Southern Jewish Cooking with Ken Horwitz
Learn how to top off a quesadilla with homemade frijoles refritos and prepare to have fun while watching Ken Horwitz create this healthier version from his Texas kitchen.
This Frijoles Refritos video and recipe come to you straight from Texas where Deep Flavors author, Ken Horwitz, turns his favorite foods into flavorful Kosher recipes. Be sure to watch the video on my landing page.
We hope you enjoy our first Chefs Creations From Around the World video presentation featuring “Deep Flavors” cookbook author Ken Horwitz. Scroll down to view the Refried Beans Kosher-Style recipe with cooking tips.
The Perfect Frijoles Refritos
Frijoles refritos Refried Beans are a common item on almost every plate in a Mexican restaurant, at least in Texas, and are common in many, if not most, Mexican households as a staple item. However, at the risk of being accused of blasphemy, I will state that they are, for the most part, so bland as to be inedible without substantial enhancement, at least to my taste.
In restaurants, I frequently mix in the spicy salsa to add flavor, if I eat them at all. However, at home, it is possible to make a much more enticing product that is worthy of the effort and quite delicious. It has the additional advantage of being a very inexpensive and healthy dish, although do not confuse beans with low-calorie diet food.
Despite the translation of the name refried beans, frijoles refritos can be made deliciously without any frying, with very little oil, and without any degradation of flavor (although that is not common practice among Mexican cooks, at least in Texas, who use Crisco, which is kosher, or lard, which is not kosher). The process is quite simple and produces a tasty and flavorful result that is not only kosher but is worthy of being eaten as a side dish or used as an enhancer—not just a filler—in soft tacos of every sort, as well as in Quesadillas (Chapter 12), Seven-Layer Dip (Chapter 5), and more.
This recipe can be easily multiplied. I make extra Refried Beans Kosher-Style with the plan to freeze the unused portion since this is a useful and delicious ingredient.
You can cook your own dried beans from scratch, but for this purpose, I think it is hardly worth the effort. Buy canned beans that have no additional flavorings at all. If you purchase already mashed refried beans, make sure that they are not flavored other than with salt and do not contain lard or other fat. Read the label carefully because many of these products use pork lard and other undesirable ingredients. A kosher product should not be hard to find. There are many brands with vegetarian refried beans available in their product lines.
2 (1-pound) cans plain whole beans (I prefer black beans for this use, although pinto or red beans are certainly good)—or ½ pound dried beans
1 small onion, diced
3–4 large cloves garlic
1 teaspoon commercial chili powder (I prefer McCormick’s flavor, but it is a matter of taste. Penzeys has a chili powder blend with a delicious flavor profile similar to McCormick’s, albeit somewhat more spicy, and two even more potent chili powder blends.)
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin, or to taste
1 teaspoon thyme, or to taste
1 teaspoon oregano, or to taste
¼–½ teaspoon chipotle chile powder or some canned chipotle in adobo (extra can be frozen in a glass container and thawed for later use)
fresh chile such as jalapeño (optional)
1–2 dried guajillo chiles (optional), reconstituted in hot water, drained, seeded, and chopped, reserving the liquid to substitute for the water needed in the cooking process
about ½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
freshly ground black pepper
If using canned whole beans, put the beans into a strainer, and rinse thoroughly.
Lightly sauté the onion and garlic in a minimal amount of olive oil (less than a tablespoon). Add a commercial chili powder blend, ancho chile powder, chipotle chile powder (or canned chipotle chile in adobo), salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, and thyme, all to taste. Cook very slightly to “bloom” the flavor of the spices.
A fresh, finely minced jalapeño is also a good addition. Remember to remove the seeds and ribs inside the pepper unless you want the heat, noting there is no lack of opportunity to add heat with other ingredients. Serrano chiles are somewhat spicier than jalapeños but have a significantly different flavor that I do not like. Chipotles (either as chile powder or canned in adobo) are delicious but quite spicy and should be added carefully. Ancho chile powder is less spicy and has a nice fruity flavor. Chipotles are, in essence, smoked, dried jalapeños and add a wonderful, very different smoky flavor to the dish but are spicier than fresh jalapeños. For 2 cans of beans, I never use more than 1 or 2 chipotle chiles if I use the canned version rather than powder. Taste as you add because chipotles are quite spicy.
Different chiles have very different flavors, not just different heat levels. Some TV chefs will use bell peppers (which are, of course, a type of chile) in substitution of, for example, poblano peppers, but the bell pepper flavor profile is just wrong for most Mexican food.
Next add the drained and washed canned beans (or, if you are cooking dried beans, your freshly cooked beans) to the pan with the spices. Add some filtered water—perhaps ½ cup or as needed. Mash with a potato masher to the desired texture. A blender or food processor would produce a wrong texture. Cook the mixture at medium heat to the desired thickness. If it is too thick, add water; if it is too thin, keep cooking, stirring constantly, evaporating water until it reaches the desired thickness, and adjusting as needed. Be careful to not burn the beans, as they will do so if you leave them unattended on the heat.
When desired texture is reached, add some finely chopped cilantro stems, and cook just to heat. I know that some people, such as my daughter, do not like cilantro, but it really adds a nice flavor that does not taste as cilantro in the final product. The finely chopped stems are soft and edible and have the same flavor as the leaves, some of which should be reserved for a more refined use such as a garnish or as a raw condiment in soft tacos.
I assure you these beans are anything but bland and are quite delicious.
Go Deep in Flavor
Deep Flavors is a perfect idea for that last-minute gift: sensational and detailed recipes such as the familiar but reimagined favorite, Deconstructed Turkey, designed to produce a perfectly cooked bird with bountiful sauce and stuffing every time, or the different, but delicious, Texas State Fair Blue Ribbon Winning Mushroom Spinach Lasagna, to unique and delectable desserts like Lemon Coconut Custard Cherry Pie, or a German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake, to advice on how to enhance ingredients (from asparagus and mushrooms to nuts), plus the many other eclectic recipes and ideas, all combine to make award-winning Deep Flavors a valued gift for your loved ones or friends who love to cook. See also the review of Deep Flavors in the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/07/dining/deep-flavors-book-kenneth-horwitz.html.
Tips to Season to Perfection:
1. Use mushrooms, especially wild porcini, trumpet, chanterelle, and morel mushrooms. There are many delicious domesticated mushrooms, from button mushrooms to shitake to portabello, etc., but yet do not have the same intensity of flavor. I buy dried wild mushrooms by the pound on the internet and while it may seem expensive to spend $35.00 on a pound of mushrooms, the reality is that you only use a couple of ounces at any one time (and mix with exotic, domestic or even plain button mushrooms), so the cost per recipe is really only a couple of dollars.
2. Use herbs and spices generously in your cooking. The more you cook and the more you use herbs and spices, the more you will become familiar with their flavors and how they combine with other flavors. Dried herbs frequently have a much more intense flavor than fresh herbs: use both. For example, sweet basil is easy to grow and the flavor of fresh basil in a tomato sauce, on a salad, and elsewhere is incredible. There is nothing like fresh herbs to add flavor to fresh food. Just remember that many dried herbs have a more intense flavor, so use about 1/3 or so of the dried herbs as the fresh.
3. Asparagus is an incredibly flavorful vegetable, and great to eat. However, it should be peeled to remove the stringy outside of the stem. Starting about two inches down from the tender tip peel towards the cut tip of the asparagus with one swipe of a vegetable peeler, turning the asparagus until you have gone completely around. Then, break off the bottom inch of the stem which remains woody. The entire asparagus is now delectable, and can be used with a minimal amount of cooking so that it stays green and succulent.
4. Flavor can be created by browning ingredients before you assemble the recipe. For example, meats, mushrooms and vegetables like (onions and carrots) acquire great flavor by browning. The brown bits on the bottom of your pan are not burned, but are pure flavor. After you brown your meats or vegetables, use a liquid of your choice such as wine or stock to deglaze or remove the brown bits from the bottom and carry those flavor bits into the sauce that will be served with the dish.
5. Always taste the dish as you proceed, adding salt as you go along, so that when the dish is served it will have a wonderful flavor. This is essential for many foods, but particularly grains, because if you do not salt as you are cooking, the salt will not get into the grains and you simply cannot add enough salt at the table: it is too late. Similarly, if you are going to cook a large piece of meat, salt the meat and allow the salt to be absorbed into the meat over a period of time. So, for example, if you are making a steak, salt the meat, put it into the refrigerator, and allow it to rest for several hours as the salt permeates throughout the meat. Again, simple, easy, and all it takes is a little bit of foresight.
Deep Flavors is a book celebrating recipes for foodies and vegetarians in a kosher-style. The emphasis is on how to cook for flavor while kosher, so the question may be raised by many readers who are not Jewish: Well, is this for me? Of course! Essentially kosher means food with (a) no pork; (b) no mixing milk and meat; and (c) no fish that does not have fins, scales, and gills, so no shellfish. That leaves a lot of possibilities! Learn more about Deep Flavors at www.deepflavorscookbook.com.
Need more cooking tips from Ken Horwitz? Read this companion article with more tips on how to make all of those Jewish recipes you had growing up.
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