Beans are a great commodity used all over the world. Their availability and sustainability have helped maintain their spot as a staple in kitchens around the world.
Beans, like corn, have been traced back to thousands of years ago in history. They have met the survival needs of people in different societies and communities. As far as the American contribution to bean history, Native Americans planted beans alongside corn and squash, so that the plants grew together as The three sisters. They helped one another and thrived together. Thankfully, they taught the first colonists the technique.
Rich in Nutrients
Frijoles thrive because they are inexpensive, easy to cook, and nutrient rich. The common bean, or pinto bean, is what I’ve mostly eaten and cooked all my life. These frijoles pintos literally mean, ‘the speckled beans’.
My ama didn’t necessarily cook beans because they were good for us, she did it most likely because they were easy on the pocket book with a large family to feed. Although, I do remember her giving tiny tastes of bean broth to her grandkids as they transitioned into solid food. She saw that it was good for them, “Es muy bueno para ellos.”This was another tradition she brought from my abuelas kitchen. A person couldn’t walk into our home without my mother having frijoles ready to serve, which would satisfy anyone! Little did she know that she was also providing her guests with a good supply of iron, protein, fiber, and other nutrients.
The Staple Food
Beans were a staple in our home, it was mom's custom to make a huge pot of beans at the beginning of the week, and another one as needed. In many Mexican and Mexican American homes, having beans in every meal is very common. On rare occasions, we were served beans straight out of the olla. Ama would garnish them with diced onion and cilantro, sometimes queso fresco, and of course, salsa was always on the table. I enjoyed them with a fresh rolled up flour or corn tortilla, eating them almost like soup.
Refried beans were an everyday side dish with our meals, it almost did not matter what else she served, these were almost always on our plate. Unfortunately because “familiarity breeds contempt,” I did get tired of beans for a time. I wasn’t appreciating my amas beans until I left home and didn’t have them anymore. Isn’t that the case with many things we grow up with?
In My Kitchen
As a senora in my own kitchen, I tried beans again. For whatever crazy reason, I decided to alter my mothers perfect recipe. I boiled them with salt, a chunk of onion and a garlic clove. They were okay. I did it for a few years like this because I figured the onion and garlic were provoking tastier beans. Then one day, I came to my senses. I decided to make my mothers beans. I did this and gained a good name for myself with my frijoles fritos, estilo de mi ama. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, today, with experience under my belt, I have tweaked her method just a tiny bit with better success and although frijoles fritos are seen often enough on my table, I do not serve them daily.
Cooking Mexican food is my comfort zone, especially when I invite guests. Whether I’m making carne con chile or enchiladas- rojas o verdes, my quick and easy side dishes are frijoles fritos, Mexican rice and a refreshing cabbage and cucumber salad. (I hope to share my simple salad recipe soon). These make a good trio for most of my Mexican main dishes. If I set up a tostada bar, my refried beans lay a nice foundation to build on. When I serve tamales, my beans will fill the plate beautifully. Refried beans work nicely as a team player, but you know, a bean burrito with queso is a meal all by itself.
Making frijoles de la olla is easy and inexpensive. I would be most comfortable sharing my recipe and cooking method like my ama taught me.
Cooking lesson From Mi Ama
After you are sure the beans are clean by gleaning and removing all impurities, then washing them in cold water. Place the frijoles in a pot covered in water. Boil for about two hours, adding un puñito de sal about halfway through. keep an eye on them so that the beans are maintaining a water level that covers them. Wala! There you go. Oh! Please make sure to taste them in case they need more salt than your pinch.
Just in case you might need some measurements. Here you go.
Recipe for Frijoles de la Olla
1 pound of uncooked pinto beans
Water- enough to completely cover beans
2 tsp of chicken bouillon, I use Knorr or Mazola brands, but prefer the Mazola (my ama used table salt)
Clean your beans, make sure there are no tiny rocks or particles and wash them in cold water. Drain and refill with fresh cold water, enough to cover beans completely. Cook over high heat until boiling, then lower the heat to low-medium until the beans are brown. Add bouillon. Cooking time is about 2 hours, or until the beans are soft and brown. Taste your beans to make sure they are not bland, and add more bouillon as needed.
1 lb of cooked pinto beans
1/2 cup of Canola oil
1 corn tortilla
Add oil to a large skillet, when it is hot, fry the tortilla until it’s golden and crispy, then remove from the oil. Lower heat, use a slotted cooking spoon to drain beans and carefully transfer them into hot oil. WARNING: Oil will spit and spatter as beans and residue broth hit it, so please be careful! Adjust heat to a medium flame and let beans simmer. Taste them, add salt as needed. Finally, smash your beans with a masher and let them simmer. The more you mash them the quicker they will dry out and be pasty.
My familia enjoys frijoles aguaditos, beans that are not completely smashed, having plenty of the bean broth that will simmer away slowly.
Like tortillas y tamales, beans go back in history, always meeting the need to stretch and fill many mouths. As family's gather around the table or if you’re in a hurry, grab a quick meal, enjoy frijoles wrapped in a tortilla con queso or serve them alongside a tamal. Acuerdense, it doesn’t have to be Cinco de Mayo to enjoy some delicious Mexican food!