Instant Pot Refried Beans

June 28, 2018 at 10:32 pm (Alma's faves, Beans, Mexican & S. American, Monthly menu plan, unrated, Website / blog) ()

I used to make refried beans on the stovetop, but now that I’ve gotten an Instant Pot I wanted to figure out how to make them in the electric pressure cooker instead. I started with this recipe for creamy-dreamy pinto beans from Julie and Kittee, but I changed a few things.

First of all, if I’m going to the trouble of making refries I’m going to want to use more than 2 cups of dry pintos! I figured the maximum that would fit in my 6-quart Instant Pot would be 4 cups, so I doubled the recipe. Also, I wanted to take out some of the beans as whole beans before making refries, so I soaked my beans overnight and reduced the cooking time, so that the beans would come out soft but not falling apart. Then I tweaked the seasoning a bit. Below is my modified recipe.

These days I usually serve my refries with salsa and homemade plantain chips. Alma, at 3.5 years, is a big fan. I’ll try to add a post about how I make the plantain chips next. Read the rest of this entry »


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Borlotti bean mole with winter squash and kale

January 7, 2016 at 5:03 pm (101 cookbooks, B plus, Beans, Beans and greens, Cruciferous rich, Dark leafy greens, Fall recipes, Mexican & S. American, One pot wonders, Uncategorized, Winter recipes)

I made this 101cookbooks recipe right before I left for Israel last month, when I wanted to use up some steamed kale and some roasted squash.  I only had one serving, but I quite enjoyed it. I thought the dish was extremely hearty and flavorful, and made a great one-pot dinner. Beans and greens and chocolate. How can you go wrong?  I’ll definitely be trying it again. Read the rest of this entry »

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The lazy cook’s black bean recipe

January 7, 2016 at 4:48 pm (Alma's faves, B plus, Beans, Mexican & S. American, Website / blog) ()

This recipe from Serious Eats is supposed to be a super easy way to make tasty black beans. Black beans? Yes please. Lazy cook? Double yes. Clearly I had to try it. It’s interesting in that they recommend simmering the aromatics rather than sautéeing them first. Not only is it easier and faster, but the author claims that sautéeing sweetens the aromatics too much, so that they overpower the beans. I was intrigued. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kohlrabi slaw with cilantro jalapeño lime dressing

July 23, 2015 at 9:41 pm (Cruciferous rich, Mexican & S. American, Salads, unrated)

I bought a large kohlrabi without having any specific plans for it, then found a recipe on for a kohlrabi and carrot slaw. I used the recipe as a jumping off point, altered it based on what I had in the fridge, and ended up with a kohlrabi, carrot, fennel, and apple slaw with a cilantro jalapeño lime dressing. It was a little spicy and a little sweet, and both Derek and I liked it a lot! I didn’t measure anything, so below is my best guess at what I did. Read the rest of this entry »

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Chipotle-braised pinto beans with delicata squash

November 11, 2012 at 3:00 pm (Beans, B_minus, Cruciferous rich, Fall recipes, Mexican & S. American, Peter Berley, Quick weeknight recipe, Salads, Vegetable dishes, Winter recipes)

I made this recipe for “braised pinto beans with delicata squash, red wine, and tomatoes” a few years ago when I was visiting Derek’s parents in New York.  My mom joined us for dinner.  Since Derek’s father can’t eat much salt, I cut the salt back substantially, and just let each person salt the dish to taste.  At the time, my mom really liked the dish, but no one seemed to want to eat the leftovers, but maybe it was just because I cut out the salt.  Adding salt at the table doesn’t get the salt into the center of the beans and squash, where it’s needed.  I do remember being impressed that the delicata squash skin really wasn’t tough at all.  But overall I just found the stew a bit boring.  But I finally found delicata here in small-city Germany, and decided to give it another try. Read the rest of this entry »

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Seitan and vegetables with mole sauce

November 11, 2012 at 2:32 pm (Beans, B_minus, Fall recipes, Mexican & S. American, Peter Berley, Sauce/dressing, Seitan, Winter recipes)

Years ago I ordered the OLÉ MAN SEITAN at Angelica Kitchen in New York City, and loved it.  It was a whole wheat tortilla stuffed with seitan and roasted vegetables and topped with mole sauce.  It was huge, but so tasty I finished the whole thing.  Afterwards, however, I regretted it, as I went into one of the worst salt comas of my life.  Still, I have fond memories of that mole sauce.  The recipe for the dish is in the Angelica Kitchen cookbook, and I tried making it once many years ago, without success.  I no longer remember the details, but I remember it didn’t taste nearly as good as at the restaurant.  But I had some homemade seitan to use up, and decided to give it another shot last night. Read the rest of this entry »

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Vegetarian Chili, Serious Eats Style

February 22, 2012 at 9:23 am (Beans, B_, Fall recipes, Mexican & S. American, Website / blog, Winter recipes)

Serious Eats’ Food Lab column is similar to Cook’s Illustrated in that it seeks the absolute best version of a particular recipe.  But Serious Eats is a bit more adventurous.  Their recipe this week was actually vegetarian chili, which I can’t imagine Cook’s Illustrated will ever attempt.  I’ve tried many vegetarian chili recipes before, but I haven’t really liked any of them.  (Although I have liked the waffling recipes for chili-ish lentil soup and chili-ish black bean soup reasonably well.) In the end I’ve always remained loyal to my mom’s chili recipe.  The addition of the frozen, marinated, baked tofu raises it several notches above any purely bean-based recipe.  But Serious Eats titled their recipe The Best Vegetarian Bean Chili, so I had to at least give it a try. Read the rest of this entry »

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Cuban black beans

October 1, 2011 at 8:26 am (Beans, B_, Fall recipes, Mexican & S. American, Website / blog, Winter recipes)

My sister told me she has a recipe for Cuban black beans that are out of this world. Unfortunately she still hasn’t sent me the recipe, so I found one on the internet instead. The author of the Eat, Live, Run blog says she was a black bean virgin until she tried Cuban black beans, “inky beans simmered with garlic and spices that literally melt in your mouth.” She says that the recipe is lifechanging.

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Indian rice pudding

August 23, 2011 at 9:39 pm (B_minus, Dessert, Indian, Mexican & S. American, Pudding)

I was making an Indian dinner for company, and Derek decided that he needed to make rice pudding for dessert.  He used this recipe from Alton Brown. The recipe has received excellent reviews.  I’ve never had a rice pudding I’ve loved, so I had pretty low expectations.  But I enjoyed it.  The raisins and pistachios were tasty, and I liked the freshly ground cardamom.  (I’d probably add even more if we ever make rice pudding again.)  That said, given all the wonderful desserts in the world, I don’t think this one is worth the calories. Derek had higher expectations than me, and ended up a bit disappointed.  He thought there was too much rice and in general just too much “stuff.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Melon jalapeno “salsa” salad

July 8, 2011 at 10:24 pm (B_, Mexican & S. American, Other, Quick weeknight recipe, Salads, Summer recipes)

Despite the last disaster, I decided to try another melon recipe from the Vegetarian Table: Mexico cookbook by Victoria Wise.   The author says that melons are an old world ingredient (originally cultivated in Persia), but that they’re extremely popular in Mexico.  She uses the melon as the basis for a fruity, tropical salsa.

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Black bean and seitan tostadas

February 12, 2011 at 2:23 pm (B plus, Beans, breakfast, Derek's faves, Mexican & S. American, Peter Berley, Quick weeknight recipe, Salads, Seitan)

I brought back a big stack of very fresh corn tortillas from Austin.  The first thing I did with them was throw together some bean and cheese tortillas one morning.  But something was wrong–neither Derek nor I liked them that much.  So I decided to try Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast recipe for black bean tostadas with seitan.   The black bean mixture turned out much better than my improvised version. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mexican Brunch

March 14, 2010 at 10:17 pm (Menus, Mexican & S. American, unrated)

Inspired by the delicious corn tortillas from Austin, I decided to host a tex-mex brunch.  I wasn’t sure how many people to invite, but we ended up with 9 people (including Derek and me), which was a reasonable number.  This was the menu:

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March 14, 2010 at 9:51 pm (Cook's Illustrated, Derek's faves, Mexican & S. American, unrated)

I made a huge bowl of guacamole today. Below is the recipe I used. It’s based on a Cook’s Illustrated recipe but I increased most of the seasonings.  It was delicious.

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California-style vegetarian tortilla soup

March 13, 2010 at 9:24 pm (101 cookbooks, B_minus, Mexican & S. American, soup)

Visitors from Austin brought us 90 perfect corn tortillas from El Milagro in Austin.  Despite languishing in lost baggage for two days, they arrived in Saarbruecken in perfect shape.  They were so fresh and corny tasting, I think our visitors must have purchased them right from the factory.    Derek and I ate most of the first 30 ourselves, just plain or with refries or scrambled tofu.  I froze the second and third batches.  Before the last few tortillas in the first package were gone, I decided I wanted to try to make tortilla soup with homemade baked corn “chips”. I love Peter Berley’s miso-based tortilla soup, but I wanted to try something a little different today.  I decided to try the california-style vegetarian tortilla soup from 101 cookbooks.

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Best ever tofu and spinach enchiladas

January 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm (A minus, Dark leafy greens, Derek's faves, Farm recipes, frozen tofu, Mexican & S. American, Mom’s recipes, Tofu, Vegetable dishes)

Most tofu enchiladas are awful.  Normal tofu just doesn’t have the right texture for enchiladas.  My mom’s enchiladas are different, however.  They’re based on a recipe they used to make on the Farm, which uses frozen, marinated, and baked tofu that has a chewy texture and deep, umame flavor.  When I was a kid and my mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday dinner, I invariably requested tofu enchiladas. The enchiladas were simple, American-style enchiladas, made from flour tortillas filled with savory tofu chunks and then covered in a tomato, chili gravy and baked in the oven.    They were simple, but amazingly delicious.  More recently my mom has started adding vegetables to her enchiladas, and I’ve followed suit.   I usually add some combination of spinach, corn,  peppers, and onions, but I’m sure other veggies would also be good. (Last updated Jan 1, 2014.)

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Simple winter salsa

December 16, 2009 at 10:35 am (Mexican & S. American, Mom’s recipes, Sauce/dressing, unrated, Winter recipes)

Last night I made the recipe for pico de gallo from my mom’s blog, to accompany some black bean and sweet potato burritos.


  • 4 cups of canned small-diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup of lime juice, from one lime
  • 1/4 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1 cup finely chopped cilantro, from 1 bunch
  • 1-2 jalapenos, with seeds


  1. Chop cilantro including stems to make about 1 cup.
  2. Chop onion, jalapeno and garlic, finely.
  3. Combine garlic, onion, cilantro, jalapeno and tomatoes.
  4. Add salt and lime juice.
  5. Let sit for at least 30 minutes to combine flavors.

My notes:

I used a large can of tomatoes with the juice, but only got about 3.5 cups total.  After letting the salsa sit for 30 minutes it tasted a bit bland.  I had added 1/4 tsp. salt but I added a little bit more, some chipotle powder, and some fresh ground cumin.  Those additions helped.  It wasn’t the greatest salsa ever, but it was perfectly fine.  I served it with the burritos and although I thought the sweet potato burritos actually go better with a green salsa verde, my guests seemed to like this red one–almost the entire bowl of salsa was eaten.  I only had about 1/2 cup left after the six of us were done with dinner.

The homesick Texan’s pico de gallo recipe is similar

4 cups ripe red tomatoes diced (about 8 medium tomatoes)
1/2 cup diced onion (about 1/2 of a small white onion)
2 tablespoon minced garlic (but she says from 2 cloves–she must have some massive cloves of garlic!)
4 Tbs. lime juice limes (but she says from 4 limes? are her limes very tiny?)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
4 jalapenos (stems and seeds removed) diced
1 tablespoon olive oil (she says it’s for flavor and texture, but can be omitted)
Salt to taste

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Vegetarian Tortilla Soup

May 19, 2009 at 4:57 pm (A minus, Cruciferous rich, Mexican & S. American, Miso, Peter Berley, Quick weeknight recipe, soup)

I’ve tried to make tortilla soup before, and although I don’t know exactly what the chicken-based version tastes like, I know that I’ve never achieved it.  Recently, however, I tried a recipe for tortilla soup from Peter Berley’s cookbook “Fresh Food Fast.”  The key innovation is that he uses a miso broth instead of a simple vegetable broth.  I thought it would be strange–miso soup with lime in it–but it was delicious, and tasted like (what I imagine) tortilla soup is supposed to taste like.  It definitely tasted Mexican rather than Japanese.

  • 1 head garlic, cloves separated and smashed
  • 1 small bunch cilantro (about 1/2 cup coarsely chopped leaves plus the stems for the broth)
  • 6 corn tortillas or ??? corn tortilla chips, crumbled
  • 1 large ripe avocado, sliced
  • 2 limes (1 for juicing and 1 for cutting into wedges)
  • 2 cups bite-sized broccoli florettes
  • 1 medium carrot, halved lengthwise and sliced thin on the bias
  • 1 jalepeno pepper (with its seeds), sliced into very thin rings
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup red or white miso

For precise instructions buy the cookbook!

Berley makes a simple broth with a head of garlic (cloves smashed but not peeled), and the stems from a bunch of cilantro.  I tasted the broth and I could definitely taste the garlic, but the cilantro was pretty subtle.  Then vegetables are added to the soup and cooked until crisp-tender, and then the miso and cilantro are mixed in.  Finally, tortilla strips and lime-soaked avocado are spooned into each bowl.

The vegetables cooked in the soup are broccoli, carrots, and jalepeno.  Adding broccoli and carrots to tortilla soup is not traditional, but they both went well with the other flavors.  The jalapeno I had from my mother’s garden was hot but not too hot.  Berley’s recipe says to fry strips of corn tortillas, but we can’t get corn tortillas in Germany so we used wheat tortillas.  They were tasty but pretty rich tasting.  Between the avocado and tortilla chips the soup was quite rich.  I think the soup would be very tasty even without the tortilla chips, and more of an everyday kind of meal, rather than a special-occasion soup.  The second time I made the soup I threw in a few strips of commercial corn chips.  They weren’t as good as freshly-fried corn tortillas, but they added the right corn/oil taste, and were much simpler.

The main problem I have with the recipe is that it calls for 6 cups of water and 1/2 cup of white miso.  Berley says you can substitute red miso to “bring it up a notch.”  I’m not sure how salty white miso is, but 1/2 cup of red miso in that much soup would be unbearably salty.  I added 1/4 cup of red miso to start and the soup was salty but tasty.  More would have definitely made the soup too salty, however.  The second time that we made the soup, we didn’t think 1/4 cup of miso was quite enough, so I had Derek add another 2 Tbs.  On our second try the recipe made about 6 bowls of soup.

If you don’t fry your own tortilla strips, this recipe can definitely be made in other 30 minutes.  Berley includes it in a menu with a medley made from white rice, kidney beans, green peas, and cheese.  The dish was reasonably tasty, but pretty rich and not that exciting.  It’s mildness was a reasonable foil to the intense soup, but both dishes were quite rich.  I would have paired the soup with a lighter bean dish and more vegetables.  I’m not sure I would make the bean dish again, although Derek liked it more than me.  I was impressed that the two dishes together took exactly an hour to make (and mostly clean up from).  If I made the menu again, I could probably do it in under an hour.  The second time I made this soup I paired it with a black bean salad–highly seasoned black beans over a lettuce, tomato, and pepper salad.  It was a reasonable combination but I didn’t get the recipe quite right.  I was trying to recreate the black bean salad at La Feria in Pittsburgh, but I failed.

I’ll definitely make this soup again, especially if I can get my hands on jalepenos, corn tortillas, and ripe avocados.

Rating: A-

Update December 15, 2009:

We made this soup last night, doubled, and I used 1/4 cup red miso and 1/4 cup white miso.  I thought the salt level was perfect.  We had 6 people for dinner and everyone had one smallish-bowl plus a second even smaller bowl, and I ended up with about 3 cups of soup left.  The two avocados I cut up were almost entirely eaten, however.  We used corn chips and they were perfectly fine. Along with the miso soup I served black bean and sweet potato burritos with salsa, and apple crisp with vanilla ice cream for dessert.  Derek made margaritas and our guests brought two bottles of wine.  It was a lot of food and drink!

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White Flour Tortillas

August 4, 2008 at 4:49 am (Mexican & S. American, Mom’s recipes, Quick weeknight recipe, unrated)

Back in the 70’s, when my parents lived on a farm in Tennessee, my mom used to make hundreds of tortillas. She stopped making them once we moved to Austin, where tasty and cheap tortillas are readily available. Thus, I never learned how to make tortillas myself. However, the quality of tortillas available in Saarbruecken is quite low. I’m sure like other Texans I’ll get homesick for tortillas, so I asked her to show me how to make them.

  • 1 cup white wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. oil
  • 6 Tbs. water
  1. Whisk dry ingredients together. Add oil. Mix with wooden spoon, mixing as little as possible. Over-working the dough will result in a stiff dough and tough not tender tortillas. Add 3 Tbs. of water all at once and mix. Add remaining 3 Tbs. of water and mix again. Next use your hands to form the dough into a ball. If the dough is sticky add a little more flour. If there are bits of dough that won’t stay incorporated into the dough ball, add another teaspoon or two of water. Divide dough into four or five balls.
  2. Preheat cast iron skillet on medium heat.
  3. Sprinkle flour on counter. Roll one dough ball around to lightly coat with flour. Press ball into a flat four-inch disk. Use a rolling pin to roll the disk into a thin circle, sized to fit your skillet, about 8 to 9 inches in diameter. Use the same method to roll the dough as is used to roll out a pie crust: always roll from the center of the disk.
  4. Place tortilla in dry, pre-heated skillet (still on medium heat), and cook until the top starts to bubble (about 30 seconds to 1 minute depending on how hot your skillet is). Flip. Cook for 30 seconds on second side.
  5. Eat immediately or stack and cover with a lightly damp cloth. To keep warm, wrap the tortillas in foil and place in a warm oven.

Makes 4 to 5 tortillas. Tortillas will be thicker and slightly larger if you make four, and thinner and slightly smaller in diameter if you make five.

My Notes:

I really enjoyed these flour tortillas. They’re just like the Austin tortillas I grew up on: a bit puffy, nice and chewy, and browned in just a few spots. They’re pretty easy to make too, if you don’t count getting the flour off of everything.

My sister Hanaleah really liked them too. Her comment: “I want another one. Why’d you only make four???” So the second time we made them we doubled the recipe, but everyone was still pining for another even after their second tortilla.

The homesicktexan recipe I link to above is similar to this one except that they use milk instead of water, and they use three times as much baking powder. The also knead the dough briefly and then let it rest for 20 minutes. I’m curious to see how their tortillas differ from this one. We also want to try making whole wheat tortillas. Stay tuned.

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The joys of peruvian pepper sauce

March 23, 2008 at 7:40 pm (Dark leafy greens, Mexican & S. American, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, restaurant inspired, Sauce/dressing, Starches, unrated, Vegetable dishes)

ajiamarillo.gifI can’t recall if I’ve blogged about aji amarillo sauce before, but it’s worth a second mention in any case. This Peruvian sauce is simply a puree made from yellow aji peppers. It’s bright yellow, somewhat spicy, a little salty, and very flavorful. Actually, I’d describe it more as “piquant” than seriously spicy. The first time I had it was at La Feria in Pittsburgh. Although I enjoyed adding it to their various grain and cheese casseroles, and using it in place of butter as a spread for french bread, I was never really sure what to do with it at home. Then a few months ago Derek and I went to Madre, a tiny nouveau latin restaurant on the east side of Montreal. We weren’t all that excited about the experience (see our review), but there was one memorable dish with peruvian pepper sauce that Derek loved, and has been on my mind ever since: a duck “ceviche” with seared duck marinated in yellow pepper sauce, with onions, parsnip puree, and roasted corn kernels.

I finally found the yellow pepper sauce at the South American store on St. Laurent (and then later at the Mexican store behind Jean Talon market). The Mexican store also had the roasted salted corn kernels. Visiting Derek in Germany this week, I bought adorable French fingerling potatoes, fresh garlic, and a medium bag of spinach. I sliced five of the fingerling potatoes, and sauteed them in olive oil with a half of head of fresh garlic and a small red onion sliced into rings. Once the potatoes were almost soft I added about a 1/2 cup of yellow pepper sauce, and the spinach (leaves torn). After the spinach was wilted I sprinkled on some fresh thyme and a dusting of roasted corn kernels. I had meant to add mushrooms and white wine as well, in mimicry of the white wine and garlic saute from Kaya but forgot both. Even so, everyone really enjoyed the dish, even me! I couldn’t taste the thyme, and next time might try a more south american herb like cilantro. Also, I’d like to try using parsnips instead of potatoes. Either way, I’ll definitely be trying this type of recipe again, as well as looking for more opportunities to use this delicious yellow pepper sauce, even if I have to smuggle it into Germany from Montreal or the States.

Other ways I’ve eaten this sauce lately:

  • plain, as a dipping sauce for roasted brussels sprouts
  • mixed with yogurt and lemon juice as a dipping sauce for chickpea patties
  • as a flavorful addition to a sandwich, in place of mustard

If you have any other suggestions, please post a comment!

I’ve seen a large number of different brands of this pepper sauce: Goya, Dona Isabel, La Nuestra, various local Canadian brands.  If you can’t find it in the ethnic food section of a large grocery store, try to hunt down a South American store, or better yet a Peruvian or Bolivian store.  If you still can’t find the jarred aji amarillo pepper puree, here are instructions on how to make it yourself.

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Arroz Sin Pollo

January 25, 2008 at 8:53 am (B plus, Derek's faves, Grains, Mexican & S. American, My brain, Nonfiction book review, Other, Quick weeknight recipe, Tofu)

This recipe is adapted from a recipe for arroz con pollo in the book This Organic Life: Confessions of an Urban Homesteader, which tells the story of Joan Dye Gussow’s attempts to source the majority of her food out of her own back-yard garden. Some reviewers complain that the book is repetitive, lacks focus, and has an annoyingly self-righteous tone. Although it does occasionally shift into lecture mode, I found it to more memoir than diatribe.  Gussow was a nutritionist, professor, and lecturer before she retired, but this book only briefly discusses that part of her life; instead, it focuses on her life post-retirement.  It’s rare in this youth-obsessed culture  to read about a woman over 60, so I enjoyed that aspect of the book.  I realized I was really curious about what the life of a highly educated and passionate woman is like after retirement. Both I and my mother thought that This Organic Life is a fun and moving memoir. If you enjoyed Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle I highly recommend you pick up This Organic Life, as I enjoyed it even more than Kingsolver’s more recent veggie biopic.

Heat in a heavy 3 to 4 quart casserole:

  • 1 Tbs. oil


  • 1 cup onions, finely chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped

Cook to soften but not brown. Stir in:

  • 1 Tbs. paprika
  • 1 cup tomatoes (fresh, canned, or frozen) finely chopped

Bring to a fast boil over medium heat, stirring until most of the liquid evaporates. Add:

  • 1.5 cups short-grain brown rice
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 3 cups boiling water or unsalted vegetable broth
  • 1/8 tsp saffron threads, crushed
  • salt

Bring to a boil quickly, then cover tightly, reduce heat, and allow to simmer for 30 minutes or until rice has absorbed the liquid. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 6.

My notes. It is essential to make sure the broth is boiling before you add it to the rice, or else the dish becomes soupy and all the liquid won’t be absorbed. Even so, I might decrease the water to 2 2/3 cups next time I make it. I used muir-glen tomatoes, and thought that 1/2 tsp. salt was not enough. Next time I’ll try 3/4 tsp instead, but this will depend on how salty your tomatoes are. The peas tend to get soft and dull colored. You can add the peas closer to the end of the cooking time to maintain their bright color and crispness, but then the flavors do not blend as well and the dish is not as coherent. I’d be curious to try adding some chickpeas to this dish, for a little extra texture, protein, and their nutty flavor.

Even minus the chicken and salt pork, this recipe makes tasty, satisfying, comfort food. paellacrop.jpgI also really like this dish because it was the first dish with saffron that I made and loved. Derek also enjoys it, and (somewhat mysteriously) swears he can taste the chicken; I think it must be the saffron he’s tasting. This is a very homey dish, but if you want to dress it up a little you can serve it paella style, in a large shallow pan with colorful roasted veggies layed out on top in a star pattern, and a head of roasted garlic in the middle, as shown on the right. Roasted cauliflower, green beans, and red bell pepper are especially nice.

Update Feb 5, 2018:

I made this recipe tonight for dinner except I used 18 ounces of already-cooked short grain brown rice. I also added 8 ounces of cubed tofu after sauteeing the onions, and around a cup of cooked chickpeas along with the peas. I used about 1/2 smoked paprika and 1/2 regular paprika. I thought it came out well, and actually it was less fussy since I didn’t have to worry about getting the rice to cook in the tomato sauce. Tasted about the same, IIRC. I used 3/4 tsp. fine salt + 1 bouillon cube. It was salty but not extremely salty.

Derek really liked it, but Alma took one bite and told me that I could have the rest (so polite, that one). But then she liked the other part of dinner (a frittata with escarole and onions and gruyere) even less, and after finishing her orange and almonds that were leftover from snack, and a square of chocolate (for dessert), she eventually did eat a bit of the rice dish (with lots of nutritional yeast on top). After two small bowls though, she asked for just plain peas, and we let her have them. She likes brown rice and peas and tomato sauce and chickpeas and tofu, so I think the main issue was the paprika and/or the saffron. New flavors + Toddlers = Ergh.

Update Dec 4, 2009:

I made this recipe again and although it came out tasty, it wasn’t quite right.  I used 3/4 tsp. kosher salt, and it wasn’t enough, at least not with my not-very-salty German diced tomatoes.   Maybe a little soy sauce would be a good addition?  With the water I added 1.5 no-salt bouillon cubes, but I’m not sure I could taste them. I added 1/2 cup of peas at the beginning and 1/2 cup after the rice was done.  I liked the mix, but I think next time I would add 3/4 cup at the beginning and 1/2 cup of peas at the end.  I measured out what I thought was 1/8 tsp. saffron but either I underestimated it or my saffron was not very good, because I couldn’t taste the saffron at all.  I used 2 Tbs. of olive oil by mistake, but it didn’t taste particularly oily.  In the end the dish was quite wet–not soupy but definitely very wet rice. I can’t decide if I like it like that.  Maybe next time I’d try 2.5 cups of water.  I also added 1/8 tsp. chipotle powder and 1 whole jalepeno pepper, but I couldn’t taste either one.  Finally, to up the protein content I added 1/2 pound of medium-firm tofu, diced.  It didn’t taste like much but I liked the textural contrast of the silky smooth tofu, and so did Derek.  I cooked the rice for 40 minutes and let it sit for another 15 afterwards, but still the rice was just a tad crunchy, maybe because of the acid from the tomatoes.

Update Dec 29, 2009:

I used 1 tsp. kosher salt this time and it was appropriately salted.  I also added 1 Tbs. of nutritional yeast  to 6 ounces of tofu (which I added along with the onions this time).  I used homemade vegetable broth and only 1 bouillon cube.  I doubled the saffron since I was using the same kind as last time.  I could taste it in the final dish this time.  I added 3/4 cup of peas at the beginning and 1/2 cup at the end, but I think next time I might do 3/4 cup and 3/4 cup.  I added a bit of minced jalepeno with the onions, and one whole chipotle chili.  I’m not sure I could taste either distinctly in the final dish, but it was quite tasty, and just a tad spicy, and maybe they contributed.  This time after 40 minutes my rice was still soup.  I think I didn’t have the heat high enough, and maybe my vegetable broth wasn’t quite boiling when I added it.  I cooked the rice for another 15 minutes, then let it sit for 10 minutes.  In the end it was quite wet but not soupy.  Derek and I both liked the dish a lot.  I also added about 2 Tbs. of pine nuts with the garlic, and although the bit of crunch was nice, I don’t think they really added all that much to the final dish.

Nutritional stats without the pine nuts and with 8 ounces tofu:

Macronutrient breakdown:  16% fat, 70% carbs, 14% protein

Serving Size: 1/6 recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 284
Total Fat 5.2g
Saturated Fat 0.6g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 417mg
Carbohydrate 49.8g
Dietary Fiber 5.6g
Sugars 4g
Protein 9.8g
Vitamin A 28% Vitamin C 27%
Calcium    9% Iron 14%

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Texas Tofu Chili

December 16, 2007 at 12:59 pm (A minus, Beans, frozen tofu, Isa C. Moskowitz, Mexican & S. American, Mom’s recipes, Tofu)

Every vegetarian cookbook has a chili recipe. Some are interesting, some are bland, some are just weird. I’ve tried recipes with exotic ingredients like dried peaches, cinnamon, and peanuts. This recipe, however, makes a very traditional chili (ignoring the fact that it has tofu instead of meat). Maybe I’m biased because this is based on my mom’s recipe, but I like it better than any of the other chili recipes I’ve tried, including various recipes claiming to be the “best ever vegetarian chili.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Tomatillo Sauce

September 21, 2007 at 8:36 pm (Mexican & S. American, My brain, Sauce/dressing, unrated)

Making tomatillo sauce sounds so simple, I invariably forgo following a recipe and decide to just wing it—which is inevitably a disaster.  I don’t know why but my improvised tomatillo sauces are typically inedible.  Here’s what I did this week:

I roasted at a high temperature in the oven until the peppers were slightly blackened:

  • a little over a pound of fresh tomatillos, husks removed
  • 2 small red onions, halved
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 jalepeno, seeded
  • 1 poblano, seeded and halved

Then I removed the pepper skins and threw everything into the blender.  The resulting sauce tasted truly horrible.  It sounds like it should be fine, right?  A friend on hearing this tale said it probably just needed cilantro and lime, but I’m skeptical.   I didn’t want to add it because I was certain it was going to be a waste of perfectly good cilantro and lime. It really tasted awful.  I compared this recipe to a recipe in Rick Bayless’s cookbook, which called for roasting tomatillos.  The major difference I saw was that he didn’t roast the onions (and maybe the garlic?), but instead put them in raw.  That makes sense, as you want the onion to give a little bit of bite.  Next time I improvise this sauce, I will not roast any onions.  Repeat, I will not roast onions.

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Vegetarian Tamales

September 21, 2007 at 8:18 pm (Beans, Mexican & S. American, My brain, Peter Berley, Starches, unrated, Website / blog)

I remember really loving tamales as a kid, but it’s hard to find vegetarian ones outside of Austin, so I haven’t had them much since I finished college. I made them a few times with my mom when I was younger, but it’s been such a long time I didn’t remember much. I started out with two recipes: one from Peter Berley’s Modern Vegetarian Kitchen and one from the vegetarian resource group. I tried the dough recipes but didn’t really follow the filling instructions. Instead, I made up my own fillings:

  1. corn cut off the cob and seasoned with fresh minced sage and tons of garlic sauteed in a little olive oil. It was a bit bland so I added a touch of gruyere ribboned on a microplane. Delicious plain, and not bad in the tamales, although maybe not quite strong enough tasting.
  2. barbecued tofu. Delicious plain, did not belong in a tamale.
  3. black beans and sweet potatoes seasoned with nutmeg, from the black bean and sweet potato burrito recipe on my blog. I love the burrito, but I just didn’t like this combo with the masa.
  4. black refritos with feta. I used the black beans from above and added cilantro, then sprinkled on a little goat feta. I was going to add tomatillo sauce too but I forgot, so instead I dipped the tamale in the sauce. This one was by far my favorite.

I first started with Berley’s recipe, which I will post here when I get a chance. The dough seemed extremely thick and dry, and I didn’t see how I was going to possibly get the tamales thin enough, so I added quite a bit of extra broth. Then it was lumpy and sticky and a total disaster. I made the tamales anyway, and they came out bland and dry and not very good. I also think his recipe doesn’t call for nearly enough salt (weird for Berley.)

The VRG recipe worked out much better. I had to add just a touch more broth than they called for, and my tamales still came out a bit thick, but the consistency was much closer to the desired consistency. I think I upped the salt on this one as well. I thought the final tamales were quite nice, with pretty good flavor and richness, and not too oily. Derek liked them better than the first batch, however when he took some leftovers for lunch a few days later he said they were dry and greasy. I only tried them right after I made them so I can’t confirm his statement. In general, though, Derek is not a tamale fan. He doesn’t even like the ones at Frontera Grill, and we all know he has a thing for anything Rich Bayless creates. Anyway, Derek says he’d rather just eat the filling, who needs all that dough, and all that extra work? He just doesn’t get it. I’m going to keep working on my tamale making skills in the meantime, and see if I can’t change his mind. The key will be getting the dough thinner I think. Any advice on how to achieve that goal?

A few comments on making the tamales:

  • you’re supposed to put a layer of corn husks on top of the steamer basket before you put the tamales in, and over the top layer of tamales once they’re all in. I think the top layer is key so that the water doesn’t drip off the lid and get the tamales all went.
  • With one of those folding steaming baskets, I found that the water lasted only about 45 minutes before I had to refill it. I tried to pour in additional boiling water without getting the tamales all wet, which was tricky but doable. But I had no idea how much to put it since I couldn’t see the bottom through the tamales. Next time I’ll measure how much water is needed before adding the tamales.
  • When rolling the tamales, it seemed to work best with two people: one to fill them and a second to roll them up and tie them. If you try to fill them and tie them you get dough and filling all over the corn husks.
  • I kept forgetting to leave extra room at the top and bottom of the masa, and not put the filling all the way across the length of the dough. This is necessary so that the top and bottom close up and your filling doesn’t fall out.

I really want to try making a sweet tamales sometime. I’ve seen recipes for apple tamales. Any other ideas?

Oh, another question for you blog-readers-o-mine. When I was to get masa harina they had lots of brands. My mom told me (via her Guatemalan friend) to get Maseca brand. But they had two kinds of masa harina by Maseca: one was specifically for tamales, and the other one said it was for tamales, corn tortillas, and other things. Both said “instant” on them. Both had recipes for tamales on the back, and the one specifically called “masa for tamales” called for adding lard to the tamales. The all-purpose masa recipe for tamales didn’t have any added fat. The ingredients were identical though: corn, lime. Can anyone explain the difference to me?

Also, I tried and failed to find corn husks in Montreal. I looked at the Mexican grocery near Jean Talon (which had masa harina but no corn husks), and at the south american grocery on St. Laurent just north of Pins. They had banana leaves but not corn husks. Suggestions?

Update Sept 23, 2007: I made the corn dish again. I used 4 ears of corn on the cob, which yielded 1.5 pounds of corn kernels after steaming. I used 2 Tbs. of garlic, 1 Tbs. olive oil, 2 Tbs. sage, 1/2 ounce parmesan, and a sprinkle of truffle salt and black pepper. It definitely needed more garlic (maybe 1/3 cup?), and probably a bit more olive oil and/or parmesan as well.

For future reference, here is the tamale recipe from post punk kitchen.

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February 11, 2007 at 1:02 pm (B_, Cook's Illustrated, Mexican & S. American, Sauce/dressing)

I got adventurous and tried Cook’s Illustrated light guacamole recipe using… frozen lima beans.  That’s right, scary, but true.

  • 1 medium tomato (about 5 ounces), cored, seeded, and chopped fine (about 1 cup) ~ I used canned petite diced
  • 1 cup frozen *mature* lima beans (about 5 ounces) (I accidentally bought baby lima beans. They say in this case it’s hard to skin them so I just left the skins on for the fiber. The guacamole was a tad bit grainy due to the skins.)
  • 1 medium ripe avocado, preferably Haas (about 7 ounces)
  • 3 Tbs. juice from 2 limes
  • 2 Tbs. reduced-fat mayonnaise (I omitted this since I didn’t have it)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt (I used 1/4 tsp. It was fine, but prob. would have been fine with 1/2 tsp. as well.)
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 medium jalepeno chile, stemmed, seeded, and minced
  • 1 Tbs. minced red onion or shallot
  • 1 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tsp.)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • fresh ground black pepper
  1. Place the tomato in a small colander set inside a bowl and set aside to drain while preparing the rest of the guacamole.
  2. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a small sauce pan over high heat. Add the frozen lima beans and cook until creamy, about 5 minutes. Drain the beans and rinse under cold water until cool. Pat the beans dry with paper towels then remove the skins by pinching the beans so the skins slide off.
  3. Halve the avocado, remove the pit, and scoop out a quarter of the flesh. Puree a quarter of the avocado, skinned lima beans, lime juice, mayo, and salt together in a food processor until smooth, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
  4. Cube the remaining three-quarters of the avocado into 1/2-inch pieces, and scrape into a medium bowl. Add the pureed lima mixture, drained tomato, cilantro, jalepeno, onion, garlic, and cumin, and stir gently to combine. Season to taste with pepper. Transfer the guacamole to a serving bowl; cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until the flavors meld, about 1 hour.

Makes 2 cups. They say a serving is 1/4 cup:

70 cal, 4g fat, .5g sat fat, 0 chol, 8g carb, 2g protein, 3g fiber, 210mg sodiumMy Notes:

Cook’s Illustrated says that the guacamole, covered with plastic wrap pressed flush against the surface of the dip, can be refrigerated for up to 1 day. Bring to room temperature and season with additional lime juice, salt, and pepper, as needed before serving.  I’m in a bit leery of plastic wrap touching my food, esp. fatty foods, so I just stored mine in a regular tupperware, and it was fine~didn’t brown at all. It lasted fine for two days.  It might have been fine for longer even, but I couldn’t tell you, since after two days it was all gone ).

The adulterated guacamole has more fiber and protein, and less fat than normal guacamole. I think standard guacamole is about 77% fat, but this is about 40% fat.

The flavor was very good~it basically tasted like guacamole. It definitely didn’t taste as rich as normal, but with all the tomatoes, cilantro, jalepeno, garlic, lime juice etc. once it was in my burrito I’m not sure I would have noticed. I gave it to a friend and she said it “tasted very fresh”.  I told her that I put it in a new ingredient and asked her to identify it~she had no idea. Said it tasted like very yummy guacamole to her.

I don’t know if I would make this just to lower the calorie/fat content of guacamole, unless I was eating it with chips, in which case the chips have enough fat already.  I do consider the recipe a keeper though, for those situations where I only have one avocado and want to make a bigger batch for more people! Those things are expensive!

BTW, cook’s illustrated said they tried green peas and asparagus and edamame but they liked the lima beans the best.  They said peas gave it an earthy flavor and too sweet, asparagus watered it down and had a fibrous texture and unappetizing army green color. Edamame worked well to carry the flavor, but gave it a grainy texture.

Rating: B

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Jicama Salad

February 11, 2007 at 7:38 am (Caribbean, Mexican & S. American, Quick weeknight recipe, restaurant inspired, Salads, unrated)

We had a jicama salad at Frontera Grill yesterday for brunch. It was made of long fat rectangles of jicama, small squares of pineapple, and long juliennes of cucumber, with the peel on. The produce was dusted with a slightly spicy chili powder, and they served it with lime wedges. Both Derek and I enjoyed it–a nice refreshing appetizer. Derek especially liked the cucumber. I thought the three flavors (jicama, pineapple, and cukes) didn’t really meld together–they each kept their separate identity, without really complementing each other. But the three separate identities were so yummy who cares! I tried making it with some Indian chile powder I bought (nothing like Mexican chile powder) and it was delicious. Definitely a keeper. Sorry but I didn’t record amounts. Next time.

Update: I just improvised a jicama salad and it didn’t turn out so well. I use long fat pieces like at Frontera, which were good. But I added an avocado and a grapefruit. The avocado pieces turned to mush when I stirred it and the grapefruit pieces kind of fell apart, and left the whole thing sitting in a huge pool of liquid. The pink grapefruit and greenish avocado left the whole thing looking kind of putrid green color. I added 1/2 jalepeno, and some lime juice, and a bit of honey, chili powder, and salt, then drained all the liquid out. It look a little more appetizing, but definitely not something I’d try this way again.

Update 2: I tried another Frontera Grill version except I didn’t have pineapple so subbed in mandarin oranges. Derek said he liked it better than the pineapple, but I thought it was not quite as good. Just a touch of salt, chili powder, and lime juice worked well–much better than the soggy mush I ended up with last time.

Update March 2010:  I made this with daikon radish instead of jicama.  The radish isn’t quite as sweet as the jicama but it’s a reasonable substitute.  I julienned the cucumber and daikon, and used my “french fry cut” blade for the pineapple  Next time I would use the french fry cut for all the veggies, but certainly for the cucumber.  I made the salad the day before and by the next day the salad was drowning in a sea of liquid.  Maybe if I had cut the cucumber into bigger pieces it wouldn’t have been so bad, but I think it’s probably best to not cut the cucumber until you’re ready to eat, and maybe the pineapple too.

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Tamale pie (Cornbread pie)

February 10, 2007 at 5:18 pm (Beans, B_, Derek's faves, Mexican & S. American, My brain)

Look in just about any vegetarian cookbook from the 70’s or 80’s and you’ll find a recipe for Tamale pie. True tamale pie is made with masa, but more often the topping is a simple cornbread. This is a great one-dish meal that’s healthy, filling, and hits the spot when then windchill is -15 and you’re in the mood for some comfort food.

I don’t quite have a “recipe” yet–I tend to just eyeball it. But here’s approximately what I did last night:

  • 1/2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 cups of homemade, lightly salted, black beans, with their juice filling in the measuring cup
  • about 1 cup of Frontera salsa
  • 1/2 can diced green chilies (I put the other half in the cornbread)
  • ground cumin, maybe 2 tsp?
  • chipotle powder, maybe 1 tsp?
  • 3/4 cup frozen corn kernels
  1. I sauteed the garlic in my cast iron pan (I usually add onions too but I was out). Then I added the black beans and mashed them a bit with a potato masher. I added the other ingredients and just let the beans simmer while I made the cornbread.
  2. I preheated the oven to 425, then made the cornbread (I’ll post recipes in a separate post). I poured the batter on top, using a spatula to spread it out evenly. I baked for about 30 minutes.

This came out quite well–the beans were especially tasty. I usually use pintos but the black beans were nice as well. Derek thought the bean to cornbread recipe was too low, but I actually thought it was perfect. Maybe a compromise is to make extra beans and take them out before adding the cornbread, so Derek can have extra beans on the side?

Obviously, this “recipe” needs work, but I think it has great potential.

I made it again using 4.5 cups of canned beans and it still didn’t have enough beans.  I think next time I’ll try 6 cups of beans, and cut the cornbread recipe down from 3/4 cup of cornmeal and flour each to 1/2 cup.

Rating: B

Derek: A-

Historical tidbit: When I made fast food at my co-op in college, this was a regular. I’d get out all our cast iron pans (we had about 5 of them, and some were huge). I’d make an enormous pot of beans and tons of cornbread then fill them all up and bake them in batches. They were always popular, except for one time… I found some cute little red and yellow peppers in the fridge. They were tiny, colorful, and adorable. I thought they were some kind of mini bell pepper, so I threw them into the beans even though I’d already added jalepenos and chipotle powder. I discovered only after making all five enormous cornbread pies, that the peppers were actually habaneros. Many of the members of the co-op prided themselves on their love of (and tolerance for) spicy foods. But no one could down more than one bite of these cornbread pies. Sadly, they all ended up in the trash.

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Quack’s Salsa (B+)

October 11, 2006 at 12:59 pm (B plus, Mexican & S. American, restaurant inspired)

Captain Quackenbush’s Intergalactic Dessert Company and Espresso Café (commonly known as Quackenbush’s or just Quack’s) was Austin’s first coffeehouse and an excellent example of the laid-back style of old-school Austin. In college, I used to eat lunch there occasionally, always getting their black bean burrito with verde sauce and a side of their excellent tomato salsa. It was a great deal: three and a half bucks for a tasty, filling, healthy burrito and salsa that couldn’t be beat. Unfortunately, Starbucks and other newer, trendier coffee shops soon showed up on the drag, and Quack’s was eventually closed down in the face of reduced business and rising rents. Before they closed, however, I made a desperate plea for their salsa recipe. It’s restaurant-sized, but so good you won’t have trouble getting rid of a gallon at a time (right?).

Stir together:

  • 10 pounds of whole tomatoes, broken up with a wooden spoon
  • 1 yellow onion (1/2 lb.), diced
  • 3 jalepenos, minced
  • 1 poblano, diced
  • 1/2 cup whole garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 cup water

My Notes

When I made this for fast food at the co-op, it would all disappear in twenty four hours.

Rating: B+

Reduced version:

  • 2 pounds whole tomatoes (I used 1 lb 13 oz canned tomatoes in juice + a 7 oz fresh tomato)
  • 1.6 oz diced onion (I used 4 oz)
  • 3/5 jalapeno, minced  (I used 1.5 seeded jalapeno + 1/2 with seeds)
  • 1/5 poblano (I used none, adding 1/2 tsp. chile powder)
  • .8 Tbs. whole garlic, minced (I used 3 cloves, 17g total)
  • 1/5 bunch cilantro, chopped (I used 40g)
  • juice of 1/5 of a lime (I used 1 lime, just over 1.5 Tbs.)
  • 3/10 tsp. salt (I used 1/2 tsp.)
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper (I used a few grinds)
  • 1/10 tsp. ground cumin (I used 1/2 tsp.)
  • 1/5 cup water (I used 1.5 oz or 3 Tbs.)
  • I added 1 Tbs. olive oil for mouthfeel

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Refried pinto beans

October 10, 2006 at 9:35 pm (B plus, Beans, Cook's Illustrated, Mexican & S. American, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe)

Back in college, when I lived in a housing co-op, one of my jobs was to make “fast food”–food to have in the fridge for lunches, or when someone wanted a quick snack. I made a lot of hummus, and tofu salad, and since this was Texas, massive quantities of salsa and refried beans. I’ve reduced my recipe down so it no longer makes a gallon!

  • 2 cups dry pinto beans (or 5 cups cooked, drained beans, juice reserved)
  • 7 cups filtered water (I need to double check this amount)
  • 1-1.5 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, chopped (about 1.5 cups)
  • 1 large jalepeno, partially or completely seeded, minced (optional)
  • 2 Tbs. minced garlic
  • 1 Tbs. cumin
  • 1.5 tsp. chili powder
  • 1.5 tsp. oregano
  • 1-2 cups of cooking water from the beans
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 2-3 Tbs. of lime juice


  1. Cook 2 cups of dry pinto beans with 1 tsp. of salt and 7 cups of water in a crockpot on the low setting overnight. This should take about 8 hours, and the beans should be very soft, almost falling apart, when done.
  2. Saute the oil, onion, and jalepeno together until soft. I use a 9 inch cast iron skillet, but any heavy-bottom pan will do. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes, then add the cumin and chili powder and toast briefly.
  3. Add the drained beans, the oregano, the tomato paste, and 1 cup of the bean cooking liquid. Use a potato masher or a fork to break the beans down into a rough paste. If you prefer your refries chunky, reserve a cup of whole beans and add them at the end.
  4. Off heat, and add the lime juice. Taste and adjust the salt if needed, adding up to another 1/2 tsp. salt. Either serve immediately, or if you’re going to store it in the fridge add another 1 cup of the bean liquid. The beans get very thick and dried out after a night in the fridge, so they should be pretty soupy going in.

Yields 5 cups of refries, about 6-10 servings.

My notes

It’s funny, I went looking for a recipe for refried pinto beans in my cookbook collection and didn’t turn up much–not even in my bean book! AMA has one fat-free recipe where you add raw onions and garlic and the beans to a blender, but I’m scared to try it. Berley has a more normal looking recipe, but I think I tried it a while back and it was incredibly bland.

Regarding cooking the beans. It’s important to cook the beans with the salt for the best flavor. You could also throw in kombu, a bay leaf, or other seasonings at this stage if you want. I’d like to experiment with this and see if adding the cumin and other spices at this point improves the recipe. This recipe also works fine with canned beans, but you may have to reduce the salt.

Other ingredients I have added to my refries at one time or another include coriander, chipotle powder, garlic powder, salsa, tomato sauce, cilantro, pickled jalepenos, green bell peppers, poblano chiles, and lime zest. I still want to futz with this recipe a bit more to recall if any of these ingredients should make it into the final recipe, and maybe experiment with some other ingredients. There’s a very popular recipe on RecipeZaar that calls for black beans and a bottle of beer.  Sounds very sour. I’m open to other suggestions as well. Just post a comment!

In any case, I do think the essential ingredients are salt, cumin powder, something spicy, something tomato-y, and lime juice. Everything else is secondary.

10/22/06 I served these for brunch today and Derek said they were “delicious, wonderful, everyone loved them. Perfect.”

Rating: B+
Derek: A

Nutritional Stats

Serving Size: 1/2 cup

Amount Per Serving
Calories 154
Total Fat 2.1g
Saturated Fat 0.3g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 363mg
Carbohydrate 26.6g
Dietary Fiber 6.7g
Sugars 2.2g
Protein 8.7g
Vitamin A 4% Vitamin C 28%
Calcium 6% Iron 15%

Percent calories from: fat 12%, protein 22%, carbs 66%. I prefer to keep my beans low fat because I like to add cheese or avocados or olives to my burritos. If you’re not going to have any added fats, you might want to increase the amount of olive oil to 2-3 Tablespoons.

I recently tried the refried bean recipe in Cook’s Illustrated Best Light Recipe Cookbook:

Makes 4.5 cups. Serves 6-8.

1 cup water
3 (15.5 ounces each) cans pinto beans , drained and rinsed (about 4.5-5.25 cups?)
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion , chopped fine
1 jalapeno chile , seeds and ribs removed, chile minced
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 small cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro leaves (optional)

1. Process water and beans in food processor until smooth, about 15 seconds, scraping sides of bowl with rubber spatula if necessary.

2. Heat 1 tsp. olive oil in large saucepan over medium-low heat, add the onion and jalepeno, cover and cook for 10-12 minutes, until the vegetables have softened. Add the garlic and cumin; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beans and stir. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until beans are thick and creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in final Tbs. of olive oil and cilantro is using, and serve.

My Notes:

It’s weird, I looked up the original (non-light) recipe on C.I. and it called for salt pork, chicken broth instead of water, a poblano chili, and 1 Tbs. fresh lime juice. I can understand nixing the salt pork and chicken broth, but why do away with the poblano and lime juice? Also it called for kidney beans rather than pintos?? I had some home cooked lightly salted pintos in the fridge, so used those, and substituted the bean juice for the water, but used slightly less than called for since I hadn’t drained the beans perfectly. I also withheld some of the beans from the food processor (as is suggested in the original but not the light recipe) since I didn’t want a total puree. I think I actually should have withheld about 1/3-1/2 of the beans, since I like quite a chunky puree. I didn’t add the cilantro but I did add a Tbs. of lime juice, which I think is essential. I also increased the cumin to 1.5 tsp., and upped the garlic a bit. I didn’t stir in the final Tbs. of olive oil since I actually thought they tasted quite good, and I was planning on eating them with guacamole anyhow.

Overall I thought these refries turned out pretty well (given my modifications)–better than other recipes I’ve tried. Althought they were tasty, they were still missing something. I think they would be improved by adding a bit of some tomato product for acidity and roundness, and some type of chili powder for more darkness/depth.

Okay, I just went back and compared it to my recipe above. The difference is that it calls for a bit less liquid (1 cup vs. 1-2 cups), less salt (although canned beans are salted so that might be why), less garlic (about 2 tsp. vs 2 Tbs.), less cumin (1 tsp. vs. 1 Tbs.) and less lime juice (1 Tbs. vs 2 Tbs.) Plus I use oregano, tomato paste, and chili powder. After comparing them I can see why I like this recipe. It’s basically a toned down version of my recipe. Maybe the ideal recipe is somewhere in between? Mine is probably a bit overspiced, and theirs is a bit underspiced.

Update Feb 2010:  I was eyeing some very soft, lightly salted pinto beans I had cooked up the day before, and decided to turn them into refries.  I used a middle ground between the above two recipes.  I measured out about 5.5-6 cups of very soup beans.  (I didn’t drain them, but I did use a ladle with big holes to scoop them into the measuring cup.)  I sauteed 1.5 cups red onion and a very little big of green bell pepper with 1.5 Tbs. of olive oil, in my cast iron skillet.  Then I added the garlic, 1.5 tsp. whole cumin which I ground in my coffee grinder, 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder, and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt.  I then added about 2.5-3 cups of the soupy beans, then used my stick blender to puree what remained in the measuring cup.  I added the pureed beans as well.  At this point the beans tasted pretty good but were way too thin.  I let them simmer for about 30 minutes until they’d thickened up.  Derek liked them–had two servings.  I thought they needed a little lime, but they were pretty good.

Update March 2010:  I measured out just over 1 pound (maybe 2.5 -3 cups) dry pintos, and cooked them with salt and water until very soft.  I used all the pintos plus about 1.5 cups of the cooking liquid (the thick stuff from the bottom), 1 Tbs. garlic, 1.5 tsp. whole cumin ground, 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder, 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 9 ounces (about 2 cups chopped) onion, 1.5 Tbs. olive oil, 1 Tbs. butter, 4 ounces long green peppers, and 1 tsp. tomato paste.  After cooking the beans I got about 5.5 cups of drained, cooked beans.  The refries still don’t taste quite right too me.  Derek likes them, but maybe they need more salt?  I’m not sure.  I sauteed the onion and peppers together, then added them, (all but 2 cups of) the cooked beans and the bean juice to a container, and pureed with my stick blender.  Then I added the remaining beans in for texture.  I ended up with about 7 cups of refries.

Update May 2010:  I had about 3-5 cups of mixed cooked pinto/black beans, lightly salted.  For refries I used

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large jalepeno, with seeds
  • 3 regular cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • sprinkle of chipotle powder
  • a little liquid from the bean cooking liquid
  • about 1 Tbs. pace-style picante sauce

I used my stick blender to roughly puree the beans in my casserole pan.  The texture turned out a little gritty and a little chunky.  I liked it, and it was easier than mashing by hand.  The beans were seasoned well–not to intense but not mild either.  Altogether it took me about 25 minutes to make the refries, cut up raw veggies for my burritos (peppers, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, and lettuce), and do various dishes  / cleanup.

Update September 2015: My mom came to visit this week and made me refries. Her beans were much better than I remember mine being. Here’s a link to her recipe.

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October 5, 2006 at 12:43 am (B plus, breakfast, Derek's faves, Mexican & S. American, Mom’s recipes, Quick weeknight recipe)

This was always one of my favorite dishes growing up, and now it’s one of Derek’s favorites too. Whenever I ask him “What should we make” his answer is invariably “chilaquiles.” They’re great for brunch, and along with a vegetable or salad make a great last-minute dinner. Even though my mom gave me her recipe, hers are still always better than mine. I’m hoping to someday learn her secret!

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Huevos Rancheros Tostadas (B)

August 19, 2006 at 8:50 am (Beans, breakfast, B_, Mexican & S. American, My brain, Necessarily nonvegan, Quick weeknight recipe)

I don’t eat eggs very often, but I wanted to try this idea for breakfast tostadas from the AMA Family Health cookbook. It called for cheese as well as eggs but I figured cheese and eggs in one meal is overkill (literally?), so I decided to make my tostada cheeseless. And the recipe didn’t call for beans. What? Tostadas without beans? Sacrilege. So I ended up making up my own version of huevos rancheros tostadas.

1 corn tortilla
1/2 cup refried beans (I used homemade refried pintos)
1 egg
1 Tbs. picante sauce
1 large lettuce leaf

I spread my cold refries on my frozen corn tortilla and placed them in the toaster. Meanwhile I heated my little stainless skillet on high, sprayed it with canola spray, and cracked a (pastured, local, organic) egg into the pan. By the time I flipped it and the second side cooked the toaster oven was beeping. I removed the tortilla from the toaster, added the picante sauce, placed the fried egg on top, and topped it with the lettuce leaf.

It was a fast, filling, and tasty breakfast. 1/2 cup of beans is a lot for one little old corn tortilla, so if you’re not as hungry as I was after my jog, you could just use 1/4 or 1/3 cup. I’m guessing that with canned refried beans this might be a little less tasty, as they are often quite bland. In this case adding some actual ranchero sauce would probably help.

The AMA recipe suggested whisking eggs and egg whites with a little skim milk, a jalepeno diced, some salt and pepper. I like the idea of the jalepeno. I’ll have to try that next time. It also suggests topping them with fruit salsa and cilantro, or adding some chopped nectarine to jarred salsa, which seems like an interesting idea for next time.

Rating: B

Update March 2008:  I made a similar tostada ranchero for a snack today, but this time I used leftover homemade chili instead of refried beans.  I put one corn tortilla in the toaster oven, fried up one egg, then placed the egg on the tortilla and topped with 1/3 cup of tofuless chili and sprinkled on a bit of feta.  It hit the spot.  Derek didn’t care for it though.  He said the egg didn’t do anything for him, it needed salsa, and was too messy, then he complained that toasting the corn tortilla gave it a stale taste.  He prefers soft tortillas, so I guess I should have known that toastadas wouldn’t have been his thing.  Next time, he suggested, just give him a plain bowl of chili.

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Tofu-less Chili

April 30, 2006 at 6:59 am (Beans, C, Mexican & S. American, My brain)

I’ve had a craving for my mom’s chili recently, so decided to just try and make it allergy-free without the tofu or corn or peanut butter. Her recipe is somewhat inexact, but this is what I did:

2 cups pinto beans, dry (I used about a 1/3 black beans since I didn’t have enough pintos)
2 cups onions, chopped (about 1 large onion)
1.5 Tbs. olive oil
1 green bell pepper (I used 1/2 cup frozen)
1 jalepeno
1 Tbs. garlic
3 Tbs. chile powder
1 Tbs. cumin, ground
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 cup tomato puree
1 can whole tomatoes with juice
1.5 tsp. salt

It was a bit too salty, and maybe even too thin and tomato flavored. I was definitely missing the tofu. Clearly, if I leave the tofu and corn out and peanut butter out I have to replace them with something else for substance. Or at the very least increase the amount of beans. Maybe I should add some cooked grain? I saw a chili recipe recently where they added cooked kasha.

On my second bowl I added some red rice and it helped the texture. It’s still a bit powdery tasting though.

Rating: C

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Locro (South American Soup)

April 28, 2006 at 1:24 pm (B plus, Beans, Beans and greens, Cruciferous rich, Dark leafy greens, Fall recipes, Mexican & S. American, Rebecca Wood, soup, Winter recipes) ()

This is a recipe from the cookbook The Splendid Grain by Rebecca Wood. She describes Locro as a substantial South American soup-stew, traditionally eaten by “plucking small rounds of corn from the soup with the fingers.” She says Locro is a meal in one that always contains a grain and sometimes meat or fish. The combination of ingredients may seem a bit strange, but she claims that beans similar to anasazi beans as well as many varieties of seaweed are sold at Indian markets in Bolivia. The ingredient list is long but the soup is so complex-tasting and satisfying that it’s worth the effort. Wood says to make this soup only in corn season, and it is better with fresh corn, but I’ve also used frozen corn and enjoyed it nonetheless.


  • 1/2 cup anasazi beans
  • 1/3 cup whole or pearl barley
  • 1 stick (3 inches) kombu
  • 8 cups veg. or chicken stock
  • 1 Tbs. sesame oil or extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. anise seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small leek, sliced
  • 6 shiitake mushrooms, sliced very thickly [original recipe called for 2 shiitakes, chopped]
  • 1/2 cup peeled, diced celery root
  • 1 ear fresh corn, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 new mexican chili, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 2 cups chopped collards or kale
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro


  1. Soak the beans.
  2. Put the barley in a saucepan over med-high heat and cook for about 5 minutes, or until grains begin to pop and turn a shade darker. Combine the barley, soaked beans, kombu and stock in a soup pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered for 1 hour.
  3. Warm the oil in a large saute pan over med. heat. Add the anise seeds and cook for 1 minutes, or until they become aromatic. Add the garlic, leek, mushrooms, celery root, and corn. Lightly saute each one before adding the next. Saute until vegetables just begin to soften, about 4 minutes. Scrape the vegetables until the soup, add the chili, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the beans are soft. Remove and discard the kombu or chop it into bite-size pieces and return it to the pot. Add the collards and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook ten minutes more.
  4. Ladle into bowls and serve hot, garnished with cilantro.

My notes:

I used roman beans since I couldn’t find anasazi, and frozen corn rather than fresh. My favorite part of the soup were the mushrooms (I never would have thought to put shiitake’s in a south americna soup) and the celery root. The celery root got so incredibly sweet and delicious, next time I’ll increase the amount.

I made this a second time, with a few substitutions and changes. I used a whole Tbs. of anise seeds, which still wasn’t too much. The soup had a great anise flavor, but could possibly have used even a bit more. I love anise, and have almost no savory recipes that call for it (hint, hint, anyone have one to share?) I also added more shiitakes, used rutabaga instead of celery root, pinto beans instead of anasazi–and more of them, shallots instead of leek, and vegetable broth instead of water. The soup tasted very similiar. All the substitutions worked fine, except I didn’t think that pinto beans are the right bean for this soup. If I can’t find anasazi maybe next time I’ll try small red beans. Or navy beans maybe?

Note, this soup doesn’t freeze terribly well, mostly because of the barley which ends up with a mushy texture. I’m not saying you can’t freeze it, but the texture is definitely degraded.

Update May 2010:  I made this again using anasazi beans.  They’re definitely the right bean for the soup. I doubled the number of shiitake mushrooms, but still they didn’t have much textural presence in the final soup.  Next time I’ll chop them into much bigger pieces.  I didn’t have collards or kale, so I threw in some fresh spinach at the very end.  It was okay but not really the right flavor for the soup.  Plus (since I hadn’t cut it up) it was a bit stringy.  By the time the beans were cooked through the soup was quite thick and not very brothy.  I had to add more water and still it wasn’t as brothy as I would have liked it.

Also, I made a stupid mistake.  I cut up the white part of the leek for the soup.  To add flavor to my vegetable broth, I decided to throw in the rest of the pale to medium green part of the leek in with the beans to cook.  I didn’t chop it up, just scored it, washed it and threw it in whole.  I figured I’d fish it out when the beans were cooked but before adding the veggies.  I hadn’t pre-soaked my beans, and by the time the beans were cooked the leek had totally disintegrated into nasty, stringy bits of goo.  Gross.

Update Oct 1 2017: I made this for dinner last night using 1.5 cups pre-cooked aduki beans. Even though I didn’t have any roasted chilies or greens or cilantro, and I didn’t leave the pieces of kombu in the soup, it came out really tasty! I used 4 shiitakes and Derek said I should have used even more.

Amazingly, Alma, who is normally quite anti-soup, also liked the soup, although she made me pick out all the leeks out (too stringy), and she had me cut the shiitakes up into toddler bite-sized pieces.

We ate this along with the potato chard terrine, and I liked the combination a lot. We ate the soup for dinner and then lunch the next day, and it was enough for two adults and a toddler + one bowl of soup was leftover. I’d prefer to get three meals out of it though, so next time I’d make more. Make 1.5 times the recipe.

Serving Size: 1 serving (out of 6 total)
Amount Per Serving
Calories 168
Total Fat 2.9g
Saturated Fat 0.4g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 259mg
Carbohydrate 31.3g
Dietary Fiber 6.8g
Sugars 2.6g
Protein 6.8g
Vitamin A 25%
Vitamin C 55%
Calcium 8%
Iron 15%

Rating: B+

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Uruguayan Apple Beet Salad

March 30, 2006 at 9:48 pm (B_minus, From a friend, Mexican & S. American, Salads)

My friend Adriana (who is from Uruguay) made this salad for me a few times, and I always enjoyed it, but figured it was very high calorie. But I was looking for some new ideas for beets and asked her for the recipe, and with a few modification it actually seemed like it would be reasonably healthy, so I decided to try it.

  • About 5 large cooked beets
  • 1 green apple
  • 4 boiled eggs
  • 1/2 onion
  • Salt/pepper
  • Mayonnaise
  • Fresh mint (optional)

Adriana’s instructions:  Cut the beets, apple and eggs in little cubes of about 6mm x 6mm. The onion needs to be a bit smaller. Maybe about 3mmx3mmm. Once you have the beets, apple, eggs and onion all in the bowl, you add a bit of salt and pepper (I like to add mint, but my mom’s recipe doesn’t really call for it). Finally, you add a touch of mayonnaise. You mix it all up and put it in the fridge before serving. It normally tastes better the next day.

My Notes

I didn’t have any mayonnaise, and rather than making soy mayonnaise I actually made my own egg mayonnaise in the food processor. I think it turned out okay, but what do I know about mayonnaise?I put in fewer eggs then the recipe called for, but still I liked the beet salad pretty well. Eggs and beets go surprisingly well together. Derek, however, wasn’t excited by it. He said maybe if I’d put in all the eggs and more mayonnaise… The crisp, tart apple was excellent, especially in contrast to the soft sweet beets. When I make this again I think I’d use two apples instead of one. I did have some problems with the onion, however. I liked the “kick” it gave the salad since the rest of the seasoning was pretty mild, but the onion made the salad too hot, especially the next day–that onion’s bite was a mite too big. Maybe if I blanched or soaked the onion first? Or used scallions instead?

Rating (with my modifications): B-
Derek (with my modifications): C

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