04 February 2015
How to cook beans from scratch & classic refried beans
Beans! They're the perfect food: cheap, delicious, versatile, easy, abundant, suitable for both vegetarian and vegan diets, and healthy. There is literally nothing not to love. So let's talk about how to cook a pan of dried beans from scratch and create a lovely pot of deliciousness.
How to cook beans from scratch
Dried beans should generally be soaked overnight. It's possible to do a quick soak using hot water, but that may require a longer cooking time later. I prefer the overnight soak.
Measure out the amount of beans you plan to cook, keeping in mind that they'll swell to twice their size after soaking and cooking. For this demonstration, I used a 1-lb bag of pinto beans.
Sort your beans before soaking them. Just pour a handful of dry beans onto a plate or other surface and quickly look through them. If you see any chunks of dirt, rocks, or beans that look really past their prime, pick them out and throw them away. Repeat this until you've looked through all the beans. It may seem ridiculous to look through all your beans, but it is 100% possible to find rocks! Get them out of there and avoid cracking a tooth, okay?
Put your sorted beans into a mixing bowl and cover them with twice their depth in tap water. Cover loosely and leave on the counter overnight, or for at least six hours. The beans will absorb the water and get bigger.
When you're ready to cook, pour out the soaking water and replace it with new water, covering your beans by at least an inch. Pour the whole shebang into a large saucepan with a lid. Add a bay leaf (optional, but nice) and bring the pot to a boil.
Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until your beans are tender. Your beans are done if their skins split when you blow on them. The taste test is also reliable.
Now you are the proud owner of a pan of lovely cooked beans in their own broth. What will you do with them?
I decided to make classic refried beans with my beans, and to freeze the leftover bean broth for future soup purposes. If you want, you can also freeze your beans in their broth. It works beautifully.
Classic refried beans
olive oil or butter
jalapeño or other hot pepper
salt, red pepper flake or dried chile of choice, cumin, oregano
cooked pinto beans
bean broth or water
In a wide skillet or saute pan, warm your oil or butter on medium heat. (For ultra-classic refried beans, I hear lard is the fat of choice.) Add a diced onion or two and saute until softened. Finely mince your jalapeño and add it to the pan. You can use as many jalapeños as you desire, depending on your spice tolerance.
Season with salt, red pepper flake, cumin, and oregano to taste. You'll want to be a little heavy-handed with all the spices because the beans are otherwise a big bland neutral palette.
When your onions and jalapeños are both softened, add your beans and enough broth or water to make everything a bit sloshy. Reserve a little liquid to add if needed. Cook your beans together with your onions and jalapenos, stirring frequently.
After everything is hot through, start crushing your beans with the back of a large spoon or with a potato masher. Mix and mash until your beans are the texture you desire; add more liquid if necessary. Taste and correct the seasonings, and you are done.
Classic refried beans are good in tacos, burritos, enchiladas, tostadas, or quesadillas, among other things. I used mine to make 16 bean and rice burritos (flour tortillas, beans, rice, salsa, scallion, cheese), which I put in the freezer for future dinner endeavours. The rest got eaten in quesadilla form almost immediately. So good.
What would you make with a big pan of freshly cooked beans?