Friday, June 10, 2011

RECIPE - Brazilian "Refried Beans" (Feijão de Leite)

We've never quite understood why the Mexican dish called frijoles refritos in Spanish and refried beans in English has that particular name. The beans really aren't fried even once, much less refried. They are cooked, mashed, and then reheated on a stove or over a flame with some lard or oil. Perhaps it's the presence of some form of fat that caused the dish to be named refried beans. We don't know.

Whatever the problems the dish has with nomenclature, it's a wonderfully delicious way to serve dried beans, and makes a perfect accompaniment to a simple plate of some sort of protein (meat or fish) with rice. The beans turn the duopoly of protein and starch into a complete meal - and make the dish almost perfectly nutricious as long as a dollop of salsa tops it off.

Traditional Brazilian cuisine has a very similar dish, which in Portuguese is wisely NOT called feijão refrito. It's known instead as feijão de leite (meaning beans with milk). It comes from the northeastern state of Bahia, and typicallof Bahian cooking, the milk employed comes not from a cow, or even a sheep or a goat. It comes from a palm tree - the milk in this dish is coconut milk.

In  feijão de leite, dried beans are cooked in the normal way then they're mashed. Coconut milk is stirred in, and the mashed beans are heated just until they boil. It's a perfect way to use leftover beans, and with (again) protein and rice creates a balanced, delicious plate of food. Since it's just as easy to make a large quantity of beans as it is to make a small one, and since cooked beans freeze beautifully, making this dish from defrosted beans from your freezer is a snap and requires almost no preparation time at all. Next time you make beans freeze some just for this purpose. You'll be glad you did.

(Note: In Brazil this dish is usually made with a type of bean known as feijão mulatinho. The closest equivalent is pinto beans, which work beautifully in this recipe, but almost any sort of dried bean is acceptable as a substitute.)
RECIPE - Brazilian "Refried Beans"  (Feijão de Leite)
Serves 8

4 cups (1l) precooked basic beans (click here for recipe for basic beans)
1 cup coconut milk, canned or homemade
salt to taste
1/4 cup sugar (optional)

Put the cooked beans, with their liquid, in a blender along with the coconut milk. Blend until smooth and homogenous. Add the sugar (if desired) and correct the salt.

Put the blended beans in a large, heavy pan and heat over medium-high heat, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Heat until the mixture just begins to bubble, remove from heat and serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora.

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