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Bean Counters: Legume’s Versatility Is Key To Delicious Mexican Cuisine

Mexican farmers grow 70 varieties, which can create an incredible number of dishes. 

Beans are as essential to Mexicans as corn. Both plants grow together in a complementary-crop system called milpa, a sustainable gardening method.

In the kitchen, their flavors complement each other, too. This pairing has been central to Mexican cuisine for centuries.

Seventy of the 150 species of beans of the world grow in Mexico, according to the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The states of Zacatecas, Chihuahua, Durango, Nayarit, Chiapas and Sinaloa are the largest bean producers in the country, but consumers are spread everywhere.

Refried beans cannot miss in my house. Beans are an important complement to the stews at the [Mexican] table. I prepare them with lard, fried onion and chile de árbol,” said Leonor Serrano Peña, a housewife from Boca del Río, Veracruz.

Beans play a central role on the table of millions of Mexican families. They are nutritious, inexpensive and filling, which makes them the perfect staple for all classes.

The production of beans in Mexico is expected to reach 2.62 million tons by 2030, according to Statista. (Milada Vigerova/Unsplash)

“Beans are essential in Mexican gastronomy. There are countless dishes whose main ingredient is beans,” said Rodolfo Vázquez Figueroa, a gastronomy graduate from Le Chef College in Boca del Río, Veracruz.

Snacks such as sopes, panuchos, tlacoyos and huaraches are always topped with beans, cheese and salsa.

“A bean taco during lunch is delicious. Sometimes, we also make pambazos [fried sandwiches bathed in a spicy sauce] with refried beans, queso fresco and chorizo, a traditional Veracruz snack,” said Vázquez Figueroa.

In Veracruz, gorditas stuffed with beans and volovanes with beans and chorizo are just two of the many possible snacks that include beans.

Mexicans also like bean-based main dishes. They cook these legumes with olives, peppers, chorizo, salsa and lard to prepare pork beans.

A soup with beans, tomato, onion, peppers, pork rinds, bacon and chorizo goes by the name of charro beans.

Enfrijoladas is one of the most popular bean dishes in Mexico. A classic breakfast dish, enfrijoladas look like enchiladas. But cooks bathe the tortillas in bean sauce instead of spicy salsa.

Besides being delicious, beans are also healthy. They are “high in fiber, low in fat, high in carbohydrates and protein. Their high iron content makes them an important staple for people with anemia. It is a complete food that provides enormous health benefits,” said Vázquez Figueroa.

Black beans also help reduce breast, liver and colon cancer.

Are you interested in learning a delicious way to increase your bean intake? Try making enfrijoladas.

Mexicans serve enfrijoladas with steak, chicken or scrambled eggs. (Mexican government)

Enfrijoladas recipe

2 teaspoons chicken bouillon powder

3 cups black beans

1 cup water

1 tablespoon lard

10 corn tortillas

2 pounds queso fresco or Chihuahua cheese

¼ onion, sliced

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup heavy cream

Preparation 

Fry the tortillas in butter.

Boil the beans with onion and blend them with a cup of water. Pour into a saucepan with melted butter and add chicken bouillon powder.

Once the mix is warm, dip the tortillas one by one in the sauce. Fold them in the enchilada style and serve them on a plate. Garnish with grated cheese, cream and onion.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Fern Siegel)