In the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” Jack and his mother were so poor she sent him to market to sell their cow. Instead of selling the cow for money, Jack traded the cow for some magic beans. Given that I have no cow to sell, nor do I have a son named Jack, I guess I won’t be sending anyone to market today. That doesn’t alleviate the problem of finding enough money to buy food. Fortunately, I don’t have to trade anything for the magic beans that find their way to my cupboard and now I have way more than three beans. Given the cold, cold winter this year, it is also a good thing I don’t have to plant these beans. Someone did that for me. Someone also took the time to dry them, package them and distribute them to ALL the local food pantries. Now all I have to do is cook them and voila – Food. One dilemma solved. Another dilemma in the making, WHAT on earth do I do with all these beans!?!?
Beans are a must in many diets, many cultures, for many people all over the world. Beans are one of the first agricultural crops mankind planted. When properly dried, they keep for a very long time. They are an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are great for heart health, controlling blood sugar levels, colon health and a host of other trendy health topics. To top it all off, beans are VERY inexpensive. No wonder they have become a staple in most diets.
I have grown to really appreciate beans in the recent months, not only because that is what is available and I seem to have acquired quite a variety but also because I have found a host of uses for them and have had the opportunity to come to enjoy foods from many cultures. I have chickpeas (dried and canned), black beans (dried and canned), baked beans (ready-made, but I have a couple of recipes for them too. Those will follow soon.), pork and beans (canned), kidney beans, navy beans, Anasazi beans (from a friend), bean and lentil soup mixes (from my mother), red and yellow lentils (also from my dear friend ), split peas and last but not least, the common pinto bean. Boy do I have pinto beans!
I have made hummus, an ancient Middle Eastern chickpea dip, and Chana Dal, a traditional East Indian dish, from the lowly chickpea. I have roasted them with herbs and spices for a crunchy snack and have found a host of other uses for them, more on the chickpea in upcoming blogs.
I have made Masoor Dal from the red lentils. Masoor Dal is one of my favorites. Top it with plain yogurt. Serve it over rice or with Naan (Indian flatbread). Delicious. I’ve also made Rajmah, another Indian dish, and good old-fashion chili from the red kidney beans… WOW is the Rajmah good! If you are not familiar with some of these dishes, look them up. Spelling does tend to vary but I have tried to use the most common variation. They are well worth the effort and taste adventure.
And now, I’m sure not the last, and certainly not the least of the uses and recipes for beans, our household favorite, the all-purpose, completely versatile, magically disappearing refried beans. These refried beans are made from the ordinary pinto beans that are readily available from most Food Pantries. You can find them bagged and in bulk at most major grocery stores, and from wholefoods and organic grocery stores , food co-ops and similar places. There is no excuse not to have a bag or two of pinto beans in your cupboard.
Preparing Your Beans (any dried beans, not just pinto beans)
The first trick I learned about beans is that they have to be soaked and cooked for a good long while! That’s easy enough to do. I typically sort and rinse the beans, removing all the super dry, shriveled looking ones and picking out whatever gravel or foreign matter is in them first. The “extras” can’t be helped; our farming process is mechanized and industrialized. There is no way to get around finding a pebble or two, some gritty stuff on the beans, or a few not so good beans in any package.
The other part of preparing beans is that it is worthwhile is to cook a whole bunch of them at once. I usually cook an entire 2 lb. bag. It takes no more time and energy to cook 2 lbs. of beans than it does a mere cup of them. C’mon. Just do it. You’ll be glad you did.
When they are cooked sufficiently, I bag them in quart or gallon sized freezer bags and put them in the freezer. They’re ready to go the next time I want to make something and I don’t have to spend a day and a half prepping them every time! Plan ahead. It doesn’t hurt.
I would love to explore other recipes for beans from other parts of the world! Anyone who has any suggestions, feel free to post a comment!
Refried Beans have many uses. Use your imagination!
We have used these beans as a dip all by themselves.
Warm them in the microwave with cheese. Add your favorite salsa and a bit of sour cream.
See Buddy’s Beans and Crumbles for a meaty bean dip recipe.
Spread the refried beans on tortillas and top with cheese and rice, roll burrito style for a delicious treat. (Burritos freeze well and make a terrific quick bite for those days when you just don’t want to cook or don’t have time, for lunch at work, for on the go meals anytime).
They make great filling for enchiladas and tacos.
Try a 7 layer fiesta dip (the kind with the cheese, olives, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, etc).
Endlessly versatile Magic Refried Beans!
Magic Refried Beans
1 large onion (red, white or yellow, it doesn’t matter), diced
2 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced (more or less to taste).
1 small can chopped green chilies
1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes (I use the Lime Cilantro kind, but any diced tomatoes will work) do not drain.
2-3 Tbsp x2 bacon grease, lard or cooking oil (Bacon grease is better tasting, but cooking oil is just fine if you are concerned about the cholesterol or meat content)
2-3 C. cooked pinto beans
1 Tbsp. Lime juice
2 Tbsp Cilantro paste or fresh Cilantro to taste (I use Goya Recaito http://www.goya.com/english/product_subcategory/Condiments/Marinades-Cooking-Ingredients typically available in the International foods section of the grocery store)
2-3 Tbsp. ground cumin
1-2 tsp. ground coriander seed
1-2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1-2 cloves chopped garlic (more or less to taste)
Salt and Cayenne pepper to taste.
Over medium-high heat in a large skillet, heat the bacon grease or cooking oil.
Add onions and jalapenos. Add the cumin, coriander seed, fresh ground pepper, and garlic. Cook until onions are translucent, stirring frequently.
Add beans, tomatoes, lime juice, Cilantro paste, and green chilies. Simmer until bubbly.
Remove from heat and cool a bit.
Pour mixture into a food processor and blend until smooth. You may have to do this in small batches. Alternatively you can mash, whip or use a submersion blender to achieve a smooth consistency. In either case, remove the beans from the pan. The bean mixture will be loose, not like the canned refried beans you find in the store.
Return the pan to the heat and heat the second 2-3 Tbsp. bacon grease or cooking oil.
Add bean mixture. Cook for several minutes to remove some of the moisture and the beans are a thick but spreadable consistency.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or spoon mixture into Ziploc bags and put them in the freezer.