I get stressed out when I don’t have a container of cooked beans in my fridge. Even if the fridge is full of other stuff, if I’m a day late on my bi-weekly bean preparation, I find myself saying, “there’s nothing to eat in here!” To me, beans represent simplistic, abundant nourishment – as long as there’s beans, no one is going to be hungry. I usually rotate my bean preparation between a pot of black beans, then a pot of pinto beans two weeks later. Just for variety. Making healthy black beans from scratch is one of those rituals I couldn’t live without, and I think it’s a simple thing to do on a weekend, because you can then customize portions of your cooked beans in different recipes throughout the week. There are so many things you can do with beans, I promise if you make this pot of black beans from scratch, you won’t go hungry for a while.
Choose a day to cook your beans when you won’t be in a hurry. I found that cooking dry beans never takes the exact same amount of time, every time. Sometimes they’re done in an hour or two, sometimes they just can’t seem to get done in under three hours. It’s also really up to your taste. The beans are done when they taste done to you. So don’t try to rush it, but also know that cooking beans isn’t terribly labor intensive. As long as your around to give the pot a quick stir or check the water level, other than that, you can go about your day as usual while your beans cook.
This recipe results in mildly seasoned whole black beans with bean liquid. From there, you can make a portion of them into refried beans, I have a simple and healthy way to do that below, and you can also use your beans for things like:
- black bean burger patties
- black bean soup
- chiles rellenos with black bean filling
- tamales with black bean filling
- black bean salad
There are a few secrets to getting a perfect pot of black beans from scratch. First, soaking your beans is important. I found some frankly silly articles which basically say soaking your beans is “so over” now and all the cool cooks don’t soak. Here’s the thing though – they are so wrong. Soaking your beans, or any whole legume or grain for that matter, is better for your tummy. It’s not just about the gas that may or may not occur, it’s about breaking down phytic acid and creating enzymes that help you digest your food better. It’s the same concept as sprouted grain bread – you know, the Ezikiel Bread you find in the refrigerated section of the store – sprouted grain bread contains more protein, and it’s easier to digest because the tougher components of the grain have been essentially softened and sprouted into a baby plant.
Generally, you don’t soak your beans long enough for them to sprout, although sometimes mine do, but the effect is the same anyway. Soaking is especially important for black beans because they are a little bit harder than other types of beans. Sometimes I add a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to my soaking liquid to help the process along, although this is completely optional.
Oh and there’s one other reason to rinse soak your black beans in particular. Bean scum. Bean scum will likely occur if you just cook your beans straight away without soaking them. It’s a thick layer of white foam that starts to form on top of your beans and it’s basically the extra protein that didn’t get released from soaking. I’ve read that some people get the scum just from soaking, but I’ve never experienced that. I have however, tried to cook beans without soaking, then a huge layer of scum came to the top of my boiling pot and boiled over everywhere and made a huge mess. If you get any scum at any point, just skim it off and discard it.
The next secret to beans is the pot. I made beans in the incorrect pot only once in my life and I will never again make that mistake! I know I’m starting to sound like a crazed bean nazi but hear me out. The beans are spending many hours inside a vessel, releasing and exchanging natural chemicals. Would you soak your beans overnight in a styrofoam cup? Probably not. That’s kind of an extreme example, but essentially, if you soak and cook your beans in a stainless or aluminum (or any metal for that matter) pot, your beans will taste metallic. I know because I did this once. I thought that making beans in a regular stainless stock pot would be totally fine, but it was so not! There was a distinct metallic flavor and my beans were ruined. Never again!
What you need is an enameled cast iron pot, or an enameled dutch oven. I got my 5 quart dutch oven at HEB for under 40 bucks, and it works just fine, although I know it’s not going to last me a lifetime. Maybe someday when I’m a real grown up I will invest in the coveted le cruset. If you’re looking for a deal, head to Ross or Marshall’s – they always have dutch ovens on sale. Or, Lodge brand dutch ovens have great reviews and are very reasonable.
You will want at least a 5 quart capacity dutch oven for making beans.
Don’t touch the salt! Yet. The next secret to beans is keeping the salt out of the equation until the very end. Why? Because salt restricts the beans from cooking. If you salt too early, you will end up with tough beans. So that can make seasoning your beans kind of tricky, because by adding salt at the end, you could end up with just salty bean water and bland beans. So after soaking, I add incorporate other flavors (chopped garlic) early on to get the flavor party going, and then once the beans are soft I will salt them, then let them cook them even longer to let all the flavors get acquainted.
MAKING REFRIED BEANS
Refried beans doesn’t necessarily mean beans fried in oil. For me, it really just means cooking the beans again to achieve a different consistency. Sometimes I don’t even use oil. Some people just put cooked beans in the food processor, but that just makes bean puree and that’s not what I’m talking about here. Refried beans can be on the thin side, or thick like mashed potatoes, but in my opinion, they should have a partially mashed consistency, with some beans still intact and some completely mashed. The bean liquid should be cooked to a thicker gravy-like consistency, which happens with the added cooking plus the starch released from the mashed beans. If you don’t have bean liquid to start with, use vegetable stock. Or if you do have bean liquid to start with, but want more flavorful refried beans, mash your beans over the stove in the bean liquid first, then cook them down to a thick paste and add vegetable stock to thin the beans and cook down once again. You can continue the cycle of adding liquid and cooking down the beans as many times as you want – keep going until you have the consistency and flavor you want.
If you want refried beans in a pinch, here’s what you do:
- Reserve two cups of cooked beans in their liquid (or add vegetable stock if there’s no bean liquid).
- Heat a large skillet over medium high heat – add about a tablespoon of olive oil if desired. The oil isn’t a requirement.
- Pour the beans and liquid into the hot skillet and allow them to heat through for about 2 minutes. They will be simmering.
- Lower the heat to medium then use a potato masher to mash the beans as they cook, scraping down the masher every once in a while and mixing in the mashed beans.
- Continue mashing and stirring until the desired consistency is reached.
Now go make some beans! They’re the magical fruit after all…