For me, a hearty bowl of beans is a meal in itself, made even better with a quesadilla or a chunk of cornbread. The innate peppery nature of tequila adds character to frijoles, especially when they’re cooked en olla, an unleaded clay pot (like the one pictured above), which imparts earthiness, authenticity, and depth of flavor.
1 pound pinto beans, rinsed and sorted
1 quartered white onion
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon comino (cumin)
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
Salt to taste
Place beans in a pot (preferably earthenware) and cover with 2 inches of water or broth. Bring to boil; immediately reduce heat and simmer for 1 1/2–2 hours, adding salt the last 30 minutes of cooking (see sidebar for tips and additional flavorings).
Note: For frijoles negros (black beans) add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pot and 2 bay leaves, omit comino, and add a few sprigs of epazote, the “bean herb” along with salt, toward the end of cooking. Black beans require longer cooking time than pintos, simmering until thick and inky. Mound thickened and lightly mashed black beans (leaving some whole for texture) into corn husk boats. Use a squeeze bottle to drizzle Mexican Crema over top and drizzle with ancho chile.
For Crema Mexicana: Heat 1 cup whipping cream to 85 degrees, stir in 2 tablespoons buttermilk. Leave at room temperature overnight, then refrigerate for a day. Salt to taste.
Hints for Cooking Frijoles:
- I don’t soak beans before cooking.
- Always add hot water to the pot, if needed, as beans simmer. Too much liquid dilutes flavor, so add a small amount.
- To prevent beans from toughening, add salt during the last 30 minutes of cooking.
- Add 2 or more dried red chiles–smoky, dried chipotles, anchos, guajillos, or New Mexico chiles colorados to the beans as they cook. Remove stems and seeds and plop chiles in the pot.
- Add a generous splash of tequila or mezcal during the final 10–15 minutes of cooking.
- Cook frijoles a day in advance of serving to produce a thick and flavorful broth. The beans will absorb more flavor, too.