Beans, Beans...

I am a fifth-generation Texan, born and raised in San Antonio and I really love Mexican food. I love the Tex-Mex we have here, and I also love the authentic Mexican food in Mexico, but it doesn't always love me.

And so I often find myself making a wide variety of Mexican food at home. Chile rellenos, salsas, chalupas, fish tacos, homemade corn tortillas, guacamole, beans, Spanish rice using brown get the idea.

Although my first choice for beans is usually black beans, I decided to make some pinto beans a few weeks ago and they were, as my husband said, "The best beans I've ever had."

With Thanksgiving just days away (knowing that I have quite a bit of cooking ahead of me), I decided to make it easy on myself and throw on another pot of pinto beans yesterday. Since I was making beans, David decided to make some elk chili for himself (see photo below), as a chef friend had given him a bunch of elk. It was a perfect combination, particularly for a chilly night.

So what's my secret to making great pintos? Frying up a few slices of applewood smoked bacon starts everything off right and gives the beans just the right smokey-flavor, and then sauteing the vegetables in the bacon grease makes it even better.

This morning we bought a few homemade corn tortillas from a taqueria nearby and I made some refried beans. I just tossed two cups of beans and some of the broth in a saute pan and let the beans cook over medium high heat, bringing it to a boil. Lowering the heat, I used a potato masher to mash the beans and then let the juice cook down for about 15 minutes, creating thick, yummy refried beans, without the lard.

For me, it's a matter of creating what I like to eat, but in a healthful way and cooking at home is best way. Hopefully, you'll love these beans as much as we do.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family and buen provecho!

World's Best Pinto Beans
From the kitchen of The Cowgirl Gourmet

Print Recipe

1 lb. pinto beans, organic if possible
3 slices applewood smoked bacon, chopped (which you can find at the Central Market meat dept. or in the meat dept. of your favorite gourmet grocer)
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, yellow or red, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno or 2 serrano peppers, seeded and ribs removed and diced
1 tsp salt, Kosher, for sauteeing vegetables
2 tsp.-1 Tablespoon salt, Kosher, or to taste, once the beans are done

Please carefully sort through the beans before soaking or quick boiling them to remove any rocks or debris.

You can either soak the beans overnight, which means you will cover them with water so the water covers the beans by about 2 inches and cover with a lid, or you can use the quick boil method, which is what I do. Cover the beans with water by 2 inches and bring them to a boil. Allow to boil for 2 minutes, cover the pot and remove from the heat. Let sit covered for 2 hours. Drain the beans, rinse them and set them aside.

Using the same soup pot, turn the heat on medium to medium-high and get the pan nice and hot. Toss in the chopped bacon, lower the heat a touch and stir. Once the bacon is fried, remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving the bacon grease in the pot.

Over medium heat, add the chopped onion to the soup pot and stir so the bacon grease coats each piece of onion. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon salt over the onions and allow to cook for 3 minutes.

Add the chopped red or yellow pepper and coat so these too are coated with bacon grease. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and allow to cook 3 minutes. Add the chopped tomato, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir to combine. Let cook for another 2 minutes. Add the chopped jalapeno or serranos and garlic and sprinkle the final 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine and let saute another 3 minutes. Add the cooked bacon back in to the mix and stir.

Add the beans, cover with water by 1-1/2 inches and bring to a boil over medium high heat. The amount of water you add determines the thickness of the broth, and I like it neither thick nor watery, but just be careful not to add too much, as you can add more but it's hard to remove water once it's in the pot. If you do need to add more water later on, be sure you add hot water.

Once the beans are boiling, turn the heat to medium and allow to simmer for approximately one-and-a-half hours to two hours (depending on how soft you like your beans), stirring occasionally. Once the beans are done to your liking, add salt. Start with 2 tsp., stir and taste. (I use 2 tsp. of salt, but you may need to add more.) If it needs more, add 1 tsp. of salt at a time.

Serve with a dollop of brown rice and a salad, a bowl of chili, some BBQ or a side of fresh corn bread would be great, too. Remember that the beans are going to meld overnight in the fridge and will be even better the next day.
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