Frijoles negros — black beans with epazote, whole and refried

A Classic Mexican Recipe
Easy Recipe for Frijoles Refritos Negros — Refried Black Beans
Seasoned with Epazote

For such a basic, simple food, a bowl of black beans, known to some as turtle beans, can be so satisfying, warming the tummy and the soul. A simmering pot of beans means home and hearth to me. Left-over beans can later reappear as refried beans, refritos. Mexicans love beans with every meal, from breakfast to dinner. Frijoles Refritos are often served with a plate of Huevos Rancheros or Huevos Mexicanos. For dinner, beans are a course unto themselves, served in small earthenware dishes in their broth before dessert makes its appearance. 

The variety of beans available here is awesome. Peruano, flor de may, bayo, negro. Flor de junio, ayacote y pinto. The litany is starting to sound like a line from a song. It could be set to music, no pun intended.

The weather has been cloudy and cool lately, really wonderful. The unexpected coolness helps us temporarily forget the sear of summer. Northerners would laugh to hear me call today’s weather cool at all, but everything is relative, right? A pot of beans bubbling on the stove helps me hold to the illusion that this is really winter.

Simple Black Beans

  • 1 lb. (1/2 kilo) black beans
  • 2 quarts  (2 liters) hot water
  • 1/4  onion, sliced or chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 sprigs of fresh epazote, if available
  • Prepare the beans by first picking through them to remove any bits of dirt, plant matter or little stones. Using a colander, rinse under running water.
  • When clean and rinsed, put the beans in a large pan or dish to soak in very warm water for 18 hours. This removes much of the phytic acid* which interferes with the absorption of calcium and other minerals.
  • Cook the beans until almost tender, about two hours or so.
  • Just before the beans are done, add about two teaspoons of salt or to taste, and fresh epazote if you are fortunate enough to find this herb. Continue cooking until beans are tender. Eat as is with the bean broth, or mash into refritos.

Epazote, also known in English as wormseed or Mexican tea, is mostly found in central and southern Mexico, and is used to season beans, quesadillas and soups. It can also be found in the eastern U.S., where it is considered a bothersome weed. I have read that it grows in Central Park in New York City.

Years ago, while traveling across Mexico, we stopped at a large camp along a river to park our travel trailer for a week’s stay. Also staying there were a couple of manual laborers who worked for the park’s owner.  Every morning, they would cook a pot of beans. When the beans were tender, they would continue to cook them until the beans were almost completely dry. In this form, they stayed fresh until the workers returned in the afternoon. They would then add water to rehydrate the beans for their meal. Such is the ingenuity of  people who live without refrigeration.

Refritos or Refried Beans

  • 4 cups cooked black beans, including broth
  • 4-6 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped onion
  • dry, crumbly cheese, such as cotija seco or ranchero seco
  1. Heat oil in a skillet and cook onion until starting to turn golden brown.
  2. Add cooked beans and mash beans with a potato masher while cooking over medium heat. Leave some pieces of bean for texture.
  3. When the beans begin to dry out along the edges and are heated thoroughly, turn out onto a plate and garnish with a dry, salty cheese, such as queso añejo or queso seco.

Frijoles refritos can be used as a filling for quesadillas or as a topping for tostadas. Refrito means “very well fried”, not fried again.

Notes:

Beans can be soaked using the quick soak method: boil two cups beans and one quart (one liter) of water, to which is added 1 teaspoon of salt, for one minute. Cover, and let sit for one hour. After one hour, drain, cover with one quart of fresh water, and simmer until tender.

I use a rustic, low-fired earthenware bean pot, but you can use any heavy pot or a pressure cooker.  Mexican cooks claim the beans taste much better when cooked in earthenware. I like to think that by using one, I add my name to a long roster of traditional cooks.

Fresh lard, prized by Mexican cooks for the flavor it imparts, is the fat of choice for making refritos. While we may blanch at this, being thoroughly indoctrinated against all things with animal fat, lard does add an incomparable taste, so I’m told.

*To learn more about removing phytic acid from beans and grains, read how to soak beans.

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12 thoughts on “Frijoles negros — black beans with epazote, whole and refried

  1. JCS

    I once rinsed & soaked some black beans overnight & all the black/ purplish color leached out of them!!!😳…now I just do a good rinse & throw in my crockpot to cook a good portion of the day!!! I did try a pressure cooker but the consistency of texture was not quite right!!! I guess the saying of “You can’t hurry a good thing!” still holds true!!!

    1. Timing is eveything in a pressure cooker. I find 20 minutes is best for black beans, allowing the pressure to come down on its own. They come out quite tender for soup or refried beans. Some color washes out in soaking, but they take so much less time to cook, and are still black. But whatever works best for you!

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    1. Quite correct. Epazote is Teloxys ambrosioides. Wormwood is Artemisia absinthium. Epazote is sometimes commonly called wormseed, but this is confusing, as it is not the same as wormwood. Thanks for setting us straight. I will correct the text.

      1. Jens Laundrup

        Artemesia is not necessarily poisonous. Artemesia Dranunculus is Tarragon. It has numbing properties and if you eat enough of it, it becomes poisonous. Absinthe gets its name from Artemesia Absinthium and again, if you eat a pound, it may have other effects but in absinthe, it is quite harmless. In the 1800’s it was banned because it was thought to cause blindness, but it turned out to be the wood alcohol they used to make cheap absinthe was the cause of that. Thus you can purchase it again. I cook several old recipes (from around the age of the founding of Rome) that use Artemesia Sinensis and Artemesia Absinthium and according to food scientists I know at the local university, there is no harm. It adds a very pleasant bitterness to food (if you do not use too much).

  4. Anonymous

    Thanks ever so much for publishing this my sobrino estan casomos con un muy bonito mujer de la sur de Mexico. I really apreciate the recipies

  5. Casey Storer

    Ok this is to easy why I have not made these is silly.
    Black beans are the Beef of the Veggie world to me they are amazingly satisfying to all the senses.
    Looks like I will find a pot like that to put on BBQ !!!
    18 hrs looks like I have been soaking them about 14 hrs to little

    1. I like your description — “beef of the veggie world”. LOL. I agree completely. I would not eat any other bean if I could have black beans all the time. If you can’t find this type of bean pot, any large pot will do.

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