As a kid, I did not appreciate Mexican food because it was common and familiar to me. I often rejected the meals that I grew up eating in favor of “American” food. If you had asked me, “What’s your favorite food?” I would have readily listed pizza and pasta as my top two favorites. Since then, my food preferences have changed immensely. Don’t get me wrong, I still love authentic Italian food, but I also enjoy other cuisines and I especially love Mexican food.
As a teenager, I thought of Mexican food as “cheap.” Because Mexicans were often looked down upon in my community, Mexican food too was deemed “cheap” or “common” in my eyes. I wanted to eat the “civilized” food of the West. In my limited understanding, I equated that with American and Italian food.
I’m not sure when the shift away from this attitude began but as an adult, I’ve rediscovered the Mexican meals I grew up eating, that I took for granted. I now understand just how unique and rich Mexican cuisine is. In fact, Mexican cuisine was named an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2010!
In terms of authentic Mexican food, it doesn’t get much more authentic than the recipe for today. Beans are essential to Mexican cuisine. They were a staple in my house growing up. Frijoles de la olla, beans from the pot, are my favorite variation of beans (apart from refried beans!). When cooked well, they are flavorful, tender and filling.
I always eat a small bowl of beans immediately after they are done cooking. Sometimes without any embellishments, other times with a tostada and queso fresco. Either way, I enjoy them immensely. The recipe that I’m sharing today is native to my family, and I think, a pretty “authentic” Mexican bean recipe.
I hope you enjoy!
Notes: There are many questions about cooking beans. The first is about soaking, “Should you soak beans? If so, how long?” Soak if you want to reduce cook time, but not for too long. My grandma did not soak beans overnight because she thought that it caused the beans to become flavorless. Other food experts now agree. My family soaks beans for 30 minutes to an hour before cooking. Another question about beans is “When should you add salt?” My grandma did not add salt until the last 10 minutes of cooking time and I do the same. My only piece of advice here is not to wait until beans are completely done cooking to add salt, as the salt will not infuse into the beans and you will end up with bland beans.
Frijoles de la Olla:
Cooking Time: 35-45 minutes
Prep Time: 1 hour (soaking beans)
- 1 lb of dried beans
- ¼ onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt, added late
- A few sprigs of epazote
- 10 cups of water
Optional add-ins: oil, chiles (pequin and chipotle are my favorites)
- Soak: After washing beans and removing any debris or bad beans, soak beans for 30 minutes to an hour.
- Cooking: Bring 10 cups of water to a boil over high heat. Then add ¼ onion, garlic, and beans to pot. Cook covered* at medium heat. Set timer for 30 minutes.
- Salt: Add salt 30 minutes in and check for “doneness.”
- Done: Beans are done when they are soft but not falling apart. For me, 35-45 minutes on average.
*Make sure to cover your beans as cooking without a top can significantly lengthen cooking time.