Refried and Whipped Beans a la James

 

James and I were housemates at the Fletcher Collective, a cooperative house I lived in during my senior year of college. It was a wonderful experience, and I miss those co-opers every day, especially when I step into my kitchen. At Fletcher, the kitchen was the liveliest room in the house. Someone was always in there chopping onions, heating up water for tea, or just taking a break in between school or work to chat — and the best part is that someone was always baking.

Being a cooperative house, we ate dinner together, and we took turns cooking each night. Thursday was always my favorite night of the week, because that was the night that James cooked. James shuns measuring spoons and cookbooks, and instead is one of those natural chefs who can just walk into the kitchen and start cooking dinner effortlessly, simmering some beans here, sautéing some potatoes there, or, on special occasions, whipping up pot pies from scratch for the whole bunch of us.

James clearly favors the black bean of all legumes, as this dish of refried and whipped black beans made it to the table without fail every beloved Thursday evening. I’ve been missing those beans lately, so I asked James to write out a recipe for them. And James, always a gentleman, broke his no-recipe pledge and sent me his secret. Enjoy.

A note about the author’s style of cooking: “This is a great recipe for anyone; if you follow it exactly, you will enjoy the product. If you choose to deviate along the way, you may find something that you like even better. Usually, I cook with neither measuring devices nor timers. While the beans are being simmered, if the water is running low, I’ll add a pour. If, when I’m whipping the beans, there is too little oil, I dollop some down. I recommend that you trust your intuition, too.”

Refried & Whipped Beans

 Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dry black beans
  • 4 cups water
  • ½ cup olive oil (tip: start with less oil — a few tablespoons — and work up, depending on your preference)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 3 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • salt, to taste

 Instructions:

  1. Soak two cups of black beans in three cups of water overnight (or for as long as possible) in a two-quart sauce pan.
  2. Chop one onion and one head of garlic finely and add them to the two-quart sauce pan.
  3. Bring the water with beans and vegetables to a heavy simmer—just shy of a boil. Cook for two hours (or until soft).
  4. Pour the beans into a large skillet—I use a ten-inch cast iron pan. Any pan will do, but I recommend one that has a thick bottom, there’s a risk of burning during the final steps—pour ½ cup of olive oil into the beans, and turn the burner to high heat.
  5. Stir using a large spoon or fork, be sure to smash the beans. Meanwhile, add three tablespoons of paprika, two tablespoons of cumin, and one teaspoon of chili powder. Add salt, to taste.
  6. When the beans have been rendered to a paste, you can switch your spoon for a fork or whisk and whip the beans. For the best whipping results, you can slowly add an additional ¼ cup of olive oil—but not all at once! 
  7. That’s it! Serve your refried whipped beans with corn chips, tasty salsa, and some sprigs of cilantro.
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