Wander the stalls at Mexican markets and you will see just how important dried beans are to the Mexican diet. Beans are indigenous to Mexico; like corn, they were cultivated by the early inhabitants of Mexico. While there are many varieties available, pinto beans and black beans are two favorites in Mexican cooking. Speckled pinto ("painted" in Spanish) beans are used to make refritos or refried beans. Black beans are enjoyed as a side dish and are used in soups, salsas, and as a filling in burritos and enchiladas.
These directions work for both dried pinto beans and black beans.
How to store beans
Keep dried beans in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place for up to 1 year. The older the beans, the longer they take to cook.
How to soak beans
The easiest way to soak beans is to cover 1 pound of beans with 8 cups cold water in a big pot or Dutch oven and let them sit overnight. For same-day results, combine the beans and water in the pot and bring to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans well.
Tip: Add a pinch of salt to the soaking water to make the beans softer. Make sure to rinse the beans well since salt will toughen the beans as they cook.
How to cook dried beans
Cook the beans according to your recipe. Or place the soaked and rinsed beans back in the pot and cover with 8 cups fresh water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 75 to 90 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.
Tips: To speed up cooking, add ½ teaspoon baking soda to the cooking water.
For the best flavor and texture, cook beans the day before they are served and allow them to cool in their cooking liquid. This allows more time for the flavor to develop and for the beans to soak up some of the liquid. Though it's ideal to soak the beans until the water is cool, you don't have to cool completely before draining.
Using canned beans: It's quick and convenient to cook with canned beans. Rinse and drain the beans before cooking since the liquid in canned beans is typically high in sodium.
Refried beans are not actually fried -- they're cooked twice, a process that gives them their flavor. Use refried beans as a side dish, as a dip for tortilla chips, or as a filling for tostadas, burritos, and enchiladas. You can use homemade and canned refried beans interchangeably.
How to make refried beans
1. Soak and drain ½ pound pinto beans as directed above.
2. Cook the beans (following directions above) for 2-½ to 3 hours or until the beans are very tender.
3. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid.
4. In a saucepan cook garlic in bacon drippings for more flavor. For a healthier option, cook the garlic in olive oil instead.
5. Add the beans and mash them with a potato masher.
6. Stir in just enough of the reserved cooking liquid to make the beans smooth and pastelike.
7. Continue to cook until thick, stirring often to avoid sticking and scorching.
8. If desired, top refried beans with shredded cheese, snipped cilantro, or chopped green onion.
How to make seasoned black beans
Cook canned beans in a seasoned broth -- you'll save on prep time, but the beans will still have lots of delicious flavor.
1. Create a flavorful cooking liquid with ingredients commonly used in Mexican cooking -- chicken broth, onion, sweet pepper, garlic, lime juice, and oregano.
2. To break up the beans and distribute the flavors, mash the mixture gently with a potato masher. Season the beans with bottled hot pepper sauce to taste.
3. If you like, garnish the black beans with chopped tomato, snipped fresh cilantro, or chopped green onion. Serve them with lime wedges or tortillas.