To me, the foundation for good Mexican food is good beans and salsa, especially if it’s fresh and homemade. The best refried beans begin with frijoles de la olla (beans from the pot). We’re told to soak dried beans overnight before cooking them, but my Mom never did that, and I’ve found that not many Mexican women do either. They just pick over and rinse the beans very well, and throw them in a crock pot with raw onion, garlic, and plenty of water. Sometimes jalapenos and cilantro are added. About, 4-6 hours later, you have a house that smells totally Mexican and some beans just asking to be turned into frijoles refritos (refried beans).
After you’ve made the beans, you now need a fresh and spicy salsa that hopefully is not from a jar or can. There are so many different types of salsa, which then vary by household and restaurant. Salsa ingredients can be raw, roasted (oven or open flame), boiled, or a combination of the three. I tend to prefer my salsa roasted, but boiling ingredients can be quicker and more convenient.
The recipe below is a version of salsa verde that utilizes both boiled and raw ingredients. I use jalapenos, but you can roast up some mild green chile or poblanos if you don’t want to risk the heat. It’s been difficult to consistently find hot jalapenos in El Paso. It seems like the green chile has been hotter than the jalapenos. Mild jalapenos are seen as a huge problem in El Paso. If it’s not hot enough, El Pasoans will complain that the salsa tastes like hierba (grass).
Salsa VerdeYou can also add a couple of tomatoes to the pot during the last few minutes of boil time. Before adding them, score the bottoms of the tomatoes with a knife, making an X, so that they are easier to peel.
½ of an onion, peeled
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 tablespoon white vinegar or lime juice
handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
- Place the jalapenos & onion in a small saucepan & cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, & simmer for 10-12 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool a bit.
- Don’t throw out the water. Remove the stems from the jalapenos. Place the onion & jalapenos, salt (begin with ¼ tsp, adding more if needed), vinegar, and about ½ a cup of the reserved water in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth, adding more water until it reaches your desired consistency.
- Place in a bowl & stir in cilantro. Keep refrigerated. Will keep for about 5 days.
Refried Black Beans
I hate to admit this, but refried beans have taken me a long time to perfect. For some reason my Mexican genes would fail me when it came to this simple dish. I’ve picked up tips from friends, family, and cookbooks, and now I can consistently make some decent refritos.If you use canned beans, you might want to fry up some onion and garlic before adding the beans to the pan, or you can just add onion powder and granulated garlic.
2 cups black or pinto beans
about 1 cup of water (preferably the cooking water from the beans, aka bean juice)
1-2 tablespoons canola oil
salt & pepper
smoked paprika (optional) or 1 tablespoon of canned chipotle (optional)
- Heat the oil in a pan or skillet (I use a 9″ stainless steel omelet pan). Add the beans.*
- If you want quick refried beans, add just enough water to cover the beans. If you have time and want a creamier taste and texture, add plenty of water.
- Bring to a boil, lower heat, & simmer for a few minutes. Season if necessary and add paprika or chipotle (optional).
- Begin mashing with a potato masher or the back of a spoon. Simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened to your desired consistency.
- Serve as a side dish or as a taco filler.
Place a cupful of beans in the sartén (frying pan) to “güiso.” A lovely cloud of steamy bean heat will rise skyward, and you will know that you have done the güiso correctly. Many people don’t know that the güiso stage of cooking adds a caramelized topping and incredibly delicate and lovely flavor to beans.