Frijoles Mexicanos

Del sent a comment on the prior post, to whit;
“Maybe you’ll know the answer here but I’m wondering about the use of black beans in a dish referred to as Tex-mex. No bean of that sort has ever crossed the door of any cook on the Tejano side of my family. I’m wondering if it’s a difference of where in Mexico (ones) family originated or if pinto beans were all they found when they got to Texas so that’s what became traditional.
One side of the Mexican heritage in my family came from San Luis Potosi in 1917 and the other side varies from those who came to Texas direct from the Canary Islands in the 1500s to those with origins in all parts of northern Mexico.
No black beans anywhere there or in the family owned small restaurants that we favor. We do see them some in the upscale places (when I get forced into going to them) and in the ones that feature seafood from the central and south gulf coast.
Thoughts?”

(Slightly edited for content, because I can)

It’s an interesting question, indeed. And what a sad, sad thing, to be without frijoles negros in ones life…

First off, I’ll say without hesitation that we’ve had black beans in a bunch of Tex Mex joints in Texas, in the same neck of the woods as Del; what does that say, other than that we apparently don’t go to the same places? Not much.

Next, let’s look at the regions where Del’s people came from.

In the dominant cuisine of the central Mexican El Bajio region where San Luis Potosi is located, the pinto is and was more common than black beans, by far.

And those Canary Island roots are another great melting pot cuisine. Influences of the native Guanche people have blended with the ruling Spanish, as well as the cuisines of African and Latin American slaves and workers. There are beans and bean dishes there, but it’s as likely to be Ropa Vieja made with garbanzos as it is any other dish or variety. So, no big black bean influence there, either, (Albeit there are ‘native’ varieties in Spain and Portugal).

That said, my rather extensive studies of Mexican cuisine indicate that, in fact, black beans are quite common in Mexico, but more so by far in the south than the north and on the east coast more than the west. If you read Mexican regional cookbooks by genuine experts, you’ll find both black and reds in profusion. That said, the regional variations in Mexican cookery are easily as complex as Italian, Spanish, or French cuisines, and anyone who says otherwise is just plain wrong.

Black beans were indeed brought north and integrated into Tex Mex cooking from the get go to some degree, (They’re also common in New Mexican, Caribbean, and Cuban cooking). For my mind, the predominance of the pinto or chili bean en El Norte is likely more driven by gringo taste than by Tex Mex cook’s preferences; the black bean is a relative new comer as a commonly legume en Los Estados Unidos; the reds have been around far longer.

Regardless, cuisines including Tex Mex are rarely static; they evolve and that is a good thing. To some degree, I question the term “authentic” quite often; I mean, technically, ‘Confit’ means meat cooked in oil, and only meat. As such, when Daniel Boulud features a ‘tomato confit’ as part of a dish, is that not authentic?

So, where do Black Turtle beans, as they’re formally known, (as well as Black Magic, Blackhawk, Domino, Nighthawk, Valentine, and Zorro), come from? After all, that’s the real crux of the debate, isn’t it? According to El Universidad Autónoma Agraria Antonio Narroas in Saltillo, Mexico, and as fate would have it, Phaseolus vulgaris were first cultivated around 7,000 years ago in… Central America and Mexico.

The bottom line to me is this; if you make it and you like it, you can call it whatever you like, and use any color bean that floats your boat.

Adios.

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2 thoughts on “Frijoles Mexicanos”

  1. As it happens, Blackhawk, Black Turtle and etc are all specific varieties of black beans , each with their own distinctive (more or less) flavor and texture. Some garden catalogs carry tons (Johnny’s has almost 60 pages of beans in their catalog; http://www.johnnyseeds.com), fresh, pole, snap, butter, and dry…..

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