Refried beans are, and have always been, one of my favorite foods. From the giant portion puddled next to my enchiladas at every Mexican restaurant, to the trough I guiltily point to when ordering a burrito at Chipotle, to the giant pot my friend Ginny's mom makes every Christmas morning, I will never turn them down. Even when I start with too many chips, even when I tell myself I should be going for the healthier black beans, even when I've already had one too many tamales, I'm just never going to turn down the refried beans.
So, when I went to Guatemala several years ago, I was a bit surprised to encounter refried beans that looked a bit different than all of the above. For one thing, the beans were black beans, not the pinto beans I was used to. They were also thicker and stiffer than the soupier refried beans I knew, and they had been plated in sort of a twisted log shape that seemed to defy physics.
Then I took a bite.
Look, I'm not going to tell you that refrying pinto beans isn't tasty, because of course it is. But these refried black beans were something else entirely. They were sweet, first of all, with a depth of flavor from onions and various spices blended in, and they had been cooked into more of a paste-like consistency, perfect for piling into a warm corn tortilla along with eggs. It was breakfast heaven.
The week I was in Guatemala I ate many delicious dishes, including pepian and carne asada and sweet bread and pupusas, and so, so many churros, but these beans made the biggest impression on me, for sure. It's amazing how something so simple to prepare can taste so, so good. Beans get cooked with spices then blended with onion and cooked again (admittedly, you have to cook them for about an hour, but I think it's worth it). It makes for a filling and delicious breakfast, and pairs excellently with escabeche as well as the more traditional plantains.
It's going to take a little more practice to get the shape of the log exactly right, but I'll settle for a result that's less "artistic" and more "B.M." if it tastes this good.
Guatemalan-Style Refried Black Beans
- 1 lb black beans
- 1 tbs ground black pepper
- 1 tbs salt
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp chili flakes
- 1 tsp granulated onion or shallot flakes
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 4 cups water plus more, if needed
- 1 white onion, chopped fine
- olive oil, for frying
- cilantro, for garnish
- tortillas, for serving
- Add all ingredients except white onion and olive oil to a slow cooker and slowly cook on low, for 5 hours. You may need to add more water if the beans seem too dry.
- At this point, you can serve the beans whole, or fry them. To fry, heat a little olive oil in a large skillet. Reserve a couple tbs of the chopped onion and add the rest to the oil in the skillet. Cook the onion over medium heat until well-browned, then transfer to a blender. Add the cooked beans and their liquid and puree.
- Heat a little more oil in the skillet and pour in the pureed bean mixture. Cook on medium heat for a bit. As the moisture evaporates, lower the heat and cook the mixture for about an hour, until it is thick enough that you can "roll" it into a rough log shape. Transfer the roll to a plate and garnish with cilantro and reserved chopped onion. Serve immediately with warm or fried tortillas and eggs, for a full breakfast.