Beans are very much a tradition of Mexican and Mexican American culture. Once upon a time they were considered, “la comida del pobre”. They are a humble dish to serve, economical and available on the spot. “¿Quieres un taco de frijoles? is what my ama offered after school or practice. A bean taco, which was really a bean burrito because the beans were wrapped in one of her yummy flour tortillas. That was always available in my amas kitchen.When visita dropped in, a full meal was whipped up and offered, but when we got home, un taco would quiet our hunger down, until la cena. Beans were a staple in my amas kitchen.
Every week my ama boiled a large pot of pinto beans. I knew no other bean, frijoles de la olla, straight out of the pot, whole beans with bean broth, or frijoles fritos; refried beans, fried and mashed fresh each day. Con mucha vergüenza I confess that I got tired of eating them. By the time I left for college, I did not appreciate my amas beans anymore.
While I was far away from home, I missed everyone and everything from home. I was eating but did not care for my own cooking and the food in the cafeteria was way too bland. I missed my ama and her cooking. Ahora si, I missed the comfort of her frijolitos. there were days when one of her tacos de frijoles with a pickled jalapeño would have hit the spot. I couldn’t wait to get back home for summer break and rest my brain from textbooks and enjoy her perfectly refried beans in one of her homemade flour tortillas. Gracias a Dios I found a renewed appreciation for frijoles!
I found it hard to believe that beans were that easy to make. How could something so simple be so tasty? Especially, given that Mexican food is so flavorful and spicy. Otra confesíon, as a young wife, I tried “improving” my amas beans, because I imagined that beans would be so much more yummy with a chunk of onion and garlic in them as they cooked. I was wrong about that, and I picked up my amas method, just plain ole water, salt and lard or oil. However, like my ama I eventually settled into my own kitchen and “owned” my apron, that’s when I substituted the salt with bouillon instead. They were just as delicious as my amas beans, imaginate!
In my opinion, flavorful, spice infused Mexican food served with simple but tasty refried beans is the best.
Three steps to making Frijoles de la olla:
Primero, Clean them, make sure no small rocks or particles are in them. Segundo, Rinse them and put them in a pot, cover with plenty of fresh water, bring them to a boil, lower the flame to medium low and simmer them with the lid slightly slanted to allow steam out. After a while, add salt, ( or bouillon) . I usually wait until they are brown. Keep on simmering until they are soft. Taste them, they might need more salt, add more as needed. Listo! My ama liked to serve up a piping hot bowl of beans with diced onion, cilantro and jalapeno. Por su puesto that it must be accompanied with corn tortillas, acuerdense, salsa was always available on my amas table. Pero, mostly we enjoyed the beans refried.
Frijoles Fritos are just as easy to make:
In a skillet pan my ama melted lard or oil. When it got hot and ready, she transferred the beans from la olla with a slotted cooking spoon to drain the bean broth as much as possible, although some did transfer. Con cuidado! They always spit and splattered loudly as they hit the hot grease, but in true latina fashion she knew how to avoid any burns. With one hand holding her slotted spatula filled with beans, she leaned back as they touched the melted grease. Luego, she allowed the beans to simmer a while before mashing them. As they continued to simmer the broth evaporated. They were perfectly ready in minutes.
Through the years I have mastered her easy 1, 2, 3 method, taking little notice of the spitting beans because, like my ama, I lean back as I transfer them into the hot oil. “Frijoles aguaditos” is how I like to serve them, with plenty of the bean broth, thick but runny, Honestly, the translation “watery beans” kills the muy delicioso vibe. Pero creeme, even though they are simple, they are very tasty. I’ll serve them with a side of Mexican rice to accompany the main dish. Or I use them on top of nachos or as the first layer on tostadas. If I serve them in a burrito, it will include meat also.
Beans remain a part of the Mexican meal, but they are no longer just “a poor man food” They are a popular pretty much everywhere. I’m glad I learned to make and appreciate my amas beans once again. I do not serve them everyday, but often enough. Thankfully, my gringo husband appreciates them. Mi hijo Thomas always gives me the “good cook” thumbs up that I’ve learned to count on. Enjoy a bowl of beans or a taco de frijoles, it’ll do you some good.