Vegetarian variation of Rick Bayless’s “Classic Mexican Fried Beans”

refried beansIn his classic guide to Mexican cooking, Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, Bayless writes of this recipe, “this is one place where pork fat makes an enormous flavor difference.” It’s true. Like most things in life, these beans are even better with some bacon. But this version, made with pinto beans cooked in the slow cooker with kombu, is quite good. Thick, rich, and, well, meaty. Yet clean.

In fact, my original plan for this weekend’s post included meat. I had planned to make  an elaborate steak chili based on one that an intern in my office made for the fall pot-luck. (Yes, my office has a pot luck. I am very, very lucky.) But then I noticed that my bank balance was a bit off after my first post-divorce, new federal filing status paycheck.  Less than it was supposed to be. Apparently the single-person tax is higher. So I now have even less money. Which isn’t great. But it could be worse.

I don’t always appreciate everything that I have. Because I’m a hopelessly flawed human. Usually, though, if given sufficient time to ponder, I manage to come up with something reasonably positive. At least in writing. It’s my strategy for avoiding misery. So. The upside to my new financial reality.

First, I really like beans, which are notoriously affordable.

Second, while I would prefer to have more money, I still have enough. And I have so much more than many, a fact that I’m reminded of every day that I spend out in the world. I may not be wealthy, but I am not poor. Indeed, I’m quite insanely over-privileged. And grateful.

Third, this little shot of reality forced me to be flexible. Which is something I need more of. Yesterday morning, in yoga, the intention was to explore what happens when we let go, go with the flow. Anne used another word, which despite persistent efforts, I have not been able to remember. And, sadly, she did not record this class, so, unlike many of her other classes it’s not posted on her Soundcloud. But, while I may not be able to remember the specific word that Anne used, I got the gist.  Oh, and as an aside, Anne has been posting a whole bunch of her Forrest yoga classes, for free! She’s an incredible teacher.  Generous, creative, and wonderfully clear. Her adjustments are also out of this world, so you should really try to see her in person. But these classes are a nice second best. Check it out. (http://bit.ly/1akRqxh)

Getting back to now, the lesson I’ve been learning, the lesson Anne emphasized yesterday, is to allow space. To do this, I’m learning to listen to my body. Separating experience into individual components–thoughts, feelings, and sensations. I’m starting to be able, in moments of overwhelm, to focus on sensation. Stay in my body. Which permits everything else to slow down and shifts the experience into a process of allowing rather than forcing. Eventually I come back to thought with a new calm. The power of mindfulness is not overrated. (http://bit.ly/5YxQvx)

Of course, this process is a lesson I am only just now beginning to learn. It is very new. So I fail, again and again. Yet each time I fail, I do so with more grace, as I slowly learn that this is what it means to live. To breathe into and from the space in between moments, letting go of the illusion that anything is ever under control. The reward is resilience. Quickly realizing that it’s okay to not make the steak chili. There’s always another option. Just don’t freak out. And, if you do freak out (I always freak out), don’t freak out about freaking out. It will be okay.

The cool thing is that now, almost a year after I went from once or twice a week yoga to a more regular practice of 3-7 days a week, I generally live in a more resilient place. So it was pretty easy for me to let go of the steak chili, think about what food I had, and decide to keep it super simple. So, yesterday morning, even before I went to yoga, I started the beans.

I cooked them in the slow cooker with a 3″ piece of kombu. In case you don’t already know (if you do, please forgive the repetition), kombu is a sea vegetable that “lends a delicious, meaty flavor to the beans (not at all fishy) and is mineral-rich, with additional B vitamins and trace elements, as well as a digestion-soothing gel that literally melts into the bean sauce.” (http://bit.ly/reIsZA) Note that the Weston Price article that I just linked to calls for pre-soaking for optimum digestion. My digestive system is pretty well acclimated to beans, so I don’t bother. But if you decide to soak, note that the beans will cook faster. Also note that the beans may fall apart a bit after long cooking. For this recipe, that’s a bonus. But if that’s a problem for you, try brining. (http://bit.ly/1hEnp2Q)

Assuming you are neither soaking nor brining, start by sorting through and rinsing one pound of dried pinto (or any variety of) beans. Discard any that are broken or discolored, rinse, and put in the insert of your slow cooker. Cover with about three inches of cold filtered water, add a 3″ piece of kombo, place the lid on the insert, and cook on low for 8-10 hours, or until the beans are tender. You want them to be on the soft side, so if you aren’t sure, cook a little longer. Once they’re done, salt liberally and allow to cool. The cooling period lets the salt fully permeate the beans. This amount will be enough to double the following recipe. If you’re making less, freeze the extra beans, making sure they’re covered by cooking liquid, or reserve for another use.

Now for the recipe. The following amounts make about 2 cups, enough to serve 1-2. Feel free to double if you’re cooking for more.

1 T. butter, olive, or vegetable oil
1 sm. yellow or onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 c. undrained, seasoned cooked beans, ideally slightly warm to facilitate mashing (if you’re using canned beans, drain and rinse well)
salt, if necessary

1. Heat the fat in a large cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for a minute or two, and then add approximately one cup of beans, using a slotted spoon. Mash the beans coarsely using a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon. When they’re mashed to your liking, repeat with another spoonful. Continue until you’ve incorporated all of the beans.

2. Once all the beans have been mashed, add about 1/2 cup of the bean cooking liquid or, if you’re using canned, water. (Bean cooking liquid alone is enough reason to make your own beans. It’s so good!) Stir the liquid into the beans and continue to cook until the beans are just a little more soupy than you want them to be. They will thicken once you take them off the heat.

refried beans and eggsSalt to taste and serve, either as a side for fried eggs, as I did this morning, as a filling for burritos, or as a side. Or, if you’re feeling incredibly lazy, eat them as is, with tortilla chips, as I did last night. It’s true that this doesn’t rate super high on the scale of excellent single person self-care, but, well, there are more shameful suppers.

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black bean tacos w/ sauteed kale, chevre, and tomatillo salsa

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about space. For example, so far my favorite of the sketches I’ve written with my comedy ensemble is almost entirely silent. This despite countless hours of writing and rewriting and working on other, more densely worded pieces. The space of silence. And I’m pretty sure the reason my garden isn’t as productive as it should be is because I filled every single square. The plants don’t have enough space to reach their full potential.

Of course, as seems to be the norm of my life lately, the place where the concept of space has been most profound is yoga. One of my teachers has also been fixated on the concept lately. I don’t know if I got it from her or she got it from me or if we both came to it separately in the way that ideas float around the universe and land on people who are in the same place. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is this realization that growth requires space. I’m slowly learning that the insistent pushing and tight control I’ve always thought was necessary actually inhibits growth. Instead, it happens when I stop trying so hard, when I let go. Which does not come naturally, at least not at this point in my life.

Yesterday I finally unpacked the last of the boxes left over from my move, including the ones marked “random,” which I’d left so long because I just couldn’t deal. Up til now my tendency has been to hold on. Not obsessively. I am no hoarder. But I find it difficult to let go, both physically and emotionally. So, yesterday, as I faced the boxes full of journals and photos and letters and a million tiny fragments of who I used to be and lives I used to have, I decided to practice this new concept of space by getting rid of everything.

Of course, because I’m me, that didn’t happen. I had to go through it all first to make sure there was nothing essential. Which meant that my unpacking of these few boxes wound up being an all-day trip. I traveled through time, looking at snapshots and reading journals and letters that spanned decades.  I succeeded in letting go of some things, but I kept a lot. And by the time I finished putting everything away I was spent, definitely not up to cooking. Yet I needed real food, something nourishing. Not cheese and crackers or chips and dip.

My original plan for the day was to make frittata. With cauliflower and Swiss chard, something that I eat very, very happily every couple of weeks. Because It’s super easy and delicious. But, when the dinner bell rang, I had no taste for eggs. And no desire to cook. Although I had beans in the fridge, that was not what I wanted. Because, as much as I love them, one can only eat so many beans in a week. It’s true that I haven’t written much lately, which could be interpreted to mean that I have not been cooking and eating beans. But my silence means only that I have not cooked or eaten beans worthy of writing about.

So it was with great reluctance that I pulled out some beans. Black ones. Then, behind the black beans, I found a small container of leftover kale that I’d sauteed a couple of days before and forgotten. In a flash of inspiration I remembered that on a whim the day before I’d picked up chevre. And suddenly, just like that, I was totally excited about dinner. In the space of letting go of my plan, I made up something new. Which turned out perfectly.

black bean taco w kale, goat cheese, and tomatillo salsaThe amounts listed below make a single serving. Multiply as needed.

1/2 cup cooked, drained black beans (canned are fine)
1/2 cup sauteed kale
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
chevre
2 flour tortillas
1 T. grapeseed oil
salt to taste

1. Heat a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. (If you don’t have a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, rub a tiny bit of oil on the skillet before you heat it up) Warm the tortillas, turning, until lightly browned. Roll the tortillas together, put them on a plate, and cover with a kitchen towel or another plate so they’ll stay warm.

2. Add the greens to the skillet for a few minutes, until they’re hot. Put the greens aside and wipe out the skillet.

3. Return the skillet to the heat and add the grapeseed oil and a couple of tablespoons of water. Let it heat for another minute, then add the garlic. Saute for 3-5 minutes, until the garlic is very soft and the liquid has evaporated. Add more water if necessary. When the garlic is soft, add the black beans. Use the back of a wooden spoon to mash some of the beans. Stir, adding a bit of water to keep the beans from drying out, until heated through, another 3-5 minutes.

To assemble the tacos, divide the black beans between the two tortillas. Add the greens. Then top with goat cheese and tomatillo salsa. You could certainly make your own salsa, and perhaps one day I will post a recipe. But this time, being lazy, I used a jarred version. Frontera. It was good.