Cooking with EL CHAVO!

How to make Frijoles Rancheros

(al estilo Carmela)

And so the re-purposing of that initial pot of beans continues. This variation is easily the one that gives me the most satisfaction, a legume experience that is pure gustatory pleasure and reminds me of better days.

This recipe might not mean as much to you as it does me, but this is one of the few dishes that I both enjoy making and eating. Plus it brings me back to an earlier era, a comfort food from a time when the family life wasn't the mess it has now become. I'm not going to bore you with the details, just trust me when I tell you that not all Mexican families adhere to that Advertisment version of the harmonious family. Sometimes, you just have to say "no mas."  

This recipe comes via my grandmother, aka Carmen, aka Carmela, aka Abue. She made these all the time for special occasions, usually for something like the Navidad gatherings, or El Dia del Pavo.  But they seemed to be present at any sort of special event, anything that seemed worthy of an extra effort. They do take a bit of extra work, not much, but just a small amount of attention. And it's crazy to think how nowadays that little bit of effort can make such a difference. And how it can mean so much more. 

The Basics. All you need for this recipe is some corn oil, an onion, salt, a can of pickled jalapenos, soy chorizo, and of course, a pot of beans. The fresher the beans, the better. I'm not going to give you proportions like 1/2 a teaspoon of salt, 1/2 cup of oil, because frankly, I don't know what those units of measurement might be. Just trust me on this one, let your tongue be your guide.

There's a variation on this dish that people call frijoles charros, but those are usually whole beans. I'm not sure where this comes from (probably Northern Mexico) but my Abue always called them Frijoles Rancheros, thus that's what I call them.

Let's start by sauteing half a white onion in a bit of oil. Easy, eh?

Once that's been cooking for about 3 minutes, you can get ready to add the soy chorizo. My personal favorite is Reynaldo's as they make the best tasting soy chorizo I've ever had. "Soyrizo" brand is a joke. Trader Joe's brand is another joke. There's a few others out there and I've tried some of those as well, but they all pale to Reynaldo's. I think it's their experience with meat based chorizos that showed them how to spice up this tvp version. And it currently retails for around $1.50 a package, much less than those other options.

Uh, make sure you take off the plastic casing on the chorizo. Plastic isn't very tasty, despite what you might have heard.

I add the whole package of soy chorizo to the recipe, might as well make lots of beans instead of just a little. Fry it up under medium heat until it starts losing moisture and begins to brown. You might need to add a bit of oil as you go along, and maybe turn down the heat so as to not burn the chorizo. How much oil to add? A bit. You don't want it to stick but you don't want to overdo the oil either. Start with just a tad and add more as needed. Eyeball it. Finally, the day has come when you have to use your intuition. Make the most of it Big Boy!

Once you get the soy chorizo cooked up, transfer it over into a bowl. It'll make things easier plus you can use that same pot for the next step of this process. Here we see everything lined up: cooked chorizo, salt, jalapenos, cut onions, and a pot of beans. A favorite beverage to your side is optional, but much encouraged.

And here comes the main trick of this recipe: you need to blend these beans and the added ingredients down into as smooth of a paste as you can. Beans are not easy to blend so you will need to do it in small batches. So here goes the way I try to do every batch. First you add a piece of white onion, this is about an 1/8th but sometimes I do a 1/4th. 

Then add about 2 or 3 spoonfuls of beans. Your natural inclination will be to add more, to get it done faster. I suggest you figure out if your blender can handle it before you go bigger. Even with my trusty VitaMix, I have to take it easy. Make sure to add some bean juice into this mix as well since that will make it easier to blend.

Then add about a spoonful of the cooked chorizo. Carmela would always use pork chorizo for this recipe, since this was a time before the wonders of vegetarian options. But I'd bet she would have used this soy alternative just the same since she was trying to cut back on her meat consumption for health reasons. You could go with pork chorizo if you insist, but its really not necessary. I'm serious, it isn't. 

The other main ingredient: jalapenos en escabeche. This is how we add that wonderful kick to these beans. I like to add about 2 or 3 per batch, but you will have to adjust this to your own liking. Do not think you can eliminate these chiles all together though, they impart lots of flavor to these beans. If you don't like heat, do not make this recipe. 

I have a decent blender but I still just do a little at a time. You want to blend these beans and spices to as smooth a consistency as you can manage. If you get a few chunky bits and pieces, that's okay. Just aim for smooth.

Look at that blending action! If your beans get stuck, add a bit of the bean juice or plain water if you need to, just get it blending. The good thing about these beans is that you will simmer them anyways so if you have too much water you can evaporate it out, but it will just take longer.

You'll repeat these steps of blending onion-beans-chorizo-jalapenos-salt a few more times until you run out of beans or space for the blend in your pot. Those are my basic proportions but I always, always vary it based on how the end result is coming out. I wish I could give you a simple fail proof list of ingredients and their measurements but that just seems impossible. Cooking isn't about following precise orders though, it's about understanding a concept to which you strive and wiggling your way into that direction. So sez I!

Oh yeah, you can reuse the pot where you fried up the soy chorizo, that way you can use up all that pan-stuck extra goodness! (Try and use a pot with a thick base, I bet even a cast iron pan will do. Thin pots are likely to burn the beans.) Just heat the pot up again and add some corn oil. As you can see, I slightly burned the chorizo, but it's no problem. You just have to make do.

You just keep pouring every small blended batch into your main pot. Simmer these beans at the lowest flame possible and make sure you have a flat spatula so you can scrape the beans off the bottom. Don't want to burn the beans.  Once they are warm, they are basically done. But the longer and slower you cook them, the more they break down and the flavors blend in. As I mentioned before, stir this big pot of beans and taste it as often as possible. If it's not spicy enough, add some jalapenos to the next blending batch. If it needs salt, pues add some too. You might even want to add a bit of corn oil to make them creamier tasting, but that's not something I can properly teach you: let your beaner experience be your guide. And your tongue!

These pics come from 3 different occasions when I made this. One of those times I was using Embasa chiles but for some reason they turned out to be extra sweet, not something you would normally expect from pickled jalapenos. Luckily I tasted the beans early enough to know I should switch to another can, and I had some La Costena available to finish the job. Never trust proportions or what you did before: always taste and test as you make your recipe. This applies to all cooking, I suppose.

Looking good! This is the pot of beans you can leave on the stove at a very slow simmer, stirring and adding water as the party progresses, spooning some out into a pretty bowl while you keep the main pot warm. Carmela would also add some Monterey Jack cheese to these beans, melting it in at the last minute to make them even extra rich and creamy. I have made some cheese batches before, and though it is very tasty, it almost seems like overkill. Try it on a small batch to see what I mean, but you should really save your cheese for another time. But like I said, let your tongue be your guide.

They go best with a fresh batch of tamales, but these delicious beans stand up well on their own on a simple tostada. I prefer El Paraiso brand of tostadas. Just make sure they are fresh. An easy way to tell is to snap off a small piece of tostada: if it breaks easily, its fresh. If it seems hard to break, then they are likely stale and rancid. This test can be easily performed inside a store before you purchase. It's really no different than squeezing fruit.  

It might not look like much, but the spiciness of the chiles and the smokiness of the soy chorizo combine to create a flavor that is hard to resist and your friends will be hooked. More than a few that have tried these have asked me for the recipe, and it's pretty simple to make even though the complexity of flavors suggests otherwise.

Bring these to a friends Xmas, Halloween, or I Quit My Job party and you are likely to get invited to the next pachanga as well. It's cheap, easy, and vegan: what more could you want from a party food?


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