Corn, beans, and chiles are the three key ingredients in Mexican cooking and have all had a place in hte Mexican kitchen for literally thousands of years. One of the most quintessential comfort foods in all of Mexican cooking has to be frijoles de olla or pot-simmered beans. This is our take on how to make a healthy, easy version of this classic recipe.
To see how common beans remain to this day, just ask your Mexican friends what their favorite comfort food is and many of them will refer to their family's bean recipe.
Frijoles de olla are the most basic bean recipe -- literally just dried beans that are simmered until cooked -- and they're traditionally served with some of the bean cooking liquid and scooped up with a charred tortilla. Traditionally, you'll see the beans simmered with nothing more than onions, lard, and a few sprigs of the aromatic herb found throughout Mexican cooking: epazote.
Anytime you're cooking beans, you'll want to start with high quality dried beans -- we like Rancho Gordo or Llano Seco -- and then simmer them (don't boil them!) until they're tender. For a whole slew of pointeres on making beans check out this list of bean cooking tips.
We like to simmer our beans with a few more ingredients -- garlic, onion, and bay leaf -- to give the initial broth more flavor. Once the beans are cooked you can use them as is for making any of the bean recipes below. However, we like saute up some onion, garlic, and a few more seasonings for beans that have an extra oomph of flavor. These beans are made to mimic the flavors of avocado leaf and epazote -- flavors found a lot in Central Mexican cooking like in Oaxaca -- but with easier-to-find ingredients like bay leaf and fennel seed. If you live near a Latinx market and can find epazote and avocado leaf, by all means add them!
If instead you want a more cooked flavor, we highly recommend you try out our friend Kate's recipe for Sofrito Beans that are made with jalapeno, onion, garlic, chili powder, cumin, and coriander.
Honestly, one of our all-time favorite ways to eat these beans is how we've photgraphed them here: in a bowl topped with crumbly cheese, crema, a squeeze of lime juice, and a heap of fresh cilantro (like, so much that the cilantro is almost like salad leaves). But you can also use these beans in a ton of recipes including some of our favorites like:
or another dried bean
or yellow or white onion, half used for cooking the beans the other half diced if you want to season the beans
1 for cooking the beans the other 3 thinly sliced
or other dried oregano
or 1 sprig fresh epazote
for garnish (optional)
sliced, for garnish (optional)
for garnish (optional)
for garnish (optional)
for serving (optional)
To Cook The Dried Beans: Place the dried beans in a fine mesh seive then sort and rinse and remove any debris or broken bits. Place the beans in a bowl and cover by 2 inches of water then set aside in a cool, dry location to soak at least 6 to 24 hours.
Once the beans have soaked, rinse them off then transfer them to a deep, heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven and cover with 2 inches of water. Bring the beans to a boil over high heat then skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to low, add one half onion, one garlic clove, and two bay leaves then and simmer. Periodically skim off any additional foam that rises to the surface.
Simmer the beans, partially covered, until they're tender (adding more water as needed to just keep the beans covered), about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The beans are just tender when you blow on the surface of a bean and the skin peels back easily. Also, they should be easy to bite into but not so soft they're mushy. You can stop as is and eat these beans like this or continue to the next step to add in more flavor.
Real talk: you don't have to soak the beans overnight -- you can just start cooking them but they will take longer to cook. We like to soak beans because the end result is a superior texture, the beans hold their shape better, and they're easier to digest!
To Season The Cooked Beans: Place a small frying pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the oil. Dice the remaining half onion and slice the remaining three cloves garlic then add both to the pan with a big pinch of salt. Stir to combine then cook until the onions are soft, at least 5 minutes. If using the avocado leaf, epazote sprig, dried Mexican oregano, add them now. Otherwise, add in the (non-Mexican) dried oregano and the pinch of fennel seeds. Add the onion mixture to the beans and continue cooking until the beans are very tender and the broth has slightly thickened, about another 10 minutes.
To Serve The Cooked Beans: Once the beans are cooked, add a large pinch of salt. You can then use the beans to make enfrijoladas, on top of nachos, or eaten in a bowl as is topped with a squeeze of lime juice, a drizzle of oil, some crumbled queso fresco, a large handful of cilantro, and a side of some tortillas.
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