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Frijoles de la Olla (Beans from the pot)

June 3, 2013

I have to include a recipe on pinto beans because  1. it’s a classic side (or main) dish in the repertoire of any self-respecting Mexican or Tex-Mex cook worth his salt  and 2.  because it’s a necessary first step to refried beans, which are an integral  ingredient in many foods including tortas,  tacos,  quesadillas,  and molletes, a kind of “open faced sandwich”.  These will be simple beans that can be enhanced in many ways to suit the particular desire or use.  Sure, using canned beans as  a substitute in recipes is perfectly ok, but you’ll be rewarded with much better tasting beans if they are homemade.

Traditionally,  beans are cooked in a clay pot which imparts a particular earthy flavor to the beans.  I cannot remember the last time I ate beans cooked in  earthenware.  Most Mexican clay pots have been glazed with lead which is a health hazard.  If you are dusting off that old heirloom clay pot,  make sure it is lead free or food safe before using.

You may choose to soak the  beans in water for several hours after they have been cleaned to reduce the cooking time. Some say it also aids in digestibility.  Discard the soaking water and use fresh water for cooking.


For about 2 qt. beans including the brothy liquid:

1 #   pinto beans (about 2 1/4 cups)

1/4 of  a white  onion (about 3 to 4 ounces) (keep the onion intact by using the root end)

3 peeled garlic cloves

enough water to cover beans by at least 4 inches

salt to taste (almost a teaspoon of table salt)

4 to 5 sprigs cilantro (optional)


Pick out any stones or bits of dirt out of the beans,  rinse well in a bowl or colander,  and strain.  Put them in a pot with enough water to cover by about 4 inches.  Add the partial onion and garlic and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Immediately lower the heat to take it to a gentle simmer.  I don’t have a preference on whether covering the pot.  I usually keep it covered about an hour and then remove the cover the last 45 minutes or so.  You can also keep it partially covered all the way through.  Stir every now and then to allow even cooking.  Check from time to time and add water if necessary.  The concern is that they are ignored too long and the pot dries up.  You also want some flavorful  liquid at the end of the cooking. The amount of cooking time depends on how fresh the beans are.  Once I tried to cook some black beans that even after 4 or 5 hours did not cook all the way.  Add the salt (as well as the cilantro if using)  during the last 3o minutes of cooking.  Pinto beans should take within 2 hours to cook to the just tender stage.

Some like to add a little bit of lard or bacon for flavor along with the onion and garlic, but I prefer to keep them vegetarian.

Garnish your cup of beans with whatever strikes your fancy,  freshly diced onion,  tomato,  jalapeno,  queso fresco,  cilantro,  oregano,  or a dollop of your favorite salsa.  For the meat lovers, choices include ham,  bacon,  and chorizo.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2013 11:27 pm

    I have just recently decided to devote myself to vegetarian cooking so this post is inspiring! Thanks for the reminder to make a pot soon!

  2. June 3, 2013 11:54 pm

    I don’t recall the last time I cooked or ate pork or beef in my house. Chicken and seafood are still on the table and I may include them in recipes for the blog, but they are now more for special occasions…. If you have a follow-up to my reply on the “Pan de Hongos Silvestres” please share for the readers.
    Thanks Robert!

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