OH BURN! ~ Ham Pie Sandwiches

29 January 2007


I mean cut! Yeah.

This kind of thing happens to me way too often, where "once every six months" is still equal to "too often". This time it was particularly appropriate and dangerous, because I was chopping jalapeño peppers! As we all know, hot peppers contain capsaicin, the oil that gives them heat. So it's always awesome when you chop up a bunch of peppers, forget to wash your hands, then accidentally rub your eye. That circumstance actually requires the phrase "oh burn". OW. If you ever do that, an eye bath in milk will help. Water will not, because water and capsaicin oil act shockingly like OIL AND WATER! It's the same reason you want to drink beer and eat lots of yogurt-laden raita while having a spicy Indian dinner: beer and dairy will actually rinse the oil as opposed to repelling it.

Fortunately, the human body is designed with blood pressure, so when you slip chopping jalapeños and cut a good deep slice straight through your thumbnail and half an inch into the flesh beyond, said pressure causes both blood and capsaicin to rush out of your body, flushing out the cut. Clearly, you also want a good dose of hydrogen peroxide, but at least you won't fall over shrieking and swelling instantly. You'll just lose some blood.

This is a good argument for a few things. First, I need to suck it up and learn to hold my vegetables the right way while chopping. "The right way", according to such glorious people as Julia Child, is to put your hand into a fist, palm side down, and hold your onion or whatever with the bottom of your folded fingers. This puts your knuckles closest to the blade. I have found this incredibly awkward, but if it lets me just skin my knuckles as opposed to stabbing myself completely, I think I need to give it a try.

Second, I need to start using a wider knife. My favorite knife right now is 1 inch wide. My grip on the handle is more than 1 inch wide. Therefore, if I don't arrange things well, my fingers hit the cutting board before the entire blade is down, thus encouraging slippage. This is exactly what happened on this occasion. Great job, me! Start using the 2-inch gigantic butcher knife.

So we didn't just end up throwing out a board of chopped jalapeños after the debacle. Instead, we ended up with a delicious spread of refried black beans with rice.

Refried beans have been a standard of mine for a good five years. Even before I was making them from scratch, we had at least a couple cans a week. Big surprise: we were in school. Refried beans were cheap and plentiful, and a pan of enchiladas could easily feed our 7-person house. However, when I tried my first pan of homemade refrieds...well. Let's just say that the canned beans weren't going to cut it anymore. We could tailor the homemade beans to our exact preferences of spice and texture, and dried beans were even cheaper than canned. Besides, the whole process took almost the same overall effort as doctoring canned beans. It was just over.

This time, I made a very slight variation on my basic take: I added corn. Gracious! That is uncalled for, young lady! Perhaps you want to invite that hussy squash over as well!

Refried Black Beans with Corn

1 cup dried black beans
1/2 yellow onion
2-4 cloves garlic
1 jalapeño pepper
maybe 2/3 cup frozen corn, derfrosted
cumin, salt, black pepper
butter or decently flavored oil

This could not be easier, although it does take time. First, sort your beans and put them into a large bowl or pot. Cover them with twice their depth in water and leave them for several hours, or overnight. See, you can even sleep while cooking. It's great.

The next day, boil the soaked beans until tender. Usually this takes about an hour, but it varies depending on bean age. You may need to add more water so things don't stick. Then drain the beans, reserving liquid. Or, you know, just pour off any excess liquid on the top, so you have a pot of mostly beans and a cup or so of liquid. It depends on how lazy you are.

Warm a few glugs of oil or a chunk of butter in a wide, deep frying pan. You can use almost any oil here, as long as it has some flavor. I like to use some olive and some peanut oil. Or you can mix oil and butter: it's your call. Chop up your onion and garlic and add them to the pan with a liberal seasoning of cumin. While they're softening, mince your jalapeño finely. Don't cut off your finger. Add the pepper and corn to the pan, stir to mix, and let everything cook on medium until soft.

Defrosting corn: stick your corn in a small bowl or cup, and cover it with hot water. Pour the water off. Repeat once or twice. The corn is now defrosted. It won't actually hurt to use still frozen corn here; it will just make the cooking take longer. So do whatever floats your boat.

When things are looking soft and smell so good you wouldn't mind climbing into the pan with them, add your beans and a cup or so of their liquid. Mash some of the beans into the pan with the back of your spoon. You can mash to any level of chunkiness; it's fine. Bring the pan to a slow simmer and cook down until everything is at the texture you want, stirring occasionally to keep dry bits from sticking to the pan. My refrieds usually take about 15 or 20 minutes, longer if the pan wasn't hot enough. Taste and correct seasoning, then eat.

You can do anything with refried beans: make tacos, burritos, or enchiladas, fry them in quesadillas, or just bowl it up with rice, salsa, and sour cream or (in my case) good thick yogurt. Congratulations: your dinner cost, what, two dollars? It is an awesome dinner. Eat it and be happy.

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