Adventures in the kitchen: Mexican madness

mexican foodEven before we left to travel, I knew we were missing out on good Mexican food here. Mexican Cafe and Mexicali Fresh? Blah. Mexican Specialities also underwhelmed us. Ahsi Itzcali closed down awhile ago. There are plenty of trendy new-ish Mexican restaurants in town, many of which I’ve tried and been impressed by, but they’re all at the gourmet end of the market. I just want a simple big plate of rice, refried beans, salad and a burrito. That ain’t gonna happen here, though. (Those closest we’ve gotten to scratching that itch, if you’re interested, is with the burritos at new chain Mad Mex.)

Seriously, if anyone is keen to move to Auckland and start a humble Mexican neighbourhood joint (nothing fancy; a beans’n’rice type place, as a worldly acquaintance of mine puts it) you would have no competition. Would the margins work? I dunno; the hospitality business is a lean, tough one. But T and I would be your most loyal customers and I’d take it upon myself to spread the gospel and convert newbies.

Anyway, in the meantime I’ve been forced to try to learn to make good Mexican at home. I’ve found pinto beans at East West Organics, around the corner from my house (they also sell other interesting things I’ve read about online but never seen in shops here, like steel cut oats). Alas, they are permanently out of stock of dried pinto beans, though at least they always have canned ones.

But try as I may to make my own refried beans I can’t seem to get the flavour right (we’ve been experimenting with the likes of garlic, lemon, chili, cumin). The best version we had included copious amounts of salt and three grated cloves of garlic. How do I season them properly? What spices do you use?

(I could just buy premade refried beans but simply refuse to pay $4.50/$5 for a can of refried beans when plain pinto beans are at least $1 cheaper.)


13 thoughts on “Adventures in the kitchen: Mexican madness

  • Reply Anna June 6, 2014 at 08:00

    Honestly, if I want my beans to taste right, I always put in lard. I haven’t had the canned refried beans, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever eaten vegetarian refried beans, so you may be thinking of a different flavor though. The less refined lard is better. You can try bacon grease, but I find it’s usually too smokey. I know in the states I can find lard unrefrigerated with the shortening, and if I go to Mexican groceries sometimes I can find more fresh, less refined lard that needs to be refrigerated.

    • Reply eemusings June 7, 2014 at 17:34

      DUDE. I think you may have cracked it. Lard would explain a lot, including the lovely thick texture of refried beans. Will try this next time!

  • Reply Sarah Greesonbach June 6, 2014 at 08:03

    Mexican has some subtle flavors going on! Try a combo of 1.5: 1: 1 cumin, onion powder, & garlic powder, and then canned/diced tomatoes, lime, and red pepper for secret mexican awesomeness.

  • Reply Genie June 6, 2014 at 11:48

    Bulk Food Savings on Dominion Road has dried pinto beans if you’re still looking for them. I’ve never been wowed by refried beans so I guess no one makes them properly here.

    • Reply eemusings June 7, 2014 at 17:33

      I hate to be the person shitting on food here (I have to bite my tongue everytime someone at work gushes about the new Mexicali Fresh that opened nearby – why would you pay money for what is a heinously bland version of a kebab?!) but yeah, nah.

  • Reply Meghan June 6, 2014 at 15:20

    $4.50 + ?? That is unbelievable. Ouch

  • Reply save. spend. splurge. June 6, 2014 at 20:35

    I have no idea how to make this stuff but I love that you are addicted to it after trying it in the US! 🙂

  • Reply Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies June 6, 2014 at 22:42

    I grew up near the Mexican border, so the canned stuff just isn’t the same as what you could get from the taco stands. The best/easiest “at home” version I’ve found so far is the bean portion of this recipe: http://www.hippressurecooking.com/fresh-make-the-7-layer-dip-from-scratch/

    I’ve never had an ancho chili on hand, so I use the red pepper flakes and it gives it a tiny kick. The immersion blender gets it the right consistency – and it cools into the firmer texture just like the other cooking methods – and I actually really like it with kidney beans rather than pinto. (Though I could be convinced to try cranberry beans sometime, too!)

  • Reply cantaloupe June 7, 2014 at 01:23

    When you master it, you should open the Mexican joint!

  • Reply Emma @ Life. By Emma June 7, 2014 at 15:05

    You are so right. Dave (husband) and I think a real cocina economica would go down so well in NZ. Feed the masses a three course set meal of delicious but simple food and charge a set price for it. Like $8-10 bucks. It’s genius, who wouldn’t love that idea.
    We ate menu del dia’s all through South America and here in Mexico (we are living in Mexico now as we love the food and culture so much) we can get one for 50 pesos (around $4.50NZD). Or a taco for 5 pesos (45 cents). I don’t know how I am ever going to leave this country, NZ food is so bloody expensive compared to here.
    If you are ever in Christchurch I recommend Alvarados, it’s the closest I’ve come to authentic Mexican in NZ.
    And if you ever do decide to go into the Mexican cantina business let me know, we’ll be your South Island partners.

  • Reply Linda June 9, 2014 at 15:22

    Anna is right. Refried beans usually have lard in them. At the Mexican grocers here it is called manteca. I’m not sure what the correct proportion should be, but this recipe looks about right: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/05/02/refried_pinto_beans_an_easy_cheap_recipe_for_cinco_de_mayo_and_beyond.html

    If you can’t get lard, then go ahead and use the a mild vegetable oil instead. Not olive oil, though.

  • Reply Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) June 10, 2014 at 19:40

    I’ve never tried to make my own refried beans from scratch since in the States the premade canned stuff is nearly the same price as pinto beans (read: around $1.25) but I would suspect the missing ingredient is lard. Lots of it.

  • Reply nicoleandmaggie June 23, 2014 at 15:00

    I prefer bacon grease!

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