Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Basic Beans, Mexican Style

This is a simple recipe that my husband taught me. Mexicans eat beans with nearly every meal, and this is how to make them.

You can use any dried bean in this recipe. We use runner beans, black beans, or bayo beans--whatever we can get in the farmers market from the couple that comes to the city from a community. Good quality beans from a reputable source are best--you never know how long that bag of beans has been sitting on the grocery store shelf.

To make this recipe really traditional, you need a clay bean pot.  It's the only way we cook our beans in Mexico.  Mexicans swear that the clay gives the beans a flavor they don't get in a metal pot.

Epazote is a Mexican herb. Rumor has it that it helps reduce gas caused by beans. Anecdotal evidence suggests that its gas-reducing effects are offset by the sheer quantity of beans we eat here in Mexico. You can purchase epazote at the following links ground ($2.09) and fresh ($9.99 for four plants).  Alternatively, you can use avocado leaves, as my mother-in-law does sometimes with very tasty results.  You can find avocado leaves in your local Mexican grocery store.

The quantities of some ingredients and the cooking times are not precise. These are home-style beans, and the recipe is in every Mexican's head. As my grandmom used to say when she taught us her recipes, "Cook it until it tastes right." Practice makes perfect sazón.

  • 1/2 kilo or 1 lb. dried beans (yes, I know that 1/2 kilo does not equal 1 lb., but it really doesn't matter), rinsed, picked over, and soaked overnight
  • one sprig fresh  or 1 tsp. dried epazote or a few avocado leaves
  • 3 whole cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 small onion, or 1/4 large onion
  • salt to taste
  1. Drain soaked beans and place them in a large pot (preferably a clay pot).
  2. Add enough water to cover the beans, plus an extra inch or two.
  3. Add epazote or parsley, garlic, and onion. There is no need to chop the garlic or the onion. There is no need to chop these ingredients. They are just there for to add taste; you can pull them out at the end and toss them on the compost heap.
  4. Cook on high heat until it comes to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain the boil.
  5. As the beans are cooking, check water periodically and add more as needed.
  6. When the beans have cooked for about an hour, add salt to taste. Err on the side of under-salting them for now. As the beans cook and cool and are reheated, they'll soak up more water and get saltier. You can always add more salt later.
  7. Total cooking time should be 1 1/2 - 2 hours, but cooking times can vary. Check your beans periodically and decide when they are sufficiently tender.
When you plate your beans, feel free to top them with crumbled cheese and/or sour cream to taste.

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