Once again, I’ve dropped the blogging ball. All I can say is that I have some good excuses: I’ve been having fun! I’ve been drinking wine with my girls, camping with myself**, working in North Dakota*** for a week and catching up with family.
Which, in a round about way brings me back to this post. I started writing this a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t get off my butt and finish until an impromptu visit with my Aunt Helen and Uncle Don.
My Aunt Helen is my mother’s youngest sibling****. My Uncle Don is her husband and, from all appearances, her best friend and the love of her life*****. We had a great day together strolling around town and chatting. I mentioned my blog and told her about this post because, well, my Abuela Agarrada was her mother.
As soon as the words “Abuela Agarrada” left my mouth, my Aunt Helen started cracking up. It’s a well-known fact that my grandmother was not a nice lady. In fact, she was downright MEAN. I’m not going to go into all the details, because some of them are quite ugly, but suffice to say, we were never close******.
In spite of her generally sour attitude, certain things about my grandmother nevertheless imprinted on me. One of those things was her cooking. I have no idea if she actually liked to cook, I just know that she was doing it. Her house always smelled amazing. Every now and then I will run across an authentic Mexican restaurant and the combined smell of homemade flour tortillas, menudo, tamales, carnitas, tacos, and, of course, re-fried beans will put me right back in that little house on the edge of Muskegon Heights and I’ll think to myself . . .
“Ah! Grandma! That miserable bitch*******! I should make some re-fried beans”
Which is exactly what happened the day I made this recipe. I smelled delicious Mexican food and went right home, made these beans and started writing this post. Then I got busy and blew it off. But, in honor the lovely day I had with my Aunt Helen and with reminiscence of my grandmother, I have finally gotten my act together and present to you the recipe for Abuela Agarrada’s Mean Beans********!
Mean Beans (serves 8)
1 lb dried OR 3 x 15-oz cans pinto beans
3 slices bacon, diced
2 small onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 scallions, diced – one reserved for garnish
8 oz cheddar, shredded and divided in two
2 tsp cumin
salt & pepper to taste
Prepare DRIED beans: If you are using dried beans, prepare them using your preferred method. I like the quick-soak method followed by using my pressure cooker for soaked, natural release. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, it’s going to take a while. In either case, you want the beans to be very tender, but not falling to pieces – they will be cooked for at least another 20 to 30 minutes with the other ingredients to develop flavor. When beans are done cooking, drain off excess water, leaving just enough in the pan to barely cover the beans.
Prepare CANNED beans: If you are using canned beans, open ’em up and drain, but reserve the liquid from one of them.
Prepare the other ingredients: Cook the diced bacon in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat until all the fat is rendered and the bits are crispy. Add the onion and garlic, reduce heat to medium and cook until onions and garlic are very tender, 5 to 10 minutes.
Finish cooking the beans: Add the bacon drippings, bacon bits, onions and garlic to the beans. Add the cumin and cook over medium heat until the mixture starts to bubble, stirring occasionally. Cook until the liquid is reduced and the beans are very tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
Putting it all together: While still on stove, carefully mash the beans using an immersion blender or, for a more rustic texture, a potato masher. Mash beans to your preferred texture (I like mine with a bit of texture, but not too lumpy) and continue cooking to the desire consistency (I like mine to be a bit thinner than what you would get in a can of re-fried beans – easier to dip into). When beans are the right consistency, stir in 3/4 of the scallions, half the cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook for just a few minutes more until cheese is melted and scallions are fragrant.
Finish it off: Remove the pot from heat and either transfer the beans to a serving dish or leave them in the pot********. Top with remaining cheese and scallions. Serve when cheese has melted.
* Abuela is Spanish for “grandmother”. Agarrada is Spanish for “quarrelsome, mean, stingy”.
** I went here. I want to go back to there. Soon. Very soon!
*** I went here. I want to go back to there. If only to just lay on my back in a field and watch the clouds go by. Some day!
**** She’s also a judge, which on first blush might be kind of intimidating – except for the fact that she’s hilarious and rather silly.
***** Ah, to be so lucky! Not to mention their freakishly attractive daughters. Seriously, I can’t believe I’m related to people who look like that.
****** She always called me “little fatty” was I was young and told my mother that if I kept it up I wouldn’t fit through the door by the time I was 20. Not exactly endearing dialogue.
******* That’s not as harsh as it sounds. I actually do think of her with some fondness and smile. She wasn’t a likeable person, but there was some justification for that. She had a rough life. And she WAS my grandmother, so I certainly didn’t hate her. I just didn’t really like her. Except for her cooking.
******** I have no idea if my grandmother actually made re-fried beans this way, this is just the way I’ve always done it. I’ve never had a recipe to follow so this recipe either somehow comes from my Abuela Agarrada, Maria Reyes, or I was born with the knowledge.
********* WARNING: At this stage, the beans will be like molten LAVA. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO EAT THEM YET! THEY WILL BURN YOUR FACE OFF! I know it’s killing you, but you really must wait until they cool a bit.