Put 2 cups of sorted, rinsed, beans into an earthenware pot filled with purified water, bring to a boil, and then turn off the heat. Let the beans soak in the olla for an hour or two to reduce sugars which can cause gas, drain the beans, add fresh water and bring to a boil again. Turn the heat down to a good simmer and add the Big Five: a couple of whole serrano chilies), a branch of fresh, easy to grow, epazote, about 3 TBS of bacon fat or corn oil, a white onion(quartered), and 2 or 3 whole, peeled, garlic cloves. After a couple of hours or so of gentle cooking, lift one or two beans out of the pot and blow on them. If their skin wrinkles, or the beans are beginning to soften, it is time to add salt to taste. Remember, in high altitude regions, this may take three or so hours.
If salt is added too soon, as with most proteins, cooking time is slowed down, and the beans will be tough. Salt should be added during the last 45 minutes or so before the beans are done. If you add salt too late, the salt will not be absorbed, and the beans will seem tasteless if you are used to using salt in your cooking. Pull out the spent strands of epazote, the whole serrano chilies, and dispose of them. Ladle the beans into bowls, crumble queso fresco, a soft Mexican Ranchero type cheese, over them and and serve with a basket of hot corn tortillas and a molcajete full of uncooked Mexican tomato salsa to add as you wish. Savor Frijoles de la Olla as a side dish, or toss a light salad and enjoy them as a hearty meal. Sometimes after several courses at a traditional Mexican table, a small bowl of beans might be served last as a symbol that no one will leave the table hungry.
Are “refried” beans fried again and again? Find out in next Thursday’s Comida.