October 13, 2009

Torta & Refried Beans

For the love of all things Tex-Mex. A torta is like a refried bean sandwich. I'm not a Mexican food authority, but I did live in Houston for 8 years, and this is divine. The refried beans are toasted with or without cheese, and then topped with lettuce, salsa, avocados, onions, cilantro, and tomatoes.
a few nice round french bread-ish rolls/bolillos (I used whole-wheat hamburger rolls)
a few pats butter
refried beans (1/2 cup should be good for 2-3 tortas)
lettuce, a few leaves, washed and dried
1 tomato, sliced
1/2 of a 1/2 of an avocado, into slices or dices. (I usually cut along the length of the avocado, and then make neat dices in the flesh, then push the skin inside itself to pop out the avocado.
1. Cut the roll in half. Butter the top side, and put about a 1/2" layer of refried beans on the bottom.
2. Cover the beany half with about 1 T of shredded mozzarella (I got out the box grater and gave it about 2 shreds)
3. Put in the toaster oven, to warm and brown.
4. Top with avocado slices, tomato slices and lettuce.

Some of the filling may spill out so get yourself some tortilla chips to get the rest. Canned refried beans are just fine, and perfect for a super-fast meal, but some homemade refried beans are worth the effort, so if you have time, make a vat, freeze the rest, and keep some on hand in the fridge for other meals (nachos, quesadillas, bean-queso dip, burritos, fajitas, etc.)

Refried Beans
1 cup dry pinto beans (I used 1/2 cup pinto, 1/2 cup kidney)
2-3 bay leaves (or epazote)
pinch asafoetida powder (skip if using epazote)
1 quart of water

First part:
Give the beans a good rinse, and soak in about 3-4 cups water for at least 6-8 hours. Either do this at night or in the morning. Once they have soaked, dump out the soaking water (like putting it in your garden, or that kind of thing) and rinse the beans. Soaked beans give off raffinose a complex carbohydrate that is harder for our guts to break down. Excess raffinose is gas causing, so this may make beans more digestible. Hence always rinse soaked beans with fresh water.

Next, the most common way for most people to cook beans is to cook them on the stove. This is a time-suck, but you can usually just put the beans on the stove with enough water, set over medium heat, and go about your business. Coming to check on them every so often. To cook the beans this way, add the beans to the pot, cover with 1 qt or so of water (you may want more or less) add in bay leaves, and asafoetida, and set over medium heat. Stir every so often. Test for doneness after 30-45 minutes. In this case, you want the beans to look as if they are falling apart. That takes about an hour on the stove.

Some lazier and smarter methods include:
1. cook them in a pressure cooker. Cover with enough water (fill to just below 2-3" of the top, set whistle for 3-4 whistles, over medium heat. This should take 20 minutes.
2. cook them in a crock pot and forget about them. Cover with enough water, and set on high heat and leave them be overnight or all day.

Either way. Reserve the excellent most precious broth. This is good, no superb broth for a soup base, can be re-used in cooking, whatever. Just save it. Put it in zip lock bags, throw in the freezer, and never be caught dead again, buying store bought broth. Ok I get (severely) carried away when it comes to cooking beans, but by golly, I'm a dietitian by training, so I must make you maximize the potential out of everything you eat.

Second part: once you cook the beans, and you've saved the broth, you are ready for re-fried beans.

finely dice 1 small onion
finely dice 1 clove garlic
optional: 1 jalapeno, deveined and deseeded, and finely chopped
2 T vegetable oil (now true refried bean aficionados will use lard, so if this is your thing, do it)
all of your beans and broth, with bay leaves discarded.

1. In a cast iron skillet, or other wide skillet heat the oil over medium-high heat, until shimmering. I like cast iron, because you can use a potato masher in the pot without worrying about scratching the bottom of the pan.
2. Add in onions and brown nicely. Next add garlic and jalapeno. Stir around until aromatic.
3. Add in 1/2 of the beans with 1/2 of the broth. Stir around, and begin mashing with a potato masher. It may appear as if the broth will never disappear, and you now have skillet soup, but it will thicken up, so keep on mashing.
4. Add the rest of the beans and broth and continue to mash. Add some salt and adjust for taste. Continue cooking until it thickens nicely without becoming too thick.

You now have some excellent, healthy, delicious refried beans. Next time, it will pain you to open a can of them, but now you know.

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