Refried Beans with Chorizo
Makes 4 to 6 servings

The other day I was over at my mother’s house thumbing through an old copy of Saveur magazine, when I saw an article by Richard Rodriguez, one of my all-time favorite writers. Richard Rodriguez wrote Hunger of Memory, a poetic and beautiful memoir of his education from elementary school through graduate studies at UC Berkeley. Hunger of Memory is also an account of the intimacy and closeness of his family life and how his education ended up separating him from his Mexican immigrant parents. I loved his lyrical writing so much, I read it twice.

The Saveur article was about refried beans and chorizo, a dish his father used to make. It was a fixture in the Rodriguez home, and I am thrilled to feature it on my blog.

Many years ago, I went to hear Richard speak at Grace Cathedral, whose Forum series features various artists and writers in conversation. Afterwards, the public could meet and talk with him. Besides Hunger of Memory, I was a big fan of his video essays on the PBS NewsHour. I went up to meet him, so nervous I was literally shaking in my shoes and trying hard not to show it. To this day, I don’t know why. I told him he had beautiful thoughts, and he was very nice.

This recipe is from that 2010 issue of Saveur; it is not from Richard’s family. But as usual, I have changed a few things. For health and environmental reasons, I have substituted olive oil for lard. Chorizo is usually made with pork, but there are also chicken and soy versions. I tested the recipe using both precooked chicken and soy chorizo. The recipe made with soy chorizo had a less pungent taste and a different texture, but it was absolutely delicious. And the beans were even better the next day! Whatever chorizo you use, you’ll be going back for seconds; I promise.

In these beans, Richard Rodriguez said, “I tasted my father.” I think what he meant was he tasted home.

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3 cups dried pinto beans
6 ounces fresh chorizo, casings removed and cut into small pieces
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil for cooking chorizo
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste

Place beans in a large pot with 12 cups of water. Bring water to a boil and then reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook beans for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until beans are very tender. Check the pot a time or two during cooking to make sure all the water hasn’t boiled off. Add more water if necessary. When beans are done, set aside 3 cups of cooking water and drain. Return beans to pot.

While the beans are cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Add precooked chicken or soy chorizo and cook until browned, about 3 minutes. (Note: if using uncooked pork chorizo, use medium-high heat, break up chorizo into small pieces, and cook for 6 to 8 minutes.) Set aside.

Mash beans in pot with a potato masher while adding olive oil. Add half the chorizo. Heat beans on medium and add 2 cups of reserved cooking water (add more water, if you prefer). Stir frequently, and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve beans hot with remaining chorizo and chopped cilantro.

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