It's an off-day today. Which doesn't really distinguish today from most of the days of the past month, really, now does it?
As the parent of a vegetablearian daughter (nay -- a vegan daughter!!!111one111!!), I'm always on the lookout for simple, satisfying and repeatable dishes that I can make for the whole family. Today's contribution is drawn from the very essence of simple, satisfying, and repeatable: pinto beans.
Yea, I know. Gloppy refried beans on your tray on "Mexican food" days in school. Ugh. But I'm here to tell you that, properly made, pinto beans are sublime. And really easy to make.
My recipe has three steps to it: soaking, simmering, and finishing. While I add some minor bells and whistles, the approach is simplicity itself. Anyone can make a great bowl/plate of beans. And trust me, these are deliciously creamy and flavorful. You will question why anyone would ever buy canned refried beans after making these.
Step one: soaking. Measure 2 cups dried pinto beans. Sort through for pebbles or other junk and rinse. Place in a heavy pot and cover with ~6 cups cold water. The slow soaking method is 8 hours to overnight; the fast method is to bring the pot to a boil, cover, turn the heat off and let stand for about an hour. The beans should about triple in volume.
Step two: simmering. Drain the soaked beans in a colander and rinse both the beans and your pot. Put the beans back in the pot with 5 cups fresh water, a bay leaf and, if you can locate it, a big pinch of dried epazote. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to a low simmer. Cook, covered, for about an hour to 90 minutes until the beans are tender, stirring occasionally. You want to cook gently, so that the beans stay intact.
Step three: finishing. At this stage, the beans should be wet, but the liquid is starting to turn into a dusky gravy. Add about a half-teaspoon of kosher salt, turn off the heat and let stand while you prep the rest of the ingredients. You aren't looking to make the final product salty, just well-balanced.
For this stage, I use my cast iron dutch oven, rather than the soup pot I used to simmer the beans. But you could cook the vegetables in a large skillet and add them back into the beans as an alternative.
Finely chop one medium onion and 2-3 cloves garlic. In a large, heavy pot, saute the onions in 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil for 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic, a big pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp cumin seed, and a pinch of salt, and saute for another 2 minutes. Add a 7-oz can of chopped green chiles (I prefer the fire roasted ones), 1 tsp ground cumin and 1 tbsp ground chile (I use California or New Mexico, but whatever you like), and saute for another 2-3 minutes.
Carefully add the beans and remaining liquid to the pot. Simmer, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes to combine flavors. If the beans are too "tight", add water, 1/2 cup at a time, to achieve your preferred consistency.
Remove the bay leaf and as many of the epazote stems as you can locate. Serve with rice and garnish with chopped cilantro and crumbled cotija or queso blanco. A bowl of rice and beans and a cold beer will make your troubles go away. At least for a while.