Introduction: Perfect Taqueria-style Pinto Beans
Pinto beans were a staple in my grandparents' house, and there was always some in the fridge (if they weren't on the stove top). It was my go-to snack after school, as well as something my grandmother served with just about every meal. Comfort food at its simplest.
Pinto beans are easy to cook, cheap, non-fat, have loads of protein, and (contrary to popular lore) will NOT give you gas when they have been cooked properly. Aside from those great things, they also taste SO GOOD. The difference between canned, and having them cooked this way can't be overstated. It's just not even close. If you've ever been to a taqueria and wondered how their beans taste so good and have that perfect texture, I'm about to let you in on the secret. It's surprisingly easy.
If you're broke and trying to get by without spending much on eating, this is a much healthier (not to mention better tasting) option than eating ramen, overly-processed junk, or fast food.
Step 1: What You'll Need
Dried pinto beans, about 4 cups
A big container or bowl for soaking; at least 1 gallon capacity
Salt (kosher or sea salt)
garlic; 2-3 small cloves, or 1 big one - optional
A heavy-bottomed 1 gallon pot
Note: The cooking pot can also be used to soak the beans. We do a lot of cooking in our house, so I try not to tie up the cooking pots for things like soaking or storing food.
Step 2: Sort and Clean the Beans
Pour some of the dried beans out on a plate or light-colored countertop or table, and pick out the ugly or broken ones. If it looks overly shriveled, too dark, or really dirty, discard it. You might even find some pebbles in your beans. Take your time with this step and make sure you get all the nasties out! I usually go through them twice to make sure I get everything. Throw the icky ones and any rocks out.
Put the remaining good beans into your soaking container and cover them with warm water. Wait 30 seconds or so and then agitate the contents with your hands to loosen any dirt. You may be unpleasantly surprised at how dirty the water gets. Pour out the dirty water, along with any beans that floated to the top. Give the beans a few more good rinses with warm water until it runs clear. Three rinse cycles is usually enough.
Step 3: Soak the Beans
Cover the beans with warm water to the top of your container. The beans will soak up that water and expand, so there should be lots of space for that to happen.
Add a 1/4 cup of sea salt or 1/3 cup kosher salt to the container. Why the difference? Kosher salt flakes are less dense, and thus less salty by volume than sea salt.
Stir your beans/salt/water around a little to distribute and dissolve the salt.
Let your beans soak overnight. 10 hours is enough. I usually start soaking mine after dinner, and then start cooking them at 8 AM so they are done in time for lunch.
Step 4: Rinse and Prep for Cooking
After soaking the beans overnight, the water will get a little murky. Pour out the water and give the beans a good rinse.
For cooking, you need to use a pot that holds at least twice the volume as your soaked beans take up. The beans will expand a bit more when you cook them, and you don't want them packed in there. For our purposes here, you can use a 1-gallon pot, ideally with a heavy bottom. Thin pots and pans don't distribute heat very well, which can lead to burning and hot spots that cook your food unevenly. Heavy is the way to go.
Beans should be in the pot. Add water up to 1" from the top. Do not add salt at this point. It will make your beans tough. Smash your cloves of garlic with the flat side of a knife. The easy way to do this is to rest the knife on top of the clove (which should be on a cutting board), then smack the knife with the heel of your other hand while holding the knife. Don't swing the knife down! Peel the garlic and put it in the pot - no need to chop or dice it. The garlic is optional, but I like the subtle flavor it gives the beans. Feel free to omit if you aren't a fan of the stinky cloves.
Step 5: Cooking the Beans
The idea here is to cook the beans slowly. If you have a crock pot, this is easy - just set it on low and leave it on for 6-8 hours.
If you are using a stove, turn the flame on low. Give the beans a stir a couple times in the first 30 minutes while they are heating up to simmering temp. After that, you can just leave them to simmer uncovered (flame still on low). You don't want them boiling! Just keep them at a very low simmer.
After 2 hours, you should check them for done-ness every 15 minutes.
How can you tell if they are done? You shouldn't be able to see any of the mottled texture on the beans - they should all be a uniform light brown color. Bite into one (careful, they are hot!). The texture should be smooth and buttery throughout. If they are white and dry inside, they're not done yet.
When your beans are cooked through, but not overly soft, take them off the flame. Cooking might take 4 hours, or as little as 2. It depends on how low the flame was when you cooked them. Pour out about 2 cups of the liquid and add some cold water to stop them from cooking in their residual heat.
Taste your beans, and add salt to taste. Don't pour out the liquid!
Step 6: Yum!
Time to eat!
I like to eat these on a flour tortilla (heated over an open flame on the stove, turning often so it doesn't burn), topped with a few slices of fresh avocado and some hot sauce. I recommend Tapatio, Bufalo Chipotle sauce (my current favorite), or Tamazula. You can get fancy and put shredded lettuce, salsa fresca, and jack cheese on it and roll it up into a proper burrito, but I like to keep it simple most of the time.
If you have little ones, these beans make great toddler food. They are perfect for little 2-year old fingers to pick up and eat. My kids will sit and devour an alarming amount of these in a sitting.
Make sure left overs go into the refrigerator right away. Be sure to leave your beans in the liquid when you store them so they don't dry out. They should keep for 3-4 days at fridge temp.
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