Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I am a person who has struggled to live in the present.  I tend to live in the future, anticipating that the next big thing will be the right fit for me.  Occasionally, even, I will take amazing experiences from my past and push them into my future, in hopes that they will occur again.  One of those things is moving back to my desert home, New Mexico.  Having (realistically, now) loved 80% of my short 2 years there (versus my 50% over 2 years in Lancaster), I keep trying to re-write NM back into my life.  While not physically there, I mostly long for the things I knew there:  the towering Sandia mountains, the ease of public transit, bike paths along the Rio Grande, and then, of course, the food.  Red and green chiles, fresh tortillas, beans and more beans, Frito Pie (picture: a small bag of Frito chips cut open and chili, cheese, and sour cream dumped on top...and eaten out of the bag), and the list could go on. 

So, yesterday, when I was skimming through MWL, and came across my first recipe, refried beans, I had visions of what could very well come together in my kitchen.  After we ate our meal, a lone, bittersweet tear sat in my eye.  It is good to "come home" in brief moments at the dining room table.

82.  Mexican Refried Beans, pg. 101

I started the beans cooking, promptly forgot about them, and went to work outside in the garden.  Awhile later, I came back in, smelled singeing beans, and raced to save them.  They were save-able, and a near disaster was averted.  (This very disaster has happened to me at least 3 times in my life...why is it so easy to walk from a pot of cooking beans??)

I cooked the beans by themselves, knowing that I would want to sauté the onions by themselves later.  After the beans are done cooking, reserve about a cup of their liquid, but dump the rest out.  I don't have a potato masher, so I just plopped them into my mixing bowl and let the paddle take care of it.  (If you have neither, my host mom from a stay in Ciudad Juárez mashed her beans with the bottom of a drinking cup.)  While they were mashing, I sautéed the onions with a teaspoon of cumin and about a 1/4 t. cayenne.  I am of the stubborn opinion that refried beans aren't really refried beans unless they have at least some cumin in them.

Use an amount of oil/fat that you're comfortable with, and when you add the beans, you can always add some of their cooking liquid to thin it out a bit.

I also added about 8 or 10 cherry tomatoes from the freezer for a little extra something-something, but the beans were delightful in taste trials before that addition.

Overall:  4.8 out of 5  If you have the time to make your own refried beans, this is a great starter recipe for you.  Do it!

83.  Navajo Fry Bread, pg. 83

Hellloooo, amazing-tasting-fried-dough.  So do you see where we're headed now?  Do you see the final dish?  Are you drooling yet?

I divided the recipe to get two servings -- 1 1/2 c. flour, dash of salt, just under 3/4 t. baking powder, 1/2 c. water, and just under 1/4 c. milk.  So simple.  While, yes, you will need to knead this dough, try not to overknead it -- I've made a tough fry bread in my time by overkneading.

For frying, I just used my high-walled frying pan, and made sure the bottom was well-covered with a mix of oil and shortening.  When I first learned how to make these from a Mennonite Navajo woman in Farmington, NM, we, of course, used lard and lard only.  Which is fine, if you're into that. :)  (The picture of the three lovely ladies shaping fry bread were my co-horts in Service Adventure in 2002/03 -- Gail (Guengrich) Miller, Anja (Baumgart) Phillips, and Ellen (Bradshaw) Goodman.)

I stretched my dough with my hands, holding the dough up in the air and rotating it so that it's more or less the same thickness.  Definitely punch that hole in the middle -- helps the middle part cook thoroughly.

After we fried them, then came assembly into Navajo Tacos.  Fry bread, then the beans, then lightly steamed corn, (cheese if you want it), lettuce, and salsa.  (Or see page 146 for other ideas.)

Overall:  5 out of 5  The meal was silent, except for sighs of delight after bites.


  1. I love refried beans too. Every so often I cook a huge pot of beans then freeze them in smaller portions. It is so quick to heat up one portion and mash them up!

  2. Frito Pie sounds delicious...

    ....and when you're in NM, it's much easier for me to visit. Not that I am biased or anything... ;-)

  3. I must try this! I did my student teaching at a Native Am. school and these are totally authentic. I usually steer clear of deep frying because I'm not experienced, so good to know what you did instead.