It’s been a while since I cooked a pot of beans but since I was having friends over for a fiesta-themed meal, I decided to pull out all the stops. Sure, you can always use canned beans as a side dish, but home-cooked beans are so much better! This recipe comes from chef Rick Bayless, an expert on Mexican cooking.
I chose to make pinto beans but you could use red beans, black beans or white navy beans. The recipe says not to use garbonzos, lentils or favas, though. I started with cooking a few pieces of bacon (which I reserved for another use) then used the bacon drippings for the beans. A chopped onion and a few quarts of water and the beans were ready for a few hours of simmering in a dutch oven on the stove. Once the beans were tender, I seasoned with salt, let them cool then refrigerated for use the following day.
I rewarmed the beans in a saucepan, added a 1/2 can of drained fire-roasted tomatoes and seasoned with a little more salt. The delicious pinto beans had a creamy texture, and were inexpensive and super easy to make.
Home-Cooked Beans (Stovetop, Slow Cooker or Pressure Cooker)
Frijoles de la Olla Tradicional o Moderna
-recipe from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless
My favorite beans are the ones that have gently bobbed about for hours in the slow-cooker—it keeps the liquid at jsut the right temperature for tender, creamy, intact morsels of earthy-sweet goodness. But the stovetop offers the same, if you keep the temperature low enough, use a heavy pot (preferably made of Mexican earthenware) and stir the beans from time to time. Or, if you’re in a hurry (and making fried beans and don’t care if the beans remain whole), you can fire up the pressure cooker. Many cooks in southern and Gulf-coastal Mexico match the rustic flavor of their beloved black beans with resiny epazote or anisey avocado leaves (hojas de aguacate); but not all cooks do, which means you can feel free to add one of them or not.
Makes 7 to 8 cups.
1 pound (about 2 1/2 cups) dried beans (any Phaseolus bean will work, from white navies to reds and blacks —I’m not talking about lentils, garbonzos or favas here)
2 tablespoons rich-tasting fresh pork lard, vegetable oil or bacon drippings
1 medium white onion, roughly chopped
1 large sprig fresh epazote or 2 fresh or dried avocado leaves if cooking black beans (optional)
Spread the beans on a baking sheet and check for stones, dirt clods or anything else you wouldn’t like to eat. Scoop into a colander and rinse. If using a slow-cooker, first pour the beans into a medium-large pot, pour in 2 quarts of water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat; then pour into the slow-cooker. For stove-top, pour the beans into a medium-large (4- to 6-quart) pot or a pressure cooker. Pour 2 1/2 quarts water into the pot or 2 quarts into the pressure cooker. Add the lard (or oil or bacon drippings), onion and, if using, the epazote or avocado leaves. (For best flavor, lightly toast the avocado leaves in a dry skillet.)
For the slow-cooker, allow at least 6 hours on high for the beans to become tender, though you can leave them cooking for up to 10 hours. For the pot, bring to a boil on high, then partially cover (unless you’re using an earthenware Mexican bean pot) and reduce the temperature to low (the liquid should show a barely discernible simmering movement); the beans should be tender in 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours, depending on the variety and their freshness. You may need to replenish some of the water during stovetop cooking to keep the beans floating freely. For the pressure cooker, follow the directions that came with your model; in mine, cooking takes 25 minutes.
When the beans are tender, stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and simmer for a few minutes longer. Taste and season with additional salt if you think the beans need it. Remove the epazote or avocado leaves, if using, and the brothy beans are ready.
To Soak or Not: Mexican cooks don’t soak beans because they know that throwing out the soaking liquid isn’t a very good idea. It doesn’t do much to make them more digestible (only a steady diet of beans helps with that), and it makes the beans turn out pale in color and flavor.
TURNING A POT OF BEANS INTO DINNER: Cut 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of boneless pork shoulder roast into 1-inch cubes. Spread on a baking sheet and slide close up under a hot broiler. In about 5 minutes, when the meat is brown, turn over and brown the other side. Transer to a slow-cooker or large pot. Prepare the recipe as described, with the addition of the meat. Serve in deep bowls with salsa, a salad and warm tortillas.