Being vegetarian for part of my childhood, and growing up in Hawaii where everything is expensive, we kind of lived off of beans and rice. Not that I minded, and I still love a good pot of home-cooked pintos – over brown rice, cornbread, tortillas, or just on my spoon!
You probably know that you have to wash any whole grain before you cook it – just like veggies, there can be dirt, small stones, bugs, etc. You should also soak grains overnight. I used to think that this just helped them to cook faster (which it does), but then I learned the real reason while reading this cookbook from my dad called “Nourishing Traditions.” The book explains the ancestry of cooking practices and recipes – like the common combination of beans and rice isn’t just delicious, it is a complete protein for your body. Well, with grains or legumes (even nuts, like almonds), soaking overnight “wakes up” the grain from its hibernation “storage” state, to a state that is ready to grow. Its nutrients become “unlocked” and our bodies can then access that nutrition. Sorry my explanation is not more scientific, but that is how I understand it – I am sure that google can help if you want more details
• 1 lb (or more) dried pinto beans
• Filtered water
• 2-3 bay leaves
• 1 onion
• 4-5 cloves garlic
• 2-3 dried chiles
• 2-3 tblspns. Butter or olive oil
As for the amount of beans – I make as much as my crock pot will hold (2 lbs) and then freeze any extra. Since you spend a good amount of time cooking them, it’s worth it to make a big batch…plus, they are so good and so cheap.
Wash the beans well and pick through for stones etc. Drain and then cover with fresh, filtered water by a few inches. Cover and leave overnight to soak. You may want to check on them at some point, because they often will swell and rise above the water. Just add more water.
When you are ready to cook, drain the beans and again add fresh filtered water to cover the beans by about 1 inch. Add 2 or 3 bay leaves. Peel the onion and chop into quarters, add to pot. Smash and peel the garlic cloves, and add. Wipe the dried chiles clean and add to the pot (you can open and de-seed if you wish). You could add other seasonings or aromatics, as with making soup stock, such as carrots, celery, or other herbs.
Bring the pot to a boil and then lower temperature to a bare simmer. Cover and let cook for several hours, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender with a creamy texture. Keep an eye on the water level, adding more boiling water if needed to keep the beans covered. You might wonder why you don’t just add a lot of water at the beginning, and there are a couple of reasons. Another “science-y” reason – too much water will make it take longer for the beans to cook…something about the proteins in the beans and being close together? Not sure, but I think I heard it from Alton Brown, so there. Also, I like to have a thick result at the end, not a big pot of soup with some beans in it, so controlling the water level as I go along allows me to control the consistency of the final product.
Now is the time you add salt. Unlike cooking rice or pasta, you don’t add salt in the beginning. I have heard that this is because salt will toughen the protein in the bean, resulting in a bad texture. I have not tested this and will likely not risk it. Add a few tablespoons of fat, butter or olive oil to bring out the other flavors and enrich the broth. I find that if I do not add butter or oil, it takes a lot more salt before the beans taste “right.” So it is a trade off between more sodium or more fat, but it’s not much fat for a huge pot of beans. You will need to add several tablespoons of salt (depending on how big a batch you made), but start small, adding more if needed. It will take a while for the salt to soak into the bean itself, so add some salt and taste the broth to see if it tastes salty. If it does, let the beans cook a while longer and then come back to try an actual bean.
Fish out all the flavoring items (if you can), and you are good to go. I like to make “refried” beans by sautéing onions, garlic, cumin, chipotle chiles, and some red wine vinegar in a sauce pan, adding in some beans and broth, and then using my immersion blender to make a chunky paste. My partner’s favorite breakfast (ever….he claims) involves cornbread spread with these beans and topped with an over-medium egg, cheese, salsa and a spicy cilantro-sour cream sauce. I’ve also done it with anduille sausage gravy, which is out of this world, but a little too decadent for a normal breakfast. I think he’s requested it as his birthday breakfast in perpetuity.