This post is the first in a series of 'how to' posts. I've been observing a few of our customers in the market and getting e-mails asking how to use some of the most basic Mexican ingredients. I guess I take for granted some of the knowledge that comes natural over the years by just eating, cooking or watching others handle Mexican ingredients and I now need to take a step back and answer things like...
how do I use corn tortillas?
do I heat them or can I eat them cold?
how do I work with dried chilies? do I cook them, soak them, boil them, toast them?
how do I use courgette flowers?
A common one revolves around beans. Beans are delicious, nutritious low in fat and quite filling. Black beans, or turtle beans as they are also known, are part of our staple diet in Mexico. They are full of iron and really easy to cook. I often find people buying the cans of beans we sell in the shop considering to buy the raw ones, but after some pause, choosing to buy the tinned ones instead. Don't take me wrong, the tinned ones are lovely and very handy, but I often wonder why people prefer them to the real deal, to the ones you make from scratch. Are they put off by their look, the overnight soaking, the cooking and the storing of a whole kilo of cooked beans? I must admit that the general lack of enthusiasm for this wholesome raw ingredient baffles me.
I've posted before my recipe for home made refried beans using pinto beans. Here I want to share with you how to make whole black beans from scratch. Once they're made, they are very versatile: you can eat them whole, as a soup (as I have done here) or you can make them into black refried beans as the recipe above. Whatever you chose to do with your beans, this post is meant to demystify the handling of this lovely pulse and to encourage you to cook them from scratch. Don't be put off by having to cook a whole kilo of these beans, they freeze extremely well, so cook the kilo and divide it in 4-6 portions and freeze them whole. Whenever you're making refried beans or your favourite chili con carne, take them out and defrost them overnight or in the microwave.
Note: you will need a pressure cooker for this; if you don't have one and are a Mexican food enthusiast, you might consider investing in one? Argos does all sorts of pressure cookers for as little as 23 euro and you will use it many, many times in Mexican cooking.
Empty the bag of beans into a colander and rinse them well under the tap with cold water and drain.
Pour the beans into your pressure cooker and fill the pressure cooker 3/4 full with water. It's important that your beans are completely covered in water and that you have a fair bit of water above them. I used about 3 litres, but this of course depends on how big your pressure cooker or pot is; if you don't have one, you will require to soak the beans overnight in water before you start and you will need to simmer them for at least 3 hours.
Add the onion, garlic, epazote and salt; put the lid on making sure you set the pressure gauge to 1, which means plenty of steam will escape while the beans cook. If you are usuing a regular pot, cover it but keep an eye on it to make sure it won't boil over and spill the beans (quite literately) all over the stove.
Turn the heat up to medium and cook the beans for 35 minutes after the pressure cooker starts whistling, which means the inside of the cooker is hot and the steam has started to escape through the top valve. After the 35 minutes, take the pressure cooker off the heat, open its lead following the usual precautions (NEVER attempt to open the lid immediately, let it rest until the security valve has gone down and it is safe to do so, follow your manufacturer's instructions). Check the beans to see if they are cooked. If they are still a little hard (like mine below), top the water up (remember you want them covered in water/juice). Put the lid back on and return them to the stove for a further 10 minutes.
Your beans are done! Once they are cold, you can divide them into portions and freeze them in their juice. I eat some of mine as soon as they were ready as a soup. I served them in a bowl with plenty of their cooking juices, sprinkled with some fresh chopped coriander and half of a crushed chipotle chili in adobo to add a bit of a smoky flavour to the bean soup. My grandma used to say that one should have a bowl of freshly made black beans once a month to restore our iron supply in the body... I must say, never did I encountered sounder and tastier advise!