Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Holy frijole!

Growing up (mostly) in Texas and being raised by Texan parents, I've eaten heaps of pinto beans in my life. They are a staple here. You just can't have good Tex-Mex without them. I also grew up with the idea that you must have salt pork, ham hock or bacon to make them taste good, because that's the way it's always done. And you just can't add other "stuff" to them. "Cowboy beans" were a Yankee invention. (By the way, the only things we use the word "Cowboy" in the name are boots and hats.) So, when changing to a veg diet, the idea of cooking them was daunting, but I've found a secret.

The key flavoring that the meat adds, for my taste anyway, is the saltiness and/or the smokiness. So, I've tried a couple of things. Obviously, making sure they're salted well is important. And I've tried adding a little Liquid Smoke. That helped. I've added whole tomatoes, sauteed onions, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, and peppers in various combinations. And it's all tasted good, but I struck upon a favorite by chance.

I started cooking the beans in vegetable broth and realized that I didn't have any onions or tomatoes. I opened the fridge to see what I could find and came across a jar of smoky garlic salsa and thought, "Why not? " So, in went the salsa and then I salted to taste. Wow. It was wonderful. Didn't miss the pork flavoring at all!

How do I cook pinto beans?

1. Prep: Sort beans, discarding any debris and bad beans that may be present. Rinse well and drain.

2. Pre-Soak: There are a couple of way to do this, the long way and the quick way.

  • Long soak: Place beans in large pot. Cover beans with water by 4 inches. Cover pot with lid. Allow to sit at room temperature overnight or 8 hours.

  • Quick soak: Place beans in pot and cover with water by about 4 inches. Heat to strong simmer for approximately 5 minutes. Cover and turn off heat. Allow to sit for 1 hour.
3. Cooking: Drain soak water and rinse beans and pot. Return beans to pot. Add fresh water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring pot to low boil over high heat and then reduce heat to medium and gently simmer for a couple of hours until beans are tender. I love them when they're creamy, but some folks prefer them a little firmer. One last tip. These beans are tasty right after cooking, but let them sit in the fridge overnight, and they're even better. Not often a leftover is better than it was at the first serving.

4. Seasonings: Oh so many options.
  • Add salt to taste toward the end of cooking, when the beans are ready to be taste tested for doneness. It is especially important that you wait to salt if you are using other seasonings that include salt.

  • If you wish to add sauteed onion, garlic or peppers, saute them in the pot after soaking the beans and before returning the beans and fresh water to the pot for cooking.

  • If you wish to add tomatoes or salsa, add those about half-way through cooking. If you're feeling a-spicy, add a little jalapeno.

  • Add a little cider vinegar to the pot while cooking, a tablespoon or so. It gives a little kick to the beans, and it supposedly it helps to reduce the gas emissions later.

  • Another secret, add vegetable bouillon to the fresh cooking water or sub vegetable broth for part or all of the cooking water. I happen to like Rapunzel Vegan Vegetable Bouillon with Sea Salt. It has such great flavor. I add it to lots of dishes.

  • Shhh. My secret favorite combo is using the bouillon in the cooking water and adding Mrs Renfro's Roasted Garlic Salsa toward the end. Then salt to taste at the last.

Beans are a great staple to have on hand, but even the short method takes a while to cook. Luckily, they freeze beautifully! You can pack them in any amount that suits your needs. If you make ahead for a big gathering, then you can pack them into large plastic sealed bowls. If you use the 15-ounce cans for recipes, then you can pack them into freezer bags or reusable freezer bowls (you can find them BPA free!). I like to freeze them in an unseasoned state so that I can use them in any way that I need. Once thawed, I can add my favorite combo seasonings if I choose.

Approximately 1 1/2 pounds of dried beans made 7 cups of beans to freeze and 2 cups of beans for dinner.

Be sure to label your freezer items with contents and date. It seems like you wouldn't forget what's inside, or that you would be able to tell through the jar/bag, but freezing changes the look and makes it difficult to determine contents sometimes. Also, be sure to include the year on the date. I have a tendency to freeze things, thinking that I'll use them up quickly. However, I've been known to clean out the freezer and find dates from past years (I shan't reveal how many lest I embarrass myself!). My rule of thumb is, if no year is indicated, and I can't positively remember when I did it, out it goes!

Speaking of labels, these containers have spaces to write the info, but I love blue painter's tape. Inexpensive. Easy to remove. And pretty color. I think painter's or masking tape comes in other colors, but this is what I had left from a project. Easy.

What to do with my beans?

1. Beans are one-half of that great partnership, Beans and Cornbread. Serve with hot sauce on the side. I prefer Cholula, and David prefers Louisiana Hot Sauce. Other options might be Sriracha or Tabasco. This is an especially nice meal during cooler months, which is difficult to remember when it's 105 degrees outside, but trust me, it'll happen again before we know it.

2. Don't forget the Tex-Mex classic, Beans and Tortillas. Shoot. Fast food empires have been built on this concept!

3. Drain them and toss into a Tex-Mex salad with lettuce, corn, cilantro, purple onion, and red peppers. Drizzle with a little Catalina, vinaigrette or top with a little salsa.

4. Make Texas Hummus: Use pinto beans in place of chickpeas and add southwestern spices like cumin, oregano, garlic, chili powder, and/or hot sauce. Serve with corn chips or toasted pita crisps.

5. Serve as a side dish with enchiladas. (I have a forth coming recipe for enchiladas! Stay tuned!)

6. One word: Burritos! Drain, mash beans. Fill warm tortilla shell with beans and toppings like lettuce, onion, tomato, cilantro, chopped peppers, etc. As an aside, we have a local cafe called Sevi's Burritos that makes the most divine tortillas, burritos, etc. It is such a Saturday morning ritual for us that my son refers to "Saturday" as "Sevisday". Our standard is the bean and potato burrito. Divine tortilla filled with refried pinto beans and cottage fried potato. Add in their homemade hot sauce or pico de gallo and hmmm. My mouth waters just writing about it.

7. Add chopped veggies part way through cooking, or add thawed frozen veggies and heat thoroughly, to make veggie bean soup.

This is certainly not a definitive list, just a starter. This is a very versatile legume.

Want another reason to make these beans? Cost. The pinto bean is very inexpensive. Even the organic ones are relatively inexpensive. So, cooking your own allows you to control the salt, fat, and preservatives, and is still less expensive and much tastier than using canned ones from the grocery market. I can't think of a down side.

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