We eat a lot of refried beans at our house. Tacos or burritos are one of the most kid friendly vegetarian meals going. A taco spread is an instant party and like all good party food it has the added advantage of allowing kids to build their own meal. I’ve seen children make a taco consisting of nothing more than grated cheese and a taco shell and I’ve barely blinked – taco time is party time and its nice to have a break from playing food cop. A taco dinner makes a nice colorful spread, so lay out tacos and fixings and let the kids pick and choose, even the fussiest eaters can surprise you, when given a bit of food autonomy they tend to try a bit of everything. Have enough fixings and hot sauce available for the adults to build a more sophisticated version and everyone goes home happy.
Refried beans aren’t in fact twice fried as the name would suggest but beans fried in their cooking liquid with onion and spices and then mashed. You can re-fry almost any beans, you can even re-fry leftovers. When I make Cuban black beans I’ll often re-fry the leftover bean stew for tacos the next day. I’ve even re-fried left over white bean salad. (It was pretty good too!) If I’m using canned beans to make quick refried beans I’ll use a combination of white bean and borlotti beans, but if I’m making refried beans from scratch I’ll always use black beans. Dried black beans are easy to come by now. I was in the country over Easter and I’d brought black beans from Sydney but I noticed they were available at the local Coles. You know something’s gone mainstream when you can find them in a country supermarket.
Once you’ve made you’re taco base of refried beans it’s time to add your fixings. The most basic taco spread for me includes shredded iceberg lettuce, a salsa fresca, grated cheese and hot sauce, but my go to additions are a good guacamole and this carrot sofrito. I used to be partial to sour cream but my local burger cafe serves soft shell tacos with a drizzle of creme fraiche and I’ve become a convert. You can serve the creme fraiche straight but I usually season it with some crushed garlic, salt, a few dashes of hot sauce and finely chopped coriander.
This recipe is more of a base from which you can improvise and adapt. Refried beans are frugal peasant food so use what you have to hand. If I’ve got fresh coriander I chop up the stalks and add them when I fry the onion. If I haven’t got fresh coriander I’ll use some dried oregano. My major innovation with black beans is that I no longer pre-soak them before cooking them. I’ve found cooking the dried beans without soaking cuts out an extra step that makes me more likely to cook up beans fresh instead of reaching for a can. Plus cooking black beans without soaking first makes them much more flavorful. I was converted to the no soak method of cooking black beans by this post by J.Kenzi Lopez-Alt in Serious Eats. Once you read this you’ll never soak your black beans again!
This recipe makes a whole heap of refried beans but although I’ll usually cook up a pot of black beans I don’t use them all at once and store half the beans in the fridge or freeze them for later use. You can use these refried beans as a dip, a side to baked sweet potato or a sandwich filling, on toast with some mashed avocado for brekkie and, of course, they go with pretty much anything that’s Mexican inspired in your repertoire.
Refried black beans
- 500 grams dry black beans
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 sprigs of thyme (optional)
- 3 bruised cloves of garlic
- 2 teaspoons of salt
Cooking the dried beans
- Rinse black beans place in a medium size pot and cover generously with water. (About 2 1/2 litres) Add aromatics, bring to a boil add olive oil and simmer black beans covered on a low heat for an hour. After an hour add salt and check beans for water. Depending on the age of your beans un-soaked black beans will take an hour and a half or more to become tender. Keep simmering beans until tender.
- Remove aromatics and cool and store in refrigerator or freezer in their cooking liquid if not using immediately.
For the re-fry
- 1 teaspoon chipotle chilli powder
- 1 teaspoon of chilli powder
- 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
- 2 onions, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- Chopped stalks from a bunch of coriander (optional)
- Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan. Saute the onion until translucent, then add garlic and coriander stalks and saute for a couple more minutes. Add chilli powder and ground cumin and saute until spices smell aromatic.
- Add cooked black beans along with liquid to the pan. Bring to a simmer and mash beans with a potato masher in the pan. Simmer black beans for about 10 minutes until the beans reach the desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add more water if they are too dry for you. Some folk like their black beans looser but I like my refried beans slightly drier, so they stick to the tacos instead of falling out.