The Heirloom Bean Project: Refried

Using Rancho Gordo heirloom beans for refried beans, with fresh local eggs, tortillas, and cotija cheese

Last week was one of those between-shopping weeks. You know, those annoying periods of Home Ec during which the shelves remain stocked, with at least 50% of whatever it is that you bought last week, but you still can’t figure out dinner? To compound matters, I flatly refuse to buy food right before a holiday, and Spring Break was imminent: a road trip to Santa Cruz, and then to the ballpark. (On a related tangent, and gender politics notwithstanding, the hard reality is that you’re unlikely to see many Giants games when you live 75 miles from the park, in a house chock-a-block with little women, and I’m outnumbered 6 to 1, counting the cats. My point being, keeping my girls happy on the eve of our trip seemed important.)

Scouring the cupboard yielded some 97 boxes of dried pasta, a still-virgin bag of brown rice that my wife optimistically adopted back in the mid-90s, a random assortment of canned goods (tomato paste, tuna, and – inexplicably – haggis), and a handful of options from last month’s Birthday Bean Sampler from Rancho Gordo. I knew I had some leftover tortillas, jalapenos, and cotija cheese in the fridge from an ongoing flirtation with chilaquiles, and I almost always have a few eggs from one of my favorite local chicken ranchers lying about, so I grabbed a bag of dried beans and set out to play a simple riff on huevos rancheros; as the entire country of Mexico has known for generations, eggs, corn, cheese and beans can be combined into complete proteins in almost limitless ways, and breakfast-for-dinner has a storied tradition in our home…

I continue to be astounded by the qualitative difference and depth of flavor that I get out of ancient strains of the deceptively humble legume: cooked simply in water, with plenty of time and a little salt, these under-appreciated if flatulent treats will utterly beguile your perception of what beans are all about. Add a splash of livid chili-pepper green, grate some tangy snow-white cheese, and top it all off with a crazy-fresh egg with a yolk the color of marigolds, and you’ve either got a cheap, healthy, crowd-pleasing family meal, a hangover cure extraordinaire, or – at least in our house – both, for the price of one.

Local Huevos with Refried Heirloom Beans and Jalapeno Oil (4-6 servings)

Ingredients: 1 pack of Corn Tortillas from your favorite local mercado or, failing that, good old Safeway, 1 per plate; 0.5lb of Dried Heirloom Beans (Rio Zapes or Pintos would be classic, but I made this batch with Good Mother Stallards, and we all loved the color and texture); fresh Eggs, 1 per plate; 1C finely grated Cotija Cheese; 1-2 fresh Jalapeno Peppers, seeded and finely chopped; Olive Oil, as needed; 1T minced White Onion; and Salt and Pepper, to taste.


  1. Soak and cook the beans according to their instructions; drain, reserving 1C of the pot liquor. (This can be done indefinitely far in advance.) Cook the onion in 2T of olive oil (or rendered lard, if you’re a purist; or butter, if you’re French) until soft, add the beans and some pot liquor, and mash and stir until very smooth, adding the liquor as needed to achieve the desired consistency (in addition to a good bean, some patience and a little arm muscle seem to be the key to a proper refried). This will take 15-30 minutes. Adjust seasoning and keep warm.
  2. While the beans are cooking, or in between mashings, puree the jalapeno with enough olive oil in a blender or food processor to turn it into a smooth sauce, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste; I would typically run it through a strainer and just use the infused oil, but that’s totally optional.
  3. When everything else is ready (or in parallel, if you don’t mind moving a bunch of pans at once), gently fry the eggs (they will look much better sunny-side up).
  4. Quickly warm the tortillas, top with the beans, then the cheese, and finally the egg. Garnish the egg with good salt and dress the plate with the jalapeno oil.