Homemade refried black beans Credit: Sandy Oliver

The dried bean selection at many grocery stores is pretty sparse these days. The last time I shopped, however, I noticed that a few packages of black beans sat in lonely splendor where pintos, yellow eyes, pea beans and green split peas had all been scooped up. Perhaps most Yankees don’t use black beans much, except maybe for black bean soup.

Over the years, I’ve collected a few terrific ways to use them. Several have been published here at Taste Buds in the Bangor Daily News, like a wonderful cold salad with red peppers, corn kernels, red onion and cumin with vinegar and oil; or mixed into mashed sweet potatoes or cooked winter squash in a cheese topped casserole or wrapped with tortillas for enchiladas; and refried beans.

I didn’t buy the beans I saw in the store because I grow them and have for a few years now. Last year’s crop was terrific, yielding fairly large beans. Coco is the variety. It’s tremendous fun to grow drying beans, no harder to plant and tend than green beans. At the harvest end, though, a gardener has to pay attention and get to them as soon as the pods are dry to gather them up and thresh them. At our house, threshing consists of laying them out on an old sheet folded over and walking on them. When the pods crack open, I gather up the loose beans, leaving large empty pods behind. On a breezy day, I take them out to the yard and pour them gradually from one container to another and let the dry bits of pod blow away.

Refried beans are terribly easy to make. Soak and cook the beans and fry up a whole lot of onions in plenty of oil (or lard if you don’t mind going that route). Mash the beans into the onions. Then, add your favorite Tex-Mex seasonings (chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, garlic whatever you like.) And a nacho supper, with tortilla chips sprinkled with cheese run under the broiler, a spread of salsa and some sour cream, turns out to be a fun-to-eat supper, and relatively wholesome if you have salad on the side. You can also make a taco supper by piling all that same stuff with shredded carrots and lettuce into a taco shell.

You don’t have to make a point of it being a vegetarian supper. You can add some browned ground meat to the whole mixture if hearty appetites call for it.

Do you remember about speed soaking? Bring dry beans covered by lots of water to a boil, boil for a minute, then take them off the heat and let them sit for an hour. After that, you can cook them until they are as tender as if you had soaked them overnight.

Don’t forget that you can make a dip out of the refried beans by pureeing it in a food processor with olive oil or a little bit of water to smooth it out enough to scoop up with raw carrots slices, peppers, celery, broccoli, cauliflower — whatever you like or have in the vegetable department, or corn chips.

Black beans are just another bean. They have protein, fiber, and are wonderfully satisfying. They need soaking and boiling unless they are canned. They’ll taste like whatever else you add to them with seasoning.

P.S. We are all cooking more and not eating out because restaurants are closed. Many of us are home all day, so there is a greater opportunity to cook those things, like dried beans, that require a longer time. You might have questions or ideas about how to use them. Over the years Taste Buds has offered recipes for dry beans, and I am happy to share again. If you recall but can’t find a recipe, email me, or write, and I will do my best to dig it out for you.

Or if you have a new wrinkle to share because you are cooking more, why not share it here? You can bet other cooks would be glad for the idea.

Or, perhaps there’s an ingredient you could pick up because it’s available but you are a little fuzzy about how to use it? No guarantees we’ll know what to do, but we’ll try to figure it out. Feel free to ask.

Refried Black Beans

Serves 4-6

1 pound dry black beans

2 tablespoons olive oil or lard

1-2 large onions, chopped

1-2 garlic cloves, minced, optional

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1-2 teaspoons chili powder, or more to taste

Red pepper flakes or chipotle powder to taste

Salt to taste

Scallions to taste, optional

Cilantro, to taste, optional

1. Soak the beans overnight, or use the speed soaking method described above.

2. Bring the beans covered with a couple inches of water to a boil, and cook until they are tender enough to mash against the side of the pan.

3. Heat the oil or lard in a skillet and add the onions. Cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally until they are very tender but not browned— about 10 minutes.

4. Add the garlic, if desired, and cook for another minute.

5. Partially drain the boiled beans and add to the onions together with the cumin, chili powder, and chipotle or red pepper if used.

6. Mash vigorously with a masher until it is soft, adding hot water as needed if it seems dry, or cooking a little longer if it is wet.

7. Taste, add salt or more seasonings as needed.

8. Serve with chopped scallions or cilantro on top.

9. Freeze or refrigerate any extra.

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...