Sunday, January 26, 2014

Chili Paneer

Has it been cold where you are?

Everything is relative, of course, but lately around here it seems that folks have been experiencing the cold more than usual.  I've been taking it in stride since even an extra cold Pennsylvania winter is a warm-to-average New England winter.  It even makes me a little homesick to be honest.  I miss bulking up in extra layers of baggy sweaters and thick coats.

Then again I don't miss waiting for the T is freezing temperatures or walking to class when it's below zero.  All things in moderation, hey?

With all the cold, grey weather I got to wanting something spicy and colorful for dinner.  Almost as soon as I think of spice and colors I think of a snappy little Indo-Chinese dish called chili paneer.

Aren't the names of south Asian foods wonderful?  They tell you all you need to know.  Chili paneer is made of peppers and cheese -- along with plenty of hot spices, of course.  Paneer, for those who aren't familiar, is a kind of home-made cheese.  I've seen it called "Indian cottage cheese" before.  For me cottage cheese isn't solid, though, so I shy away from calling it that.  If anything the flavor is closer to ricotta.

Paneer can be bought at an Indian grocery (check the freezer and dairy sections).  It can also be made at home with a minimum of effort (summary: boil milk, add lemon juice, strain).  It can be very simple or you can add a little flavor to it.  Either way it's a soft, squishy cheese with a slightly grainy texture that adds a welcome richness to a dish that otherwise is spicy stir-fried peppers.

If spicy foods intimidate you (and that's okay, we don't judge here) then go ahead and skip the hot spices.  It's a very flavorful dish even without the heat.

Let's get started, shall we?  Consolidated recipe at the bottom, as usual.

Chili Paneer
Total Cook Time: 45 minutes
Weirdest Spice: curry leaves

First off, if you're looking for other versions of this recipe you might have to search for "chilly paneer."  Don't let the ever-popular misspelling fool you.  This stuff packs a punch.

The original recipes that I learned to make this dish from do two things that I disagree with.  First, they deep-fry the paneer.  Personally I feel like if I'm going to eat solid milk fat, stir-frying it is quite sufficient.  Deep-frying is cardiac insult on top of injury at that point.

Second, the original recipes add things such as "ajinomoto" (the first recipe) or cornstarch (the second one).  I've got no problem with either as ingredients.  I just don't think either of them really enhance this particular dish since it's already got a lot going on.

Educational Aside:  Ajinomoto is a Japanese company that was started by the dapper gent who discovered MSG.  Despite its bad rep, MSG isn't some dangerous kill-you-dead cancer chemical.  In fact, it's got a lower toxicity than salt.  To give you a ballpark figure, let's assume humans metabolize MSG similarly to mice.  Based on that, a rough estimate is that a 60 kg (132 pound) adult would have to eat 900 grams or just shy of two pounds of MSG for it to be lethally toxic*.  You can take in as much as 10 grams (roughly 5 teaspoons) of it at a time without any adverse effects.  In other words, it's a flavoring just like any other.  It's popular in east Asian cooking because it adds a savory (umami) taste to food.  In fact, without the guy who discovered MSG we wouldn't even have the word umami (a portmanteau of umai, "yummy," and mi, "flavor," telling you everything you need to know).  There'd be a whole fifth of our available tastes -- salty, sweet, bitter, and sour being the other four -- that we wouldn't have a word for.  Cool, right?  So don't hate on MSG.  It's like Certain Other Anecdotes that have gotten into the media convincing people that something harmless will make them or their kids sick.  There simply is no scientific evidence to back it up.

So anyway, getting back on track and off my soapbox, I'm not using MSG in this dish not because it's some bogeyman spice.  I personally find that I don't need this dish to have more flavors in it.  It's already spicy and a little sour.  As for the cornstarch I don't let my chili paneer get watery enough where that's a necessary ingredient.  But do please feel free to check out the originals recipes above since I'd like to give credit where it's due.  If you'd like to include either MSG or cornstarch please feel free.  No hard feelings.

Whew!  That was a lot of background, eh?  Sorry for the detour.

You're going to want sliced onions, sliced bell peppers, and cubed paneer on hand before you start:

I used four bell peppers, one medium-sized onion, and one 14 oz. package of paneer that yielded about two cups cubed paneer.  I really like to use multi-colored bell peppers in this to make the final dish pop.  There's nothing preventing you from using green bell peppers or whatever's on sale.

I started off with our familiar starting point:  heating 2 tsp of cumin seeds in 1 tsp of oil heated on medium-high heat until they sizzle -- about 30-60 seconds or so.

I used olive oil.  You're welcome to use whatever you prefer.  Next are the sliced onions.  They don't have to be sliced super thin since this is a stir-fry and so we're not trying to dissolve them into a curry.

Saute the onions for 5-10 minutes or until they start to turn translucent.  Next up are 2 teaspoons each of ginger paste and garlic paste.

After that is a half-cup of diced jalepeno peppers.  I used frozen.  You can use fresh or canned if you'd prefer.

Stir-fry that for another 3-5 minutes, then add in the bell peppers:

Cook that for 3-5 minutes to soften up the peppers.  Personally I like to err on the side of less cook time at this point since I like my peppers to have some snap.  At this point we add in spices:  1 tsp cumin powder, 2 tsp coriander powder, 1 tsp chili powder, 0.25 tsp cayenne, 0.5 tsp paprika.  If you want to go milder then please feel free to omit or reduce the jalepenos and/or chili powder/cayenne/paprika.

Stir it up and then immediately add your liquid flavorings:  juice from 1 lemon or lime (your choice), 2 tsp soy sauce (can sub 1 tsp soy + 1 tsp fish sauce if you want), and 1 tsp Sriracha (ok to sub chili-garlic sauce or omit entirely).  Personally I like to whisk them all together in a separate bowl just to make sure I haven't gotten any lime seeds in the juice.  This time I had a lemon on hand so I used that:

Mix those in and then stir-fry until most of the liquid has evaporated off.  This is a fairly dry dish.  You can feel free to turn up the heat a tiny smidge if you're feeling impatient.  I find that at medium-high heat this process takes about 5 minutes.  About 2 minutes into that process I add 1 teaspoon each of curry leaves and cilantro (fresh coriander) and 1 tablespoon of diced scallion:

Bet you can guess our last step, hey?  When all the flavors are cooked in it's time to add the paneer.  Now, since we haven't deep-fried it the cost is that we have to treat it gently since it crumbles easily.  Just stir slowly and you should be fine.  Even if it crumbles a bit that's not a big deal.

I usually turn off the heat when the paneer goes in, stir it up a bit, and then just let it sit while I dish out the rice and set the table.  If you want to heat it up a bit more you can cook it for another few minutes.  Just be sure to turn the heat down to low so as not to scorch the paneer (it's made of milk meaning it's high in sugar and therefore will burn easily).

And that's it!  Dish it out over rice and you're done.

I like to garnish it with a little extra scallion.  That's optional, of course.

Tips:  (1) Add more lime juice if you find your dish is too spicy for you.  That will help to counter-act it.  (2) Add a tiny sprinkle of brown/palm sugar if it's too sour or too salty.  (3)  Don't add salt to this before you taste it.  Soy sauce is very salty and if you add salt before you taste it you might end up with a dish that's too salty for your tastes.  I myself never add any extra salt at all.

* Feel free to correct me re: my understanding of the MSG paper.  My research training was in squishy, earthy-crunchy humanities.

Chili Paneer
  • 4 bell peppers, diced (any colors ok)
  • 1 onion, cut into thick strips
  • 1/2 cup diced jalepeno pepper (optional, adjust to taste)
    • can sub: green chilies (fresh, frozen, or canned all OK)
  • 1-2 cups diced paneer
    • can sub: 1 pound diced extra-firm tofu
  • 2 tsp ginger paste or minced ginger
  • 2 tsp garlic paste or minced garlic
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp chili powder + 0.25 tsp cayenne powder + 0.5 tsp paprika (optional, adjust to taste)
  • juice of 1 lime
    • can sub: juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
    • can sub: 1 tsp soy sauce + 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp Sriracha (optional, adjust to taste)
    • can sub: chili garlic sauce
  • 1 tsp curry leaves (can omit if unavailable)
  • 1 tsp fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon diced scallion (plus extra for garnish if desired)

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet or wok on medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add cumin seeds and cook 30-60 seconds or until sizzling.  
  2. Add onions.  Saute 5-10 minutes or until translucent.
  3. Add ginger & garlic pastes and jalepeno peppers.  Stir-fry for 3-5 minutes or until fragrant.
  4. Add bell peppers and stir-fry for 3-5 minutes until peppers just barely begin to soften.
  5. Stir in cumin, coriander, chili powder, cayenne, and paprika.  
  6. Mix together soy sauce, lime juice, and Sriracha.  Add these to the pan and stir to coat.  Cook 2-3 minutes.
  7. Add curry leaves, cilantro, and scallion.  Cook an additional 2-3 minutes.
  8. Add paneer, gently stir in using extra caution to avoid breaking up paneer and allow to sit for a few minutes before serving.  (Note: can leave on low-low heat for as long as needed, stirring occasionally to prevent the paneer from burning.)

Friday, January 24, 2014

(2 Ingredient!) Ice Cream Bread

Ever had one of those days where you wanted ice cream for breakfast?

Me too, friend.  Me too.

For reasons related to shame and logistics I've never eaten ice cream for breakfast.  It's one of those things on my bucket list -- right after losing those last stubborn 700 pounds.

Personally I buy ice cream about once a year.  It's not that I don't like it... it's that I love it.  The less we have in the house, the better.

If only there were a way to take just a little bit to work for that afternoon slump, or better yet just save a spoonful for yourself and give the rest away, right?  There'd be the reward of getting ice cream as a treat without the guilt of having an entire pint (or -- gasp -- gallon!) in the freezer there to shame you every time you went looking for the frozen okra.

I am here to rescue you from all that.  You can thank me in the comments section.  ;-)

This ice cream bread takes two ingredients: ice cream and flour.  How is that even possible, you ask?  Ice cream is milk and eggs, folks.  (Bonus high-five to anyone who just thought about the Scott Pilgrim movie.)  That's what you'd be putting in your quick breads anyway.  Unless of course milk and eggs aren't your jam.  That's the beauty of this bread.  If you'd rather use a non-dairy soy- or rice-based frozen desserts, go for it.  I personally grew up on Rice Dream so I know where you're coming from.  Or use frozen yogurt.  Whatever.  Really.  This is open to all flavors and denominations.

And it's super easy.  Just for kicks I wanted to see if I could get everything I needed for this recipe into one shot.  Noooo problemo:

One of the best parts of this is that just about anyone could do it.  Kids, people who aren't kitchen-inclined...  if you've got a bread pan, a bowl, a spoon, and the ingredients, you can make this.  The rule is:  1.5 cups of self-rising flour per pint of ice cream, bake at 350(F) for an hour.  That's it!  Let's get started, shall we?

Ice Cream Bread

Step one is to acquire some of your ice cream of choice.  If you're like me this is done through the self-checkout since you are ashamed of being seen buying nothing but two pints of ice cream and a bag of celery on a Friday afternoon.  Again, there are no rules here -- you choose the flavor and the content.  If you want ultra low-fat vanilla frozen greek yogurt, do that.  Me, I kind of also wanted cake (it was that kind of a week):

The hardest part of this recipe is waiting for the ice cream to soften.  I put mine on the counter as soon as I got home from the store.  It took about an hour to soften up properly.  What you want is soft, not liquid.  When it's ready, scoop it out into your mixing bowl:

Stir or whisk it up a bit so that it's easy to work with.  If you don't, you're going to end up over-working the dough later when you try to put the flour in.

Ahhhh, that's better.  Now, IF you want to add in other mix-ins, this is the time to do it.  Please know that this is entirely optional.  The red velvet wanted to be more red, I thought, so I added in some food coloring (let me stress again, entirely optional):

About 5 drops is what it took to get a nice vibrant pink:

It then sort of begged for about a quarter cup of mini chocolate chips, also entirely optional (it was a rough week,  you guys):

Let me stress this: mix-ins are welcome, but not necessary.  All you need for this recipe is ice cream and the other main ingredient: self-rising flour.  The ratio for this is 0.75 cups of flour to 1 cup of ice cream.

A pint is two cups, meaning that for one pint of ice cream I needed 1.5 cups of self-rising flour.  That's all it takes to make one loaf.  

Tip:  If all you have is regular all purpose flour, add two teaspoons of baking powder and you're good to go.

Mix them up gently until the flour juuuuust disappears.  Don't go nuts trying to mix this to death.  Treat your ice cream with respect.

Alllllmost there...


Grease or spray down your bread pan to keep the bread from sticking, then spoon it into the pan.  I found the red velvet batter to be much stickier than the ones I've made in the past.

Doc's had kind of a rough week, too, so I made a loaf with coffee-flavored ice cream just for him:

You can see the difference between the textures there.  The coffee loaf is closer to what usually happens.

Pop your loaf in the oven at 350(F).  Total bake time is an hour, just be sure to rotate the pan 180 degrees halfway (this helps it bake more evenly).

Annnnd we're done!  The smell is heavenly, in case you couldn't guess.

Sixty minutes is what it took for mine.  Test yours with a toothpick to see if it's baked through.  (Note: if yours has chocolate chips just be sure you've gone through the bread and not through a chip -- melted chocolate on the toothpick can make it look like your batter's still runny when in fact it's done.)

Let it cool on the rack for 20 minutes before trying to cut this.  That'll save you tears and crumbles, not to mention a burnt tongue.

A Few Words on Flavors:  In the past I've had a lot of success with vanilla bean gelato, butter pecan frozen yogurt, and banana-flavored ice cream (similar to this recipe here).  The sky is the limit.  That said, some flavors just don't seem to shine through all that well.  For example, the red velvet one became rather bland but the coffee one worked really well.  If your first loaf is blah try a different flavor or brand.  The one caveat here is that these aren't super sweet and they're going to have a milder flavor than whatever ice cream you pick.  This definitely isn't your grandma's prized zucchini bread recipe.  But it is quick and it is easy, and for me it's just enough of a treat that it hits the spot when I'm having a lazy day.

Ice Cream Bread

  • 1 pint ice cream (or frozen dessert) of your choice
  • 1.5 cups self-rising flour
    • can sub: 1.5 cups self-rising flour + 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Optional mix-ins:
    • 1/4 cup nuts
    • 1/4 cup chocolate or other flavored candy chips (e.g. cinnamon, butterscotch)
    • crushed chocolate bar pieces
    • 1/4 cup fruit

  1. Allow ice cream to soften at room temperature for 30-60 minutes or until it can be easily worked with a spoon.
  2. Stir ice cream with a spoon (or on low using mixer) for 60 seconds to loosen it up.  If using mix-ins, add at this stage.
  3. Add flour to the ice cream, mixing slowly and gently until the flour is no longer visible.  Be careful not to over-mix.
  4. Spread batter into a greased bread pan.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean (no wet batter).  Rotate pan 180 degrees at the 30-minute mark to help bread bake evenly.
  6. Cool 20 minutes on cooling rack before attempting to cut or remove from pan.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Lemon Cashew Rice

Doc and I are about as different as two people could be.  It's something we're constantly made aware of, both in terms of culture/upbringing as well as personality.  He likes sports.  I like Doctor Who.  I read about one book a week.  He reads about one a year.  He's competitive at most things but easygoing about chores.  I'm cooperative in most situations but exacting when it comes to cleanliness.  His intelligence is based on rote memorization, mine on problem-solving.  He likes chips, I like crudités.

And, to get to the point at last, he prefers bread whereas I could eat rice forever.  I can, and have, eaten it for every meal for years at a time.

We try to share with each other what we can and politely (sometimes tersely) overlook the rest.  We could teach the world a lot about peace.

If you're wondering why I haven't delivered on my promise of scones and white chocolate popcorn, over the weekend I had grand plans to make them but in the end just didn't feel like having more junk food in the house.  Perhaps next weekend.  I hadn't posted in a while and I wanted to give you something new before then, so I started brainstorming.  We've been eating a lot of freezer meals lately (lentils, for example) and I haven't had anything new to post.  Then I figured, why not post one of the side dishes I make to go with the freezer meals?  So here's some rice for you.

In the interest of fairness I'll post a flatbread recipe one of these days, too.  Just not today.

[Concise recipe at the bottom, as always.]

Lemon Cashew Rice

Total Real Time:  30-60 min for rice presoak, 20 minutes for mix-ins (while rice soaks), 60 minutes in the rice cooker.
Weirdest spice: curry leaves.

A few days ago Doc and I tried a new Indian place.  The food tasted excellent but ended up making me rather sick before we'd even left the place.  (Tip: always read the online reviews first, question your choice of establishment if half of them mention food poisoning.  Lesson learned.)

Anyway, one of the things they had on their menu was lemon rice.  That caught my interest.  Lemon?  In the rice?  Since you now know my love for all things rice, you can guess why I had to give it a go within the week.  I'm pleased with how this came out.

Step one was to put the rice in to soak in warm water for at least half an hour.  We've already talked about why that's a good idea, right?  Right.

While the rice soaked I started with the skillet on medium-high heat.  When the pan was hot I added a splash of oil (about 1-2 tsp).  When the oil started to shimmer I added 1 tsp of mustard seeds.

Remember our discussion about how mustard seeds and mustard powder are different?  If you don't have mustard seeds, just leave them out.  Don't substitute mustard powder or you're going to get some weird rice.

Like cumin seeds, mustard seeds only take about 30-60 seconds or so until they start to make a sizzling, crackling noise.  When that happens add in 1 to 1.5 cups of diced onions.  I used frozen but you can use fresh if you've got them.

Stir it up with the oil and mustard seeds, add a tiny dash of salt (helps them to cook faster -- don't use your total final amount of salt just yet), and stir occasionally over the next 10ish minutes.  Frozen takes a little longer, as you might imagine.  I probably sauteed mine for about 15 minutes or so.

Next up is flavorings.  I added a handful of cashews:

Followed by the zest of half a lemon (dried lemon zest would also work -- try starting maybe around 1/4 tsp, taste it, and add a little more if that's not lemony enough for you):

Followed by 1.5 tsp chili powder (optional, adjust to taste), 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1/2 tsp coriander powder, and 2 tsp garlic paste or minced garlic.  

I wanted a very light amount of spices compared to the lemon flavor.  If you want things with more spice heft you could as much as double the turmeric and coriander.

I stirred all this up and let it cook for another 5 minutes.

Don't worry about getting thing too browned up since we're about to toss it in to cook alongside the rice.  Speaking of which, now's a good time to rinse it and toss it into your pot.  I prefer my rice cooker to using the stovetop.  You may need to make some adjustments for amount of liquid and cooking time depending on your equipment.  When it comes to deciding the rice:liquid ration, always default to the cooking instructions on:  (a) your own rice cooker; or, if using the stovetop, (b) the container the rice came in.  For example, my bag of rice says 1.75 cups of liquid for 1 cup of basmati rice, but my rice cooker says 2 cups of liquid for 1.25 cups of white rice.  I default to the cooker's instructions.  If I were cooking the rice in a pan on the stove, I'd use the rice bag's instructions.  Either way, here's what you do:
  1. Squeeze out one lemon into a measuring cup; then,
  2. Add the remainder of the liquid on top of that.
For example, I needed 2 total cups of liquid for my 1.25 cups of basmati rice.  First I squeezed out the lemon into my measuring cup:

And since it was an enormous lemon I got about 1/4 cup of lemon juice.  I then measured out the rest of the cup by topping it off with water:

See what I mean?  In other words, I counted the lemon juice as part of the total liquid I was adding to the rice, rather than measuring out two cups of water and then adding the lemon juice on top.  A quarter cup was just about perfect for a mild lemony flavor.  As for the rest of the liquid you could use water, vegetable stock, or chicken stock.  If using canned broth or stock, just keep in mind that they're usually pretty salty and you'll want to taste everything at the end before adding extra salt.

Okay, so into the cooker went the rice, the liquid (water + lemon juice, in my case), followed by the onion & cashew mix, a cup of green peas just for color, and 2 teaspoons of curry leaves (you can omit these if you don't have them, or substitute a bay leaf).

I closed it up, switched it to the setting for "mixed rice" (I have a fancy cooker and have found this is the best way to handle any rice-with-bits-of-stuff that I make), and let it do its thing.  If you're using a stovetop method, again, just add in the onion mix, peas, and curry leaves and then follow the directions that came with the rice.

Sixty minutes later the timer went off.  I prefer to let it sit for another 5-10 minutes after it goes off.  For some reason that seems to keep the rice from getting gummy, but that might just be a quirk of my cooker.  After the waiting period I fluffed the rice with a fork and dished it out.  Keep in mind that turmeric can and will stain absolutely any wood, fabric, people, or plastic it touches so I'd recommend serving this with a metal spoon rather than a rice paddle.

As I mentioned above, this has got a really mild lemon flavor and goes light on the spices.  That makes it an unobtrusive side to something with more kick or personality.  If you wanted to give it more of a center stage you might swap out the peas for edamame (yay, extra protein!), add some green chillies, and crank up the lemon and spices.  Or not.  Whatever makes ya happy!

Lemon Cashew Rice
  • 1.25 cups of basmati rice + 2 cups of liquid (includes juice of one lemon)
    • NOTE: Follow the directions on your rice cooker or rice bag to get appropriate rice : liquid ratio.  1.25 : 2 is specific to my cooker and may not produce ideal results for yours.
    • Be sure to count lemon juice (roughly 1/4 cup) as part of the cooking liquid.  Water or stock/broth can be used for the remaining liquid.
  • splash of oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 - 1.5 cups diced onion
  • handful of cashews
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tsp garlic paste or minced garlic
  • 1.5 tsp chili powder (optional, to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 cup green peas (optional, can sub edamame)
  • 2 tsp curry leaves (optional, can sub 1 bay leaf)
  • salt to taste

  1. Cover rice with warm water and set aside to soak.
  2. Heat skillet on medium-high.  Add oil, and then add mustard seeds when oil is hot enough to start shimmering.  Cook mustard seeds 30-60 seconds or until sizzling.
  3. Add onions and a dash of salt.  Saute, stirring occasionally, for roughly 10 minutes or until onions are softened and translucent.
  4. Add cashews, lemon zest, garlic, chili powder, and turmeric.  (If using green chillies, add them at this time.)  Saute for another 2-3 minutes.
  5. Drain rice and rinse until water runs clear.  Add to rice cooker with liquid.
  6. Place onion mix, peas, and curry leaves on top.  Do not stir.
  7. Set rice to cook for one cycle.  (NOTE: if using stovetop to cook the rice, mix in onions, peas, and curry leaves, then follow directions on the rice package.)
  8. Once cooker cycle is done, allow to sit 10 minutes without opening the lid.  
  9. Fluff with fork and serve.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Never-Fried "Refried" Beans

Food is such a social thing, isn't it?  We love to share it.  We love to build memories around it.  Want to see a cook light up?  Ask them for an old family recipe, or a favorite meal they shared with a friend.  We've all got those stories.  These are Grandma's lemon bars, this is my old roommate's famous kielbasa pizza, that is the little cafe we all went to after the night shift ended.

Sometimes it's just a flicker.  For example, every time I see refried beans I remember standing on tiptoe  to peek over the kitchen counter one day as Gram told me how "refried" was a mistranslation.  For the rest of my childhood I wondered just how many times they were really fried since they're supposed to be so bad for you.

And then one day I decided to look it up, and wow was I surprised.  Technically refried beans never have to be fried at all, although they might as well be.  I must've looked at about two dozen different recipes, and the majority used either lard or bacon fat in terrifying quantities.  The prize-winner had 1/2 cup of lard for 2 cups of beans, meaning that 20% of the total recipe was lard.  Now, clearly I'm not a girl who shies away from experimenting with new and interesting fats, but YIKES.  Double yikes.  Doesn't that make you a bit nervous for your arteries?  Surely, I thought, I could improve upon that a little.

That, plus the unsettling way that canned refried beans slorp out in a single can-shaped mass into the frying pan, convinced me that I'd be making them from scratch from now on.  And as it turns out, it couldn't be easier.

If you want the quick, picture/commentary-free version of the recipe, scroll to the bottom.

Never-Fried Frijoles Refritos

When you get right down to the nitty-gritty, making refried beans is pretty much the same process as making hummus:  cook beans until they're soft, add some flavorings, blend until smooth.  Easy-peasy, right?

I started with 2 cups of pinto beans.  Pinto beans are the standard for making refried beans (let's just call them that for argument's sake), though if you have other beans on hand then I say go for it.  This was never going to be a purist's recipe anyhow.

I've also been known to add pumpkin or beets to my hummus, so clearly I have no regard for the rules.

I boiled up my own dried beans.  If you're using canned or frozen (watch out for added flavors/MSG/salt), then you can skip down to the blending bit.

I covered the beans with warm water -- about 3-4 inches over the top of the beans to give them room to grow -- and let them sit overnight.  As we mentioned with the Hoppin' John recipe, you can quick soak them in about an hour instead if you're in more of a hurry.

Twelve-ish hours later I rinsed and drained them, then put them in a pan.  These were covered with fresh water, again about 4ish inches over the top of the beans.  (Don't you just love how precise this all is?)

 When making refried beans the regular way, the beans are boiled up by themselves and then the flavorings are fried and added along with the lard after the beans are cooked.  Since I wanted to remove oil from the recipe altogether, I put my garlic, onion, and sweet red pepper in to boil.  I figured that'd get them all mushy enough to puree up.  If you wanted a little more fresh veg crunch in your refried beans then you could just add them raw, assuming whatever you're using to blend this all up can handle raw onion.  It's up to you.  More on this in a second.

I used about 5 cloves of garlic, 1/2 of the onion, and one red pepper.  The pepper I used was not spicy at all, but if you wanted to use a jalepeno or something with some kick, just please remember to use gloves when dicing/de-seeding.  I've given the agony spiel before, right?  Agony.

You don't have to be all that neat when chopping these up since they're going to be pureed later anyway.  Toss 'em in with the beans and put 'em on to boil.

Once the water's boiling, turn it down to a simmer and cover it.  How long it takes the beans to get mushy enough depends entirely on things you can't control, like how old and how dry the beans were when you started.  Check 'em at about an hour, and maybe every 15 thereafter.  They're done when you can smoosh them easily with the back of a spoon.

Mmmmm, squishy.

When you drain them, be mindful to save some of the liquid that you cooked the beans in.  This is going to be used in just a second.  You don't have to save it all.  In the ballpark of 1/2 cup of liquid per cup of beans should be way more than plenty.  So for this recipe that's about a cup of liquid.  Although we definitely won't use all that, better safe than sorry.

I usually just set a bowl under the strainer.

How you blend up your beans depends on what you have to work with.  I used my food processor.  You might use an immersion blender or even a potato masher if that's what you've got.   Whatever you use, just be sure to move the beans to a regular bowl first -- don't puree them in the sieve.  Sounds obvious, but I've done some pretty ditzy things in my life.

If you didn't already add the garlic, pepper, and onion, go ahead and do that now.  Or you could even use garlic paste, if you want.  If you're blending with a potato masher or immersion blender you'll definitely want to boil the veggies first or they'll never blend in with the beans.  The other thing you could do is to stir-fry them on the stovetop until soft.  I'd recommend olive oil if going that route.  With a food processor it doesn't matter so much whether you toss raw veggies in, which is probably what I'll do next time.

To help things along, add a teaspoon or two of the reserved cooking liquid (bean juice?).  A little goes a long way.  The less you use, the thicker your refried beans will be.  If you like a thick paste, then err on the side of very little water.  You can even start with none and see if that works for you.

A little splash'll do ya.  You can always add more later.  I probably added too much, to be honest.

Puree that bad boy up.  Next we add spices.  Since I used a sweet pepper I loaded up on the chili powder.  I went with 1 tsp chili powder (optional, adjust to taste), 1/2 tsp cumin powder, and 1 tsp coriander powder.  If I'd though of it sooner I might've tried throwing in fresh cilantro rather than the coriander.  Whatever, it all came together just fine.

Give it another pulse to work in the spices and you're good to go!

I got to use my cute little salsa bowl set.  Yay!

What I loved about this is that it tasted so... not full of lard.  Now, don't get me wrong, I love bacon as much as the next gal and there's a time and a place for using fats of all kinds in cooking.  I won't claim that this tastes truly authentic.  Doc noticed right away that this was missing a kind of savory, fatty something that he was used to.  That said, he also ate just about the whole bowl himself, particularly after I explained why it was different from what we'd get at a restaurant.  I've wondered if maybe next time adding corn might not give it the extra something.  If any brave souls out there try it, be sure to let me know if it worked.

I loved that this dish is so much more than a side. So far I've used it on nachos (blended with some jalepenos and tomatoes), as a hummus-style dip for raw veggies, and tomorrow I'll use up the rest in beef & bean enchiladas.  It's super filling, too (protein + fiber = happy tummy).  As long as you've blended out all the lumps it'd even been an option for people who eat purees.

I hope this will hold you for healthy recipes for a week or so, 'cause this weekend I'm going to be making scones and white chocolate popcorn.  But then we'll get back to the good stuff, I promise.

Never-Fried Frijoles Refritos


  • 2 cups dried pinto beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
    • Can sub: 1 can of pinto beans, rinsed & soaked.  If using canned, skip the steps for boiling the beans.
  • 4-5 whole cloves of garlic (optional, to taste)
  • 1/2 onion, cut into large chunks
  • 1 red pepper, cut into large chunks
    • Can sub: 1-2 jalepeno peppers, to taste
  • 1 tsp chili powder (optional, to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
    • Can sub: 1 small handful chopped fresh cilantro
  • salt to taste


  1. Soak dry beans overnight in water that covers beans by 3-4 inches.
  2. Drain & rinse beans well.
  3. Place beans in stock pot with enough fresh water to cover the beans by 3-4 inches.  Add onion, garlic, and pepper and bring to a boil.
  4. When water reaches a boil, turn down to a simmer, cover, and let cook until beans can be easily mashed with the back of a spoon.
  5. Drain beans, reserving about a cup of the cooking liquid.
  6. Place beans in a separate bowl (if using immersion blender or potato masher) or in a food processor.  Mash until smooth, adding small amounts (max around 1 tbsp) of the cooking liquid if needed.
  7. Add spices and stir until blended.  
  8. Salt to taste.