1. Making Refried Beans
Refried beans are actually only fried once; the prefix "re" is a colloquial form of emphasis in Mexico. So, technically, refried beans are "well-fried beans."
To make traditional refried beans:
- Sauté diced onions and garlic in lard or bacon grease
- Add cooked (or canned) pinto beans
- Mash beans into a paste
- Cook over medium heat until soft and creamy
Tortillas taste best when heated until soft and pliable. They can either be toasted or steamed.
- Put tortillas either in a steamer basket or on a rack set above a pot of boiling water
- Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until soft
- Or, stack tortillas between damp paper towels and microwave for a minute on high
- Put tortillas directly onto a gas or electric burner
- Cook on high heat, flipping with tongs, for a few seconds on either side
3. Using Spices and Dried Chiles
Toasting spices brings out their flavor. Dried chiles can either be toasted and ground like spices, or rehydrated and pureed to make sauces.
To toast spices:
- Heat a dry sauté pan over high heat until hot but not smoking
- Add spices and cook, stirring often, until spices are fragrant, not allowing spices to burn
- Grind, if desired, using either a clean coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle (molcajete)
To rehydrate chiles:
- Remove and discard the stems and seeds
- Put the chiles in a pot and cover with water
- Bring the water to a boil, and let simmer for 10 minutes
- Blend mixture in blender, then strain
4. Blackening Fresh Peppers
Blackening fresh peppers (whether bell peppers or chiles) deepens their flavor and makes them easier to peel, if desired.
To blacken peppers:
- Using tongs, hold a pepper directly over a gas burner, rotating it until all surfaces are evenly blackened (if you don't have a gas burner, broil the peppers, rotating them regularly)
- Put the pepper into a bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside for 10 minutes
- Using a clean kitchen towel, rub off the blackened skin
5. Using a Molcajete
A molcajete, a rough-surfaced traditional form of mortar and pestle, is perfect for crushing spices or making salsas and guacamole. They're large, round and squat, with three legs. Much like cast-iron skillets, molcajetes need to be seasoned before their first use.
- Wash the molcajete with warm water and dry thoroughly
- Take a handful of raw rice and crush it with the pestle into the bowl
- Discard the rice powder, then repeat with more rice until the rice powder is white, not gray
- Add a few cloves of raw, peeled garlic and a teaspoon of salt (pepper and cumin are optional) and crush those, rubbing them around the inside of the bowl
- Discard garlic, wash the molcajete with warm water (no soap), and dry
In future, just wash the molcajete with warm water after use.