While I strongly believe that college dining halls do their best to cater to every student, I always missed the taste of homemade, well-seasoned food. Coming from Miami, where Cuban food is on every corner and Nicaraguan refried beans were a staple household food, I often found myself hankering for one of my favorite foods when done right - frijoles. 

After consulting with my mom and reading up on Frijoles de la Olla from the marvelous Rick Andrew Martinez, I found a go-to method for making beans from scratch. The key is a combination of garlic, something onion-y, something herby, salt, and a little bit of patience. With this formula, I was able to achieve a more flavorful result than when eating the canned kind, while also saving some money. 

This is a choose-your-fighter kind of recipe, so feel free to mix and match as you see fit! Here’s how you do it:


- 1 16 oz. bag of dried beans (or less, use what you have, and adjust as needed!)

- 2-3 smashed garlic cloves (or your preferred quantity)

- ½ onion (I usually do white, but red onion, scallions, or a combination would work just as well)

- 2-3 tsp of kosher salt

- 3-4 tbsp olive oil (or any neutral oil will do)

- Herbs, preferably a combination of fresh and dry (I like to do a combination of bay leaf, fresh parsley, and oregano when I’m going for Cuban flavors, but cannellini beans or chickpeas do well with some thyme and rosemary as well!)

Kitchen Tools: 

- Large pot

- Wooden spoon

1. Before cooking, you may begin by soaking your beans in a bowl of water for a few hours, up to overnight. This helps cut the cooking time significantly, especially if you have some elderly, back-of-the-cupboard beans. Or skip it, and go straight to cooking. I find that skipping the soak can give a more deeply seasoned result since the beans are absorbing salty, flavored water rather than just the stuff from the tap. Skipping the soak means you'll just be boiling for longer. 

Isabella Luna

2. In a large stockpot with a lid, combine all the ingredients. You won’t need to dice up the onion, or mince the garlic as these will boil down to release all their flavors during the cooking process.

3. Cover the ingredients with 2 inches of water. Place your uncovered stockpot of beans on the stove, and turn your heat to high to boil. 

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4. Once the beans are just boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer, placing the top on the pot. If you pre-soaked your beans, you will likely need to boil for 1.5 to 2 hours. Unsoaked beans will take a bit longer to cook. If the cooking liquid starts to evaporate off, add some more water to keep the beans covered.

5. Check for doneness and seasoning by tasting the beans, adding salt as needed. Once they are soft through the middle, pull from the heat to cool. Remove the bay leaf, if used, and any soggy onions you may not want.

6. Serve over rice, or transform into refried beans, bean burgers, and more. 

Isabella Luna