11 June, 2012

Holy Frijoles! with I Heart Cooking Clubs

The market in Chiapas was full of beans and grains
We saw more beans in one day that either of us had in a lifetime
We discovered many new varieties of beans that day
Do you ever go to a restaurant and order your meal based on the side dishes that come with the main course?  I do!  I love creamy potatoes and sauteed vegetables.  If the side dish is something I do not like, like Eggplant-ick! then I move on and select a new course because why order something when you will not enjoy all of it.  Beans to me are the perfect side dish.  They are a catalyst for sauces and are tasty enough to stand on their own, can anyone say Chili?  Oh yah!  

Pink and Purple- oh my!  These beans were painted for artistic purposes
My love for beans has only been expanded by people like Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo and Rick Bayless who both help bring not just good beans and recipes but share the ultimate tool for beans with the whole United States; the Olla!  You see if you have never made beans in an Olla than you have never truly tasted beans.  Both Rick and Steve sell Olla's via their websites and ship throughout the states...get thee a clay pot my friends!!!

A simple Olla makes all the difference
As soon as we got settled into our home in San Miguel de Allende, GTO we started stocking the home and kitchen with dire necessities.  A clay Olla was on the top of the list, after a dining table of course!  We headed to an artisan market in Dolores Hidalgo, GTO and discovered Olla's of all shapes and sizes.  I bought a medium sized Olla for just $15 Pesos!  We took it home and seasoned it that evening.  Just like cast iron, clay needs to be seasoned before use.  To season your brand new Olla fill it with water and salt it heavily.  Place on the stove over medium to low heat and let it simmer away possibly even over night.  The salt will seal any small cracks and the water will help with the dusty flavor you get from an unseasoned pot.  Let your Olla cool, rinse it out and you are ready to make your first pot of beans.

I just love all the colors and textures, beans are so photogenic!
Now why go through all the trouble of seeking out a clay pot for cooking your beans?  What makes the beans so much better?  The beans cooked in an Olla are creamier in texture and they actually cook faster!  It is a perfect win-win.

This simple dish of Guacamole, Fresh Cheese and Beans was served with tiny Tostadas  in Chiapas

Perfect Black Beans

2 cups Black Beans, cleaned and soaked over night
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 small Onion, chopped
1 Red Bell Pepper, seeds and veins removed and chopped
1 Jalapeno or a dried chili, cleaned and chopped
Spices; I like a pinch of Epazote and an Avocado leaf but you can add things like 1/2 tsp cummin, 1 clove of garlic, 1 bay leaf... spice lightly, you want to taste your beans!
Salt or Bullion Cube

Cover the beans with water and let them soak for a few hours.  Rinse the beans and cover with water a second time, let them sit over night.  I find that soaking the beans twice, even if it is for the same amount of time, helps eliminate...er...side effects ;)  I have noticed that the beans bubble when I add water for the second time.

When you are ready to make the beans chop your onions and peppers.
IN A SEPARATE PAN*** saute the chopped vegetables in the olive oil until they begin to caramelize.  They do not need to be cooked perfectly tender, just long enough to really extract some flavor.
Drain the soaking beans and pour the beans into your Olla (heat off***) add the caramelized vegetables, your spices and a hefty pinch of salt or a bullion cube. 
Cover the beans with cool water.
Place your Olla over low heat and let simmer away for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.  Do Not Stir!

***Helpful Hints*** When working with an Olla it is important to remember that it is delicate and made of clay.  Rapid changes in temperature can easily destroy your pot.  For that reason I do not like to saute the vegetables in the Olla and then add the cold damp beans to the pot.  Or if the water boils down I never add cold water from the tap, I always use the hot water, although I usually do not need to add any since the beans were so well soaked. Maybe I am just over cautious but after a few exploded glass jars during canning... you get a little jumpy with your prized possessions.

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