Beans are easily the most versatile staple of Mexican food. They can supplement just about any dish you create, and sometimes they’ll even star as the main attraction.
I’ll list three options that will help get Mexican beans in your kitchen as soon as possible: the easy way, the hard way, and a good middle ground.
First up is the easy way. And by easy, I mean real easy. It looks something like this:
I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes use canned beans when I don’t have time to build a fresh batch.
You can get away with this when beans are acting as a supporting player in your cooking.
I got in the habit of buying Herdez and La Costena products while in Cozumel. Either of those brands will be sufficient, but even American producers of refried beans are putting out a decent product these days, so don’t sweat the brand too much.
But when beans are the central flavor in your dish it can be worth upgrading to a more authentic batch.
Which brings us to the second option…cooking your own pot of beans using lard. Otherwise known as “the hard way”.
This is how beans are traditionally cooked in Mexico and they are truly delicious.
Of course, this method takes some time. But it’s worth trying it at least once in your life to give you a sense of the difference in taste (and cost).
2 cups dried black beans (or pinto)
12 cups water
1 onion chopped roughly
2 tablespoons lard
salt to taste
It’s less common to soak beans overnight in Mexico and more common to let them cook for a bit longer on the stove, so we’ll do that.
You can usually find quality lard in the fridge at Hispanic markets and local butchers. I tend to stay away from the lard in the baking section of the supermarket as those versions usually contain trans-fatty hydrogenated oils.
You can also render your own lard at home using pork back fat. That’s beyond the scope of this Course but if you’re interested in it you can always email me about it.
OK, got your lard handy?
Rinse the beans in cold water. Toss any beans that float to the surface and drain the rest.
Add the beans to a saucepot and cover with 12 cups water. Add 2 tablespoons lard and the roughly chopped onion.
Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Partially cover, and let simmer for 2-3 hours.
Beans need time to cook, but luckily they aren’t too picky about the exact cooking time. Start taking bites of them after 1 1/2 hours. If they are still hard or grainy they need a little more time.
If the water level gets low you can add a few more cups. Ideally you always want a bit of water covering the beans. And note that these will be resting in the bean broth when they are done, like this:
In about 2-3 hours they’ll be done: soft and creamy throughout with no graininess.
Add 1 teaspoon of salt and let simmer for a bit longer, another 10-15 minutes. Taste, and add more salt if you want. Beans are hypersensitive to salt amount so be sure to give them this final simmer after adding the salt. And don’t be shy about adding another pinch of salt as it can really enhance their flavor.
When cooked in lard and properly seasoned, these beans will be uber-satisfying.
They’ll keep in the fridge for a few days, but not much longer. Luckily though they freeze quite well, making it easy to stock individual sized portions in the freezer.
You can portion them out into cup sized portions (or larger). Be sure to include plenty of the broth too as it is delicious.
This batch made six 1-cup portions that will last in the freezer for months. Nice!
I’ll put the recipe box for these home-cooked beans down below.
Okay, now on to your final option for getting authentic beans in your kitchen. I call this option “the middle ground” because we are going to use some canned, cooked beans and add some authentic flavors to them. It’s a quick way to get some massively satisfying Mexican beans in your kitchen.
I’ll put detailed instructions in the recipe box below, but this picture sums it up quite well:
Saute 1/2 onion and 2 garlic cloves, and then add the following ingredients:
1 can whole black beans (drained and rinsed)
2 chipotles in adobo
1 tablespoon adobo sauce
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup stock (or water)
freshly ground black pepper
Once this simmers for a few minutes, add it to a blender or food processor and combine well. Take a final taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary — adequate salt level in this recipe will make a huge difference.
You’ll end up with a delicious black bean puree that would like to be your kitchen’s default refried beans recipe. You can use this puree in all sorts of meals. If the consistency is thinner than you’d like, simply simmer the beans in a dollop of oil (or lard!) for few minutes until they reduce down to a thicker consistency.
I use this third option, “the middle ground”, more frequently than the other two options. It’s so easy to whip up a batch and I find the flavor to be far superior to canned refried beans.
Okay, I’ll put recipe boxes below for the hard way (cooking your own beans) and the middle ground (making the black bean puree). No recipe box needed for the easy way!
Whichever option you choose, it’s time to get some real deal beans in the house!
Click the ‘Next Recipe’ button down below to be taken to the next recipe, Mexican Rice.
Beans, Beans, Beans -- Frijoles de Olla
- 2 cups dried beans
- 1 small onion
- 2-3 tablespoons lard (optional)
- 1 teaspoon salt (plus more to taste)
- 2-3 quarts water
- Sort through the beans and discard any rocks or shriveled beans. Rinse the beans and drain well.
- Add beans to a pot and cover with 2-3 quarts of water, or so the water level is 2" above the beans. Add the roughly chopped onion and 2-3 tablespoons of lard.
- Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and partially cover. Let simmer for 1.5-2 hours.
- Ensure that the water level is well above the beans by adding more water if you need to.
- Start tasting them after 1 1/2 hours. If they are hard or grainy they need a little more time.
- Once they are close add 1 teaspoon of salt and simmer for another 10-15 minutes. Salt to taste and add more if necessary. (I probably used a heaping 2 teaspoons total for this batch.)
- If you want, portion into 1 cup sized bags (or jars). Include plenty of the broth in the portion bags. They will keep in the fridge for a few days, or in the freezer for months at a time.
Easy Refried Beans
- 1 can black beans (or pinto beans)
- 1/2 onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 chipotles in adobo
- 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- freshly cracked black pepper
- 1/2 cup stock (or water)
- Start by peeling 2 garlic cloves and roughly chopping 1/2 onion. Cook the onion and garlic in a dollop of oil over medium heat (you can leave the garlic cloves whole).
- Once the onion is starting to brown, approximately 5-8 minutes, add 1 can beans (drained and rinsed), 2 chipotles in adobo, 1 tablespoon adobo sauce, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and 1/2 cup stock (or water). Let simmer for a few minutes until heated through and then add everything to a blender, combining well.
- Take a final taste for seasoning and heat. Add more salt if necessary and if you want more heat you can add more chipotles (or adobo sauce).
- Serve as is or saute them in some oil (or lard!) over medium heat for a few minutes to thicken them up.
- Store in an airtight container in the fridge. (Keep in mind that beans don't last long so eat 'em up soon!)