some crazy flavors those should be added after the cooking is done.
Of course, throughout the cooking process, I check to make sure they have enough water, about 1 inch of water above the beans, and I stir the pot occasionally as well. If they need more water make sure to add only boiling water, if it's a tap temperature it messes with the cooking process, and really, how hard is it to boil water in a kettle?

Just a little will do. At the end of the cooking process you want your cooked beans to be submerged in about an inch of water: if there are beans above the liquid, you're burning them; if there's too much liquid above the beans, you're drowning them, and the fabulous beany taste will be diluted. The liquid in the pot will also be needed when you try your hand at refried beans.

The only way to know if the beans are done is to taste them.  You want to cook them to the point where the beans are still whole, yet are soft enough that they break down easily when you push them onto the roof of your mouth.  These are just about right. After the long cooking process you'll notice the water has become thicker, the cooked beans send off their goodness to the rest of the water in the pot. It's a good idea to taste this liquid to gauge how much salt the beans still need or to realize how badly you've over-salted them. Once they are soft enough, they are done: Time to eat!

Add a bit of onions, tomatoes, and cilantro to a bowl of these beans, heat up some tortillas de maiz, and you have the perfect meal.  Frijoles de la olla are cheap, easy, and always delicious! Que mas quieres?

Coming up next, from the same pot of beans, refried beans!

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