Monday, July 14, 2008

Musical Fruit

Beans a la Charra

Growing up in South Texas, beans were a staple. My dad barbecued (before it was called grilling) a bunch of chicken, we had lots of ground beef and a pot of beans as our "stock-up" foods to get us through the week. My mom worked more than full-time in her store and daddy was a farmer/rancher with hours as varied as the seasons. But, with pinto beans in our refrigerator, a good meal was quick to prepare.

I still rely on those pinto powerhouses. I love the smell of cooking beans, it always reminds me of home. I don't make beans like my dad did back then, but we eat them almost as often. I like to cook up a crockpot full and freeze them in family-size portions. They are then simple to thaw and eat as is, or refry to serve alongside our favorite Mexican recipes or as a filling for burritos, bean rolls or on nachos and chalulpas.

I fell in love with the "a la Charra" method while pregnant with my oldest daughter. We lived in McAllen and there was a little taqueria that I frequented for Tacos Reynosa (grilled beef,sliced thin, in steamed tiny corn tortillas with diced onion and cilantro..and the BEST green sauce EVER). The tacos were about $4.00 for six little tacos and came with a free cup of beans. As my pregnancy progressed, the beans were a major craving. Now I make them at home and the added flavorings make for some of the best refried beans.

Crockpot Beans a la Charra

2 lb. dry pinto beans, picked through, rinsed well

Water to cover

1 onion, chopped

Pork of some sort, I use country ham pieces that are easy to find around here but hamhocks, bacon or ham chunks work well

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

More water to cover again

1 can Ro-tel chopped tomatoes and green chilies (use mild if you want)

(if you don't want to use Ro-tel, you can do freshly chopped tomato and a chopped, seeded jalepeno instead)

1 can of beer (omit if you wish)

Chopped cilantro to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

Before cooking beans in a crockpot, they must be soaked or they will NEVER get soft. So, the night before I cook beans, I clean them and put them in my crockpot (unplugged), covered with water and let them soak all night. The next morning, pour off the water, rinse the beans in a colander and return them to the crockpot. Add the pork, onion and garlic. Cover again with fresh water. Cook on low for about 8 hours. They should be soft at this point. Add the can of Ro-tel, beer and cilantro. Allow to cook another hour or so. Serve with cornbread or hot tortillas. Allow beans to cool completely before freezing.