It has been observed on multiple occasions that Mexican food in Texas and Mexican food in Mexico share only names in common, if that much. OK, tortillas are flat rounds of bread, and tacos mean “fillings inside smaller, folded tortilla,” but past that the commonalities start to fade. Mexican food beans in Texas are usually pinto. In Mexico they are all sorts of beans, including black beans. Cheese, a staple of Texas Mexican food, is used more sparingly south of the Rio Grande. Mole sauces never appear in Texas, unless you are at a dedicated Mexican restaurant, not chain Mexican.
This leads to a great philosophical question: is Tex-Mex a foreign food or not?
I don’t cook Tex-Mex at home, because my parents are not fans of it, and the things I like don’t always agree with them. I love legumes. My parents do not. I like carne con chili colorado, fresh tortillas, fire-house chili, and other things. As a result, once or twice a year, we go out for Mexican food, and it is indeed Mexican, not Tex-Mex.
Is Tex-Mex “foreign” or American, or is it one of those things that’s gotten so mixed and blended and Americanized that its “all of the above?” Granted, Tex-Mex in Maine or deepest, wildest New York City (or Miami) is probably foreign. The Tex-Mex I had in Salzburg, Austria was very foreign (I had to gently explain that pinto beans need to be cooked for six hours, not forty-five minutes. It wasn’t bad, aside from the very, very firm beans, but it wasn’t Tex-Mex).
This all came to mind because Day Tripper last night was about ethnic food in Texas. Cuban, Czech, German, Asian Indian, Middle Eastern, Korean, Japanese (sushi as never, ever dreamed of in Tokyo), true Mexican . . . Now, Czech and German are as native as Mexican, almost (a few decades newer to the area but not too many), so they might not count. But what about Tex-Mex? Is it a foreign food, like Italian, or native, like pizza has become?
I’m inclined to think that it is domestic, or at least so domesticated that it might as well be moved to the American Food aisle at the grocery store. At least in Texas and New Mexico, Arizona as well, probably. More beef, a lot more cheese in different kinds from what’s used in Mexico, different spice combinations, all that suggests that it’s gone the way pizza did.
Alma’s pinto beans:
1/2 pound dry pinto beans, picked through (no rocks, please) and rinsed.
2 T butter and 2T flour OR a silver-dollar sized piece of fatback or salt pork (or a similar sized piece of bacon if so inclined)
chili powder or powdered chilis (note: they are not the same thing!) to taste
I prefer the overnight soak for beans, so pour the beans in a large bowl (four times the original volume of your beans is a good start). Cover with water. Every hour or so, change the water, or change once or twice, soak overnight, and then change the water again*. Plan on a 4-6 hour cooking time (longer is OK). Drain the beans.
Melt the butter in a large, heavy pot. Add the flour and brown over medium-high heat, watching and stirring. You want a rich dark tan. When you reach that point, add the beans and stir well. The beans need to be coated in the browned flour. Now add broth (2-3 cups or so) and water to cover the beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Ignore for 2-3 hours, although checking the water level is a good idea. Keep about half an inch of water over the top of the beans. Dry is bad.
After 2-3 hours, add spices to taste. I often toss in some garlic just after the butter browns, then add either a tablespoon of chili powder (Gebhardt’s is a family standard) or a teaspoon of powdered chilis. Stir well, add a little liquid if needed, and ignore until the beans are done to your preferred tenderness. Use a slotted spoon to drain the beans as you serve them.
I only use half a pound at a time because I’m cooking for one person. This is a very easy dish to scale up, as you can imagine. Beans are either a serving, a few servings, or a mess-o-beans, sort of like a mess-of-collards and other greens.
*I find that changing the soak water reduces some of the side-effects associated with legumes. The fast-soak (boil, then let sit, then cook) method doesn’t seem to work as well, but feel free to experiment.