Cooking Like A Mexican

Beans - February 8th, 2016 Edition
BY: ALEJANDRA SARACHAGA

AlejandraSarachaga.jpg

This time I will like to write about two of the most common and simple ingredients of the Mexican cuisine, but not for that less interesting: Beans!

The word epazote comes from the Náhuatl and has Mexican origins. The compound word comes from “epatl “shrunk and “zotli” grass. It is an aromatic perennial plant that is used as a condiment and as a medicinal plant in Mexico and some other Latin American countries, and in the southern part of the United States as well.

Its lifetime is one year and it grows an average of  47 inches. Its branches are developed unevenly and leaves get to be 5 inches in length. Its flowers are small and green. This species is native to America, and was known and used by the Aztecs. It grows in sandy soils and the plant grows larger on the banks of rivers and lakes. Legend has it that it was introduced to Europe in 1577 by Francisco Hernandez, who was also physician to King Felipe II.

In Mexican cuisine it is used in many dishes, such as boiled corn or boiled and condiment corn grains, tortilla soup and certain varieties of quesadillas, and some types of tamales, plus some seasoning in soups and of course the delicious black beans and either bean broth soup or refried as we shall see later.

jellybeans.jpgThey are one of the oldest foods known to man, and have formed an important part of human diet for thousands of years. It is among the first domesticated food plants cultivated. The common bean cultivation began about 7000 years BC in southern Mexico. The natives grew lima beans, black, and all other varieties of color, either small or large seeds.

Since the Mesoamerican cultures of Mexico crossed the American continent, these beans and its cultivation practices gradually spread throughout South America as they explored and traded with other tribes.

When the conquerors from the Iberian Peninsula arrived to the New World, many varieties of beans were blooming. Columbus called them faxon and favas beans like in the Old World, the Aztecs called them etl, the Mayan quinsoncho, and the Incas purutu. The early explorers and traders subsequently led American bean varieties worldwide, and early seventeenth century, beans and crops were popular in Europe, Africa and Asia.

The food product is the dry grain of this plant, and it can remain in good condition for a long time if kept in closed containers and in areas without humidity.

The beans have a high content of protein and fiber, being itself an excellent source of minerals. In Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras (where they are called beans) they are eaten cooked, traditionally shredded and fried with lard or corn oil after being boiled and known as beans. They are usually eaten accompanied by corn tortillas. There are other variants such as charro beans, beans pigs, enfrijoladas, (these are like bean enchiladas for a lack of a better description) bean soup, beans and sausage, and so on.

Ingredients for beans (for 4-8 people):

1 lb of black beans (buy those that come in a plastic bag, and not precooked.)

1 large onion

2 serrano chiles

6 cloves garlic

1 large tomato

2 tablespoons of lard (you can always use vegetable oil, but the flavor may vary.

2 epazote branches (in case you cannot find epazote you can use bay leaf)

Water

Salt

Recipe for beans

To make beans the traditional way may take too many hours with the pan into the fire. To save this work we will see how to prepare the beans more quickly. First of all, thoroughly rinse the beans under running water; sometimes beans come with some dust or sand, or even small rocks so they must be made clean. Now in pan or pot big enough put the beans inside. Cover them with water, about three fingers of water above the beans. Leave to soak overnight.

The next morning the beans have softened a bit and we can prepare in less time. Note that the water has been colored black. Throw away the water and add fresh water to cover beans.

Put the pot on the fire and add half an onion, serrano chile (I like to pinch them with a fork so they will give a nice flavor to the broth), four peeled garlic cloves and the eapzote branches. If necessary add water to cover vegetables and simmer on medium low for 2 hours.

Remove from time to time taking care not to burn and ensures that at all times there is a finger of water above the beans. If necessary (it almost certainly will be), add water, (do not heat it first), from time to time.

After two hours add a tablespoon of lard and leave to heat until beans are very soft. Do not add salt at the moment. Let them boil for 10 more minutes and add salt.

At this point you can eat them already as a bean soup.

For refried dry beans, as they are served as a side dish in every single restaurant of this country, at breakfast, lunch or dinner, here is what we do.

Take the remaining half onion and chop finely. Put onto the fire the remaining tablespoon of lard and slowly let it brown. Add a little bit of salt.

After a couple of minutes add the onion to fire two cloves of garlic cut into thin slices.

While the vegetables are lightly browned (do not let it burn - only to catch a golden brown)

Then add the boiled beans, using a strainer to avoid too much liquid. When they start cooking, smash them and add broth in which the beans have been made little by little. Mix well. You can pour more beans but always little by little, the idea is to fry them very well with almost no liquid.

Continue let on the fire for almost 10 more minutes, always moving so they won’t stick to the pan.

Taste for salt, add if needed and ready.

So, again you can have them like a soup before refrying or as a side dish for almost everything. Once they are refried (a friend of mine calls them baked beans), you can pour them on tortilla chips add in some cheese and sour cream on top, a little bit of salsa, whatever comes to your mind. Let your creativity and imagination flow. Keep this recipe handy, because we will be using these beans for other recipes in the near future.

Alejandra