Sunday, February 23, 2014

Larena's Borracho Beans

When my father asked my mom's dad if he could marry her, my grandfather had a few questions for my dad.  You see, my grandfather knew that my dad wasn't going to pursue riches or any sort of fancy lifestyle, and he knew that wasn't something my mom was looking for either in life.  He knew my mom wasn't a gourmet chef (after all, she was only 16 at the time!), but she also knew how to make cheap, simple meals in order to make ends meet.  Most of all, my grandfather wanted to make sure my dad would take happy, willing and able to care of my mom for the rest of her life.

He asked my dad "Will you be okay with just eating beans and cornbread every day?"
My dad responded with "Absolutely!  I LOVE beans and cornbread!"

Yeah, I don't think he quite understood my grandpa's point...  haha!  Grandpa was aware my mom knew how to make beans and cornbread, and he knew my parents' budget was going to be pretty tight and meals weren't going to be very extravagant.  My dad didn't really care.  He was raised by a single mom in Texas for many years, so beans and cornbread were A-Okay by him!  Living on a meager budget was not going to be a big problem for him, and it wasn't going to be a problem for my mother either.

My dad was born and raised in Texas.  My mother was born and raised in Texas.  My brother and I were also born and raised in Texas.  Where we grew up, beans and cornbread were a staple food!  You could go to H-E-B and buy bulk pinto beans for drastically cheap prices, and guess what?  You just bought an excellent source of a cheap protein that could feed your family for days.  Beans are incredibly cheap, and they can be delicious!  Nowadays, my dad can make a pretty fantastic pot of beans.  It's one of his specialty dishes!

I was never a very big fan of refried beans, but if you put some borracho beans in front of me - oh, it was ON!  I grew up on beans and cornbread, especially during the winter months.  Since my father was in the construction business, the winter season was usually less prosperous because people were saving up money for the holidays and then recovering from the holiday spending.  People weren't able to spend the money on getting the house fixed after taking a big financial hit at Christmas!  Throughout the year, my mom would buy staple foods that wouldn't spoil so that we could be sure to have plenty to eat during the months when income was a lot lower.  

These old, ingrained habits are largely why my pantry is so full all of the time!  At any given point, you can almost always find things like beans in my pantry!  But please, don't show up at my house if a zombie apocalypse happens :P  (In other words, I am not worried about anyone showing up at my doorstep looking to ransack my pantry!)  When I set out to make these Texas style borracho beans (translation: "drunk beans") the other day, all I had to buy was an onion, cilantro, canned tomatoes, a lime, and a garlic clove (I had one, but I wanted a fresher one).  I spent about $5 at the grocery store to make this meal, and it made a very large family serving!  I had the rest of the stuff sitting in the pantry (or fridge - bacon, bell pepper and jalapenos).  I always use the dried chicken granules to make my own chicken stock, and I always use whatever bottle of beer is leftover from previously hosted gatherings.  It is a delicious and cheap way to feed large parties of people!

Also, please note you can use a crock pot to make these beans, though I recommend using an enameled Dutch oven.  I do recommend doing steps 1-2 in some sort of enameled Dutch oven or other large pan on the stove (for at least 30 minutes) before you put it in a crock pot.  It will save you a lot of time, and you really should soak the beans for at least 4 hours.  If you have a large amount of time, you can put all of the ingredients together in a large capacity crock pot and just leave it overnight or in the morning before you go to work.

As I discussed in a previous post, if you are concerned about the alcohol in the beans, please look at this link.  Since you will be simmering the beans for over 2.5 hours, there will be less than 5% of that one bottle of beer left in your beans.  5% of the 5% of alcohol by volume in an average beer leaves you with about half of the alcohol in an Alcoholics Anonymous-approved "Near Beer"!  When you divide that out into how many servings this dish makes, the amount of alcohol is almost negligible.

Larena's Borracho Beans

1 lb dried pinto beans, washed (and “sorted” to ensure there are no rocks mixed in)
Water (no salt) to soak the beans
2 quarts chicken stock
1 ½ tbsp of Salt Grass Spice (if you don’t have it, use salt/pepper to your taste, and add about ¼ tsp paprika)
2 cans Mexican style stewed tomatoes, cut into ½” pieces
1 white onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 bay leaves
¼ cup pickled jalapeno slices, cut into half-slices
1 ½ cup (approximately) of chopped fresh cilantro, including stems
1 – 12 oz bottle/can of a dark beer (or a Mexican beer such as Dos Equis, Corona, Negro Modelo, etc)
3 slices of bacon, cut into ½” wide slices (or salt pork, bits of ham from ham hocks or sliced deli meat, etc)
½ of a bell pepper, diced  into ½” pieces
1 tsp mesquite flavored liquid smoke
1 ½ tbsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp cumin powder
¼ tsp cayenne
½ tsp garlic powder
2-3 tbsp of tomato paste (to taste)
a small squeeze of lime juice
Additional salt/pepper to taste

  1. Soak the beans (covered) overnight, or for at least 4 hours.
  2. Drain the beans, and refill the pot with enough chicken stock to cover the beans with approximately 2 inches of chicken stock (you may need to make additional stock, depending on the size of your pan).  Season with the Salt Grass spice (or salt/pepper/paprika if you don’t have any of the 7-spice).  Cover and bring the beans to a boil.  Once it has started to boil, reduce the heat to medium low, re-cover, and cook for 1.5 hours.  Stir your beans occasionally to prevent the beans from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  3. Once the beans have finished their main cooking process, add in all of the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine and distribute the ingredients.
  4. Continue to cook the beans, uncovered, for 1 hour, or until the beans are nice and tender.
  5. Taste the beans and add some additional salt or pepper if necessary (I add approximately 1 more tsp of pepper if I am using the Salt Grass steak spice).
  6. Optional step: you can crush the beans just a little bit with a potato masher or a meat tenderizer to thicken the liquid.  I prefer to just cook out some of the additional liquid instead!  The beans will be quite forgiving if you keep stirring and cooking them, uncovered, at a low setting.  Just keep an eye on them and don't let them sit for more than another hour or so.

For a nutritional value breakdown of this recipe, you can find it on My Fitness Pal by doing a search for "Larena's Borracho Beans."   Disclaimer: this nutritional value calculation is just an estimation.

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