Thursday, May 26, 2011

Never Buy from a Store Installment Number 2: Re-fried Beans

Every now and again, circumstance provides a vague insight into the workings of your own brain. Something happens that demonstrates, at least in some way, the mechanisms that lead us to hold beliefs about things we don't actually know about. Take re-fried beans. I always assumed there was something complicated about them. It's that prefix “re.” Seeing that my logic just kind of takes over. Ok, “re” means to do again, so re-fried beans must be beans that have been fried twice. But, of course, that doesn't mean you just fry them in a pan, turn the heat off for a bit, and then fry them in the pan again. That would be stupid. So, logically, there must be some additional atypical process involved in re-fried beans for the name to make sense. Maybe several components of the dished are fried separately and then fried again together. Maybe there is a long pause in the process; a fry, a three-day rest in the refrigerator, and then a second fry. Or maybe it's not even just a rest, but a soak, or a marinade, or even a dry. Or maybe there's something really counter-intuitive in there, like you need to roast dry beans first or boil them in some kind of special liquid. For some reason the “re” set my logic to figuring before doing anything like research and I deduced a process tamale-like in it's complexity. I mean, why would they call them “re-fried beans” if they were really just mashed fried beans.

They're really just mashed fried beans. It's fucking maddening.

Here's a recipe Riss found for re-fried beans.

Half an onion, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons of ground cumin, depending on taste
either olive oil or lard for frying
salt and pepper to taste
1 can of whatever beans are in the cupboard (probably not garbanzo beans though)

In the pan heat up enough oil/lard to coat the bottom. (you might need to add more oil later)
Toss in the onions and cook until slightly translucent, toss in the garlic and cook on medium for another 2-3 minutes until onions are soft. Be careful not to burn the garlic.

Toss in the can of beans (drained and rinsed of course) and heat. Mash the warm beans in with the oil/lard and veggies. A potato masher works well. If the mashing is hard, add more oil/lard. Add cumin and some salt and pepper. Cook the beans on one side for a few minutes until they get a golden crust. Flip them in the pan to fry the other side. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
That's it. This has both way less sodium than canned re-fried beans and way more flavor. If you're watching your salt intake, don't add any at all. Cumin not your thing? Add pretty much anything else (coriander would probably be good) or leave out the additional spice. A little cilantro might be nice as well. Lard is traditional (and tasty and a lot healthier than you might think), but pretty much any fat or oil will do, except for maybe butter. If you're up against a deadline, you could probably even get away with skipping the aromatics, but you'll probably have to add more spices of some kind to compensate for the loss of flavor. Furthermore, since this is really just a technique, fry and mash, you can flavor it to match whatever else you might be having, making it a great way to add protein to a vegetarian dish. It can be served on the side or spread on something as part of a sandwich, taco, wrap, whatever. If you don't create the crust, you could even use it as a dip.

Have you bought a can of beans lately? This is also a really freaking cheap dish. And if you buy bulk dry beans, it's essentially free. (Dry beans note: They don't take any more work to prepare just a lot more time, since you have to soak them overnight, or boil them for a bunch before using them. Not a great impulse food, but if you plan ahead they are a really, really cheap meal.) Given how cheap this is, re-fried beans are a great starter food if you don't really cook for yourself. So you added way too much salt and pepper. Big deal. Your mistake cost you, like, ten minutes and a dollar.

At the heart of the whole assuming re-fried beans are a hassle thing, is the core assumption that cooking is a hassle (which I've talked about before and will talk about again), that the canned, prepped version, will always save you a significant amount of time. But, to me, anyway, the ten minute difference between canned and homemade re-fried beans is more than worth it for the increase in flavor and the dramatic decrease in risk for heart disease.

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