Saturday, June 5, 2010

Tried and True - Pinto Beans

I will be posting "Tried and True" every Saturday.  "Tried and True" recipes will be basic or what I consider classic.   I hope you will come back to them again and again.  They will be building blocks for many meals.  When you are exhausted or busy, these dishes will help get you through.  I hope that after a while you won't even have to look at a recipe to make them.  You will just have this info in your head.  Your own personal cooking data base.

Today we will talk about pinto beans and cooking dry beans in general.  Canned beans are just fine and nice to have around for emergencies.  But dry beans are the way to go if you want good flavor and variety and lowest cost.  The only down side is that they usually need to be soaked before cooking.  And cooking will take a few hours too.  You don't have to work for those hours, but you will have to wait.  Sorry.

You are going to get tired of me saying this over and over -- but if you are going to cook consistently at home,  you do need to plan ahead.  I know, I know.  This is hard.  Especially for our cell phone instant gratification fast food culture.  However, I really encourage you to occasionally think about a meal more than 20 minutes before you want to eat it.  After you do this for awhile it will become second nature.  Lots of people seem to be able to plan ahead for their TV watching or social life, so I figure a little meal planning is not too much to ask. 

The nice thing about pinto beans is their versatility. Plus they are really cheap and easy to find.  They are a staple of Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes.  You can make a big batch and freeze some for later.  You can easily vary the basic recipe.  Add more liquid, vegetables and spices and make a soup.  Add ground meat or sausage or stew meat and vegetables and you have a stew.  Drain and mash and fry the beans with some onion and garlic in good lard or bacon fat or even olive oil and you have refried beans for a host of Mexican dishes.   Keep cooked pinto beans and some tortillas in your freezer and some salsa in your cupboard or fridge.   Add steamed or sauteed or fresh seasonal vegetables and you will be able pull off a good meal in 20 minutes (because you did a little planning ahead).  Now that doesn't seem so hard, does it?

Yields - Every cup of dry pinto beans will yield about 3 cups cooked beans.  One pound of dry beans is 2 cups.  So a one pound bag of pintos will give you 6 cups of cooked beans.  I suggest cooking two pounds at a time.  Saves time and energy.  Freeze extra beans for later.

Buying - If you buy dry beans in bulk, such as from a food co-op, you are more likely to get fresher beans.  Fresher means not as dry.  So they plump up and cook faster.  Most places sell plain old generic pinto beans and they are fine.  If you want to push the envelope try to find flor de mayo, flor de junio or rattlesnake beans.  Alice Waters says they have exceptional flavor.  I have no personal experience to back this up - but Alice does know what she is talking about.

Soaking - The first step in cooking pinto beans is the soak.  Here, courtesy of the U.S. Dry Bean Council, is their recommended hot soak method.  This can save time.  Plus - and this is a big plus - they say the hot soak method is a good way to reduce flatulence and the gas causing properties of beans.  (It's those pesky oligosaccharides you want to drain off.  I know flatulence is a sensitive subject.  But we are family here.) 

Hot Soak (reduces actual cooking time and consistently produces tender beans)

  1. Step 1 - Place beans in a pot and add 10 cups of water for every 2 cups of beans.
  2. Step 2 - Heat to boiling and boil for an additional 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Step 3 - Remove beans from heat, cover and let stand for 4 to 24 hours.
  4. Step 4 - Drain beans, discard soak water and rinse with fresh, cool water
Recipe link - Here is a link to dry bean recipes from the Dry Bean Council web site:

Cooking Pinto Beans
After the beans have been soaked and drained, put them in a big pot with fresh water.  You want the water level about one inch above the beans.  Bring to a boil and boil for ten minutes.  Then turn down heat and simmer, covered, for one hour.  Then taste a bean.  Is it nice and tender?  Even just a little mushy?  Yes?  Good.  The beans are done.
No?  Continue to simmer until they are tender.  It is advisable not to salt the beans until they are almost done.  Adding salt at the beginning of cooking may lengthen the cooking time and also result in a tougher bean.  Use from 1/2 to 1 teaspooon salt per cup of soaked beans. 

When done, cool beans in their cooking liquid.  Then drain (unless you are making soup or stew).  Save the cooking water for soup.  If you are freezing some beans you can freeze them in cooking water.

I cooked up some beans this morning.  All I did was saute a little garlic, garlic scapes(we will talk more about these next week), green onions and a piece of red onion left over from the radish salsa recipe.  Threw in the cooked beans, some cumin and chili powder and last a handful of chopped fresh cilantro.  You can see the beans here, along with the radish salsa I talked about on Tuesday.  If you want a recipe with more detailed measurements, see the Cowpoke Bean recipe below.

Cowpoke Beans (adapted from the American Heritage Cookbook)
1 pound(2 cups) dried pinto beans
Ham bone or ham hock
Chili pepper to taste
1 t. salt
1/4 pound suet (or bacon or salt pork or lard), chopped (or some oil if you are watching saturated fats)
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
About 2 c. chopped canned or fresh tomatoes (optional but nice)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (or cilantro or both)
1 t. ground cumin
1 1/2 T. chile powder

 Quick soak the beans according to instructions earlier in this post and drain.   Add fresh water to beans (one inch above beans), along with ham bone or hock and chili pepper.  Bring to a boil, boil gently for 10 minutes. Turn down, simmer (covered) until beans are tender, 1-2 hours.  Add salt after one hour or so.  Drain beans, saving cooking liquid.
While beans are cooking, heat fat, stir in onion and garlic and saute until soft and lightly colored.  Add the rest of the seasonings, the tomatoes and one cup of bean liquid.  Cook over low heat about 45 minutes, stirring often.  Add beans.  Cook another 20 minutes or so.  Serves 6 to 8.  Even better served the next day.

Hope you enjoy some time in the kitchen this weekend.  I'll be back Tuesday morning with Inspiration - Week #2                


  1. Thanks for this post! I appreciate all the background in your posts, and all the great tips like when to add salt and why we should do the hot soak method! The first time I tried to make dry beans was a disaster. I wasted a whole package of beans, and messed up a whole meal. I vowed never to try again. Reading over your explanation I realized I missed a step. I think I'll give it another try.

  2. This has been a great blog so far. Thanks Peggy! I would just like to add another great option for dried beans: the slow cooker. We do this all the time. Just soak the beans overnight, switch the water, leave the crock pot on all day, and your beans are ready to go for dinner.

  3. Thank you for this post. I have been staring at a bag of beans for awhile and have been lost about the best way to cook them.

  4. Great post - I love pinto beans in your "tried and true" theme. Great cooking photos too!