Kind of like how I confessed to not making my own bread all the time, I have to confess that I've never used dried beans in any of my culinary endeavors. I feel a little ashamed. I mean, dried beans are part of the frugalista arsenal, right? Not to mention that my husband and I were vegetarians for a couple years and we ate a lot of beans during that period - I still didn't bother with dried beans. Any savings was just not worth the inconvenience in my mind. So, I had my stash of dried beans for food storage (you know, for the end-of-the-world earthquakes or the inevitable zombie apocalypse), but never really thought I'd use them. The canned ones didn't cost that much anyway.
But I've considered trying to use dried beans now and then. Usually when I come across an article about the money-saving side of using them. Compared to the canned kind, dried beans are a steal. For the price of a 16-oz. can of beans (around a $1), you could get a whole lot more if you buy them dried. Still, I was unmotivated and, admittedly, a little daunted by the idea of using dried beans.Then I came across a recipe in my new - you guessed it -Pioneer Woman cookbook that uses dried beans (the recipe is here). I wasn't super-interested in just eating plain old cooked pinto beans, but when she mentioned making homemade refried beans my interest was piqued. So, here's my adventure with dried beans....
I retrieved my big bag of pinto beans from the pantry, dusted it off, measured the four cups the recipe suggested, and rinsed them. I dumped them into a pot, covered them with a couple inches of water, added some chopped up bacon, and turned on the heat.
Three hours later...
They didn't look like the plump, evenly colored beans in the cookbook's photo. They also tasted like dirt. Word to the wise: don't use a bag of beans if it's coated in a layer of dust. They're probably too old and they'll end up tasting all tough and dirty like mine. (Update: there is a suggestion in the comments on how to cook old beans. I haven't tried it myself, but it's worth a shot. Better than throwing them away, right?)
On my next shopping trip, I bought a pound or so of pinto beans from the bulk bins at the health food store. I picked up some more bacon and headed home, determined to make an edible pot of beans.
Ta-da! It worked! And it only took a couple hours (instead of the three-plus hours from my first attempt). They all looked uniformly light brown and they were soft like my usual canned beans. Now, I could give a whole tutorial on how to use dried beans, but being the newbie I am to this, I thought it would be better to find a really helpful link so we could learn together. Here the info about storing and soaking dried beans; here's the link on how to cook them. It's not rocket science, I know, but I didn't want to lead you astray. Best coming right from the bean source, you know?
After I seasoned the cooked beans with some salt and pepper, I transferred the beans to a bowl and started mashing them. Pioneer Woman says to use a potato masher; I used my immersion blender thing. According to Pioneer Woman's refried beans recipe, while you're mashing you should add some kind of fat to improve the texture. She suggested shortening, lard, bacon grease, or butter. Butter seemed the least scary of the choices (and the only one I had anyway) so I added a tablespoon like suggested. Of course, she was right and it did help.
Anyway, you just smoosh them until you get them to the consistency you like. I don't mind mine kind of lumpy (plus my arm was getting my tired and my blender started smell a little smoky). Next time, I'll use a potato masher. Since I wasn't going to use my refried beans for a few days, I put them in some glass canning jars and stuck them into the fridge to wait until I was ready for them.
To be continued...
A recipe using your homemade refried beans coming soon (as in, tomorrow or Saturday). So get soaking those beans and cook them tomorrow. Don't worry - I'll wait.