Preparation / Directions:
Wash the beans thoroughly, removing any small rocks or other foreign materials. Put them in a large, heavy pot (an earthenware olla, if possible) and cover with 2 quarts of cold water, which should allow "2 knuckles' worth" of water above the level of the beans.
Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Add the half piece of onion and a tiny dribble of oil, and continue simmering until the beans just begin to become tender, usually in 1 hour. Add salt to taste, and if cooking black beans, put in the epazote.
Cook 30-45 more minutes. The total time will depend on how fresh the beans are. The beans should be stirred from time to time, and add boiling water whenever it is less than "one knuckles' worth" over the beans. They should be rather soupy.
Warm the remainder of the oil over medium heat in a skillet and sauté the garlic and chopped onion until nicely brown but not burned. Add the onion and garlic to the beans and continue cooking until the beans are very soft and plump.
These can be eaten immediately, along with the broth, or cooled completely and then covered and stored in the refrigerator. The earthy flavor seems to intensify when reheated the next day, and the beans will keep, covered and refrigerated, for at least 4 days.
Serve the broth and beans in bowls. Garnish with the crumbled cheese.
VARIATION: QUICK PRESSURE-COOKED BEANS : Put 2 cups of beans, half of the onion, cut in chunks, and a few drops of oil in a 4-quart pressure cooker with 4 cups of water. Seal and cook for 30 minutes. After the pressure is released, remove the lid, add 1/2-1 cup more water, the sautéed garlic, onion, salt, and optional epazote. Continue cooking until tender, another 15 to 20 minutes.
SOURCE: Cocina de la Familia by Marilyn Tausend with Miguel Ravago (1997: Simon and Schuster).
*BOOKNOTEs: Hardly a family I visited didn't cook a pot of beans at least once a week, though only a few still utilize the classic clay ollas to prepare beans. While many just use big metal soup pots, Pat Varley, like many of the other young Mexican-American women I met around the country, usually cooks her beans in a pressure cooker.... These beans may be eaten as is. They are also the base for refried and for filling Chimichangas, etc. (See page 224 for more...)
EPAZOTE is a close kin to spinach, beets, Swiss hard, or lamb's-quarters. Epazote has a potent, pungent taste and aroma; a unique flavor that is irreplaceable and unforgettable in flack beans or tucked on top of the oozing melted cheese in quesadillas. The herb's assertive bite is welcomed in soups or sautéed dishes with squash, corn, and tomatoes, prok moles and stews. Epazote should be added at the end of the cooking process and used quite sparingly, for the flavor intensifies. Can be grown in our kitchen ga