“Pot beans,” as frijoles de olla translates in English, are incredibly versatile. A pot of stewy beans on hand — whether frozen or just cooked — can turn into homemade refried beans, form the foundation of a non-Texan chili, be mashed into a base for bean dip or used to fill burritos. I like a big bowl of these hot from the pot, often served with cornbread or warmed tortillas and long-cooked pot greens on the side. Try some chopped onion or cilantro and shredded cheese to garnish the beans.
1 pound (about 2 1⁄2 cups) dry beans of any type: red, navy, pinto, black, adzuki, speckled, what have you
2 tbsp bacon drippings
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
1 bay leaf, broken in half
Salt, to taste
Sort the beans by spilling them onto a baking sheet and removing any debris and broken beans. Transfer the beans to a colander and rinse them under cold running water. Pour the beans into a deep, heavy, 4- to 6-quart pot, such as a cast-iron Dutch oven, with a lid. Add 2 1⁄2 quarts cold water (use filtered water if yours is hard), then remove any beans that float. Add the bacon drippings, onion, garlic and bay leaf. Bring the beans to a rolling boil over high heat, and then reduce the heat to low so the beans are at a gentle simmer. Cover the beans, tipping the lid a bit, and cook until they are thoroughly tender, about 2 hours. Add boiling water to the pot as needed to keep the broth covering the beans at its starting level.
When the beans are completely tender, season with 1 to 1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt and cook 15 minutes longer. Eat as is, with salsa and additional chopped onion, or continue to the next step for refried beans.
Makes 8 to 10 servings as a side, 4 to 6 servings as a main course.
Make Homemade Refried Beans With These Extra Steps
How to make refried beans: Drain the beans in a colander placed over a bowl to catch the broth. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat an additional quarter cup of bacon drippings or vegetable oil, then add the drained beans, a couple of spoonfuls at a time. Mash each addition of beans with a wooden spoon or, my preference, a potato masher.
When all beans have been mashed, stir in broth to give the beans the consistency of mashed potatoes — creamy, but with some larger bits. Taste and re-salt if necessary.
Read More: Read a full excerpt about how cooking beans helped one food writer discover her own self-reliance in Finding Self-Reliance in a Pot of Dried Beans.
Robin Mather has written about food for more than 30 years in newspapers and magazines ranging from the Chicago Tribune to Cooking Light. This recipe is an excerpt from her book, The Feast Nearby, where she tells the story of a three-day blizzard that tested her resourcefulness and taught her self-reliance breeds confidence. Robin is now a senior associate editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Find her on Google+.