Perfect Pot o’ Beans

Posted on April 19, 2011

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A clay pot over the fire adds a nice smoky texture - but a normal stock pot is fine too!

When I moved back to Minnesota after living in El Salvador for a few months, by far what I missed most were the beans.  Well, I missed Juan too.  But mostly the beans.

At first I tried buying canned beans.  Bleghck!  Then I consulted Juan on how to prepare dried beans.  Despite his affirmations that it was “so simple,” I attempted several times to no avail… On one occasion the beans just turned to mush, on another they were scorched on the bottom of the pan, on another they came out completely tasteless, etc.

Fortunately, my chef eventually moved to Minnesota and was able to prepare the beans for me.  After much observation, I’m happy to confirm that it’s true – making beans is easy-peasy.

Basically it’s like Variations on a Theme:  you start with a simple pot of beans that serves as the core component for various reiterations throughout the week.  In other words, a batch of beans makes several different dishes.  Juan and I prepare a pound of beans every week and eat them in some form nearly every day.  It calls to mind an old rhyme my dad always sang:

“Beans, beans, the magical fruit,
the more you eat, the more you toot,
the more you toot, the better you feel,
so let’s eat beans with every meal!”

The good thing is beans don’t really make you toot.  Soaking them beforehand mellows out the chemical that causes gas.  Or maybe from eating so many your digestive system just gets used to them.  At any rate, I do agree that they’re magical:  cheap, easy, healthy, and delicious.  What more could you ask for?

Below find Juan’s recipe for the Perfect Pot o’ Beans:

Red beans warming up with garlic

The clue is make it with love for the ones you’re cooking for 😉  Anyways, I’ll give you some directions on how to cook the beans:

Theme:  Soaked Beans (Frijoles Salcochados)

Ingredients:
– 1 pound of beans (1/2 Kg)
– Tap water (approx. 2 liters)
– 1 green bell pepper
– 1 onion
– 2 cloves of garlic (or as you wish)
– 1 T of salt 

Note:  You may use any kind of dry bean, either red, red kidney, black, etc.

Preparation
– You may soak the beans overnight or put them raw directly into hot water (as hot as it comes out of the tap!).  The advantage of doing the overnight soak is that it diminishes the cooking time.  If you leave the beans overnight you can use the same water the next day.  Start cooking the beans in the water with the lid half-off at medium heat.  Add the green pepper (take the seeds out, and cut it into four chunky pieces), add the onion cut in large chunks as well, and finally the garlic cloves and salt and throw them all into the pot with the water and beans.  Stir occasionally.  The time will vary depending on the freshness of the beans: the fresher, the less time.  But generally let them cook for around 2 hours.  You will know they are ready when you take a bean out and it is soft.  You need to watch the water level during the process; you may add more water if you want more broth, or less if you want a thicker soup.

Once cooked, beans can be kept out.  Just keep them in the pot with the lid on, and boil them once every day.  Or you may put them in a Tupperware inside the fridge and that’s just fine.

I usually use one pound of beans for one week, eating regularly during the week and changing the ways of preparation each week.  You may season them as you wish.  The green peppers, onions, and garlic is just one way.  You can add other flavors too — cumin and/or cayenne tastes great for black beans with a kick, or pork soaked in red kidney beans with paprika is a heartier soup, or tossing in plantains to boil at the end gives you a more tropical taste, or you can add eggs at the end to hardboil.  Preparing them in a clay pot over the fire adds a smoky texture — but a normal stock pot works just fine.  There are many variations, you should experiment with them, it will be fun!

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Once you have the soaked beans you can use them in many ways throughout the week to keep it interesting:

Variation 1: Bean Soup

Ingredients:
– a couple ladles of beans and broth per person
– chimol (about equal parts chopped fresh tomato, cilantro, onion, green pepper, and, if you like, celery or radishes)
– other desired toppings (like grated cheese, crema, avocado, hard-boiled egg, plantain)
– 1/2 C cooked rice (optional)
– chile, ex. Valentina, Tabasco, or Jalisco (to taste) 

Preparation:
In a bowl, put your desired toppings (except cheese & cream).  From the central pot of soaked beans, ladle broth and beans into each person’s bowl.  If you like a more brothy soup, add more liquid from the bean pot.  If you like soup more the consistency of chili, add more beans and other toppings.  Add cheese and/or cream on top.  Mix it all together and enjoy.

This makes an excellent early supper.

Variation 2:  Just Beans

From the central pot of soaked beans, using a slotted spoon simply remove beans (sans broth) and serve on your breakfast plate with eggs & plantains & avocados.  Top with crema if desired. 

Variation 3: Refried Beans (Frijoles Refritos)

Ingredients:
– 2 C beans
– 1 C bean broth
– 5 T oil
– 1/2 C sliced onion (optional) 

Preparation:
From the central pot of soaked beans, take out about 3 cups of beans.  Put them in your blender or food processor until you get a purée consistency.

Preheat a pan with approx. 5 T of vegetable or olive oil, as you prefer (a half and half mix works great and leaves an olive taste on the beans).  Add sliced onion to the pan if you wish, and once the onions are transparent, add the bean puree into the hot oil, and at mid-high fire, cook for approximately 15 min. stirring frequently.

Try the refried beans on toasted bread.   Put a large spoonful in a dollar-bun with a slice of cheese for a quick sandwich.  Refried beans also go well with chips and guacamole. 

Variation 4: Tacos

Ingredients:
– Warmed tortillas
– 1 C fried whole beans
– Toppings like chimol, cheese, sautéed chicken, avocado, whatever you like!

Preparation:
From the central pot of soaked beans, take out a cup of whole beans (without much broth, though a little bit is ok).  Prepare them like the refried beans above, just without liquifying them in the blender.  Warm tortillas over a medium flame on a plain pan (no oil or anything).  Spread beans onto tortillas, top with other chopped-up toppings of your choice, and eat, mm.

So that’s the roundup, folks!  Beans give you so many options … meaning you always have a meal or snack on hand!  =)  Buen Provecho!

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Posted in: Recipe Roundup