I’m a mutt – a healthy mixture of Irish, Swedish, French, English and something else. But I’m not Mexican. Not even a little bit. At least that’s what my parents tell me. But I think otherwise. Mexican food is in my list of top 2 favorite cuisines, the other being Japanese. I’ve often mentioned my love affair with Mexican food, both the authentic and Americanized versions of it, but have never explained (or pondered) why. So I gave it a little thought.
Traditionally, these cuisines are very simple. Authentic Japanese food can be as simple as fresh fish and rice. Authentic Mexican food is as simple as grilled meat, beans and corn tortillas. And every time we visit my girlfriends Mexican side of the family, that’s exactly what we eat: grilled steak, boiled beans and grilled corn tortillas. Sure there are always extras like salsa, guacamole and chips, but I feel the simplicity adds to the appeal. When you minimize the components you open up the natural flavors of the ingredients. I found the same to be true in Spain. I lived there for 4 months and found the cuisine to be quite unique. Spanish cuisine is traditionally very plain: they generally avoid salt and spices in their dishes and you’ll rarely find condiments like ketchup or mustard. At first, it was hard to get used to, but by the end of those 4 months I loved it. I think in many cases, less is more.
Refried beans are a passion of mine. I could eat an entire bowl for dinner and be satisfied. For me, a good bowl of refried beans has a smooth texture with plenty of chunks, not dry but not too liquidy either. It also needs to be perfectly salted. I have tried many brands of canned refried beans. In fact, I keep a list of all the good and bad refried beans from a can, most brands being terrible. But then one day I decided to give up the canned variety and make my own, how hard could it be? Rather than scour the internet for a recipe, I headed over to Elise’s blog and got the inspiration from her Refried Beans. If you’ve never been, you must visit her blog: she produces some killer Mexican dishes. Starting from there, I created a quick and excellent side dish that often ends up being my main dish. If you do make these (and you should), I highly recommend some Homemade Tortilla Chips for dipping, they are the perfect combo.
2 cups dry pinto beans
1 large onion, chopped
1T olive oil
garlic salt or regular salt, to taste
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
1. Place the beans in a large pot and cover with about 3 inches of water and a good amount of salt. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer, about 1 1/2 hours. The beans are done when they are very tender and the skins begin to burst open.
2. Heat a skillet on medium-high heat. Add the oil and cook the onions until slightly browned.
3. When the beans are done, drain them and return them to the pot. Using a potato masher or other device (I use the end of a meat mallet), mash the beans to the desired consistency, adding water, as needed, to keep the beans moist. Turn the heat on to medium and add the onions and cheese (if using). Continue to add more water and salt as needed. Serve hot, using Homemade Tortilla Chips to dip.