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Beans

by John Strauss / Fri, Nov 29th, 2013 5:00 am / Published in Lifestyle

I like to cook. One of the "dishes" that I enjoy, and that can become a satisfying component of a meal Winter or Summer are Mexican style beans. A pot of beans tastes great, is warm and filling and is a great source of protein and fiber. When I cook beans, I don't follow an exact recipe, but several people have asked me for one, so here is an attempt to be a guide, more than anything set in stone. I make my beans vegetarian. My Father in Law doesn't believe in vegetarian beans, they must have bacon fat in them he says. (And his ancestry is Mexican). But I have found preparing the beans the following way has won him and many others over to the fact that you don't have to use meat in the beans. Cooking beans is forgiving, and many of the ingredients can go into the pot early so that it is also an easy dish to prepare. The key is having access to a Mexican grocer for some essential ingredients.

So here it goes:

I like to use pinto beans, but have also mixed in Northern White. You start with a bag (about a pound- all measurements are approximate) of the dried beans. The first essential step is to very carefully clean and sort the beans. I do this on a big wooden breakfast table, sitting down so that I can look closely at the beans. The goal is to keep all the whole good looking beans and to throw aside broken beans, mis-shaped and mis-colored beans and also most importantly little stones that make their way through the machinery process at the factory. Once you have a pile of all the good beans, which should be about 95% of what you started with or more, put those in a large pot and cover with cool water, at least an inch or so over the top of the beans. Cover and let sit overnight.

The next morning, drain and rinse the beans in a colander. Set aside. Take a large stock pot and heat over medium heat and add a generous amount of olive oil. The oil is going to take the place of the bacon fat so don't worry about using too much. Sauté garlic in the olive oil. I use about a half dozen good size cloves, minced. Don't burn the garlic. You can also sauté an onion at this time. When the onion is clearish, add the beans and cover with cool clean water.

Now you need to add a few things. First of all about 3-4 sprigs of Epazoté. This is a Mexican herb that adds flavor and also is helpful in reducing the flatulent aspect of the beans. I add at this time about 6 bay leaves, either fresh or dried, and 1 or 2 dried chile peppers such as chipotle. Also going in, you can either buy a prepared pinto bean seasoning mix or add a tablespoon of several spices to your taste. To me essential ones are cumin and black pepper, and also Mexican or domestic oregeno. You can also add chili powder of your choice and if you wish one or two fresh poblano or jalapeño chilis which you have roasted and skinned, seeded and veined then chopped finely. This whole mixture is brought to a low boil and immediately stirred and put on a very low simmer, covered (essential) and left to cook for about 2 hours or so. Check every once in while to make sure there is enough liquid so the beans don't burn, stir from the bottom. Taste to make sure the beans are cooked to a tender consistency but not mushy, remove the bay leaves, and salt to taste. Voila!

The great thing is that the leftovers can become tomorrow's "refritos" or refried beans, which you can heat in a cast iron skillet and serve with eggs for breakfast or a side dish for dinner. Good corn tortillas are a wonderful way to enjoy the beans with rice and sour cream or cheese and a vegetable side dish. Of course they also go great with chicken and beef and so I have heard pork. Let me know how it turns out.



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