August 5, 2010

Beans and Why I Like Them

I've been to a couple of potlucks this summer where someone's homemade beans seemed to be the star of the show.  This seems odd to me; I guess I would expect that some fabulous meat dish would take the cake, but seriously, people get pretty excited about homemade beans.  I've had people say, "You make your own beans?" as if it is a real culinary accomplishment.  So let's pretend it is.

With a little planning ahead and about $2 of expense, you can bring a side dish that serves 12 that might just be the talk of the evening...  Did I mention that homemade beans, though requiring some foresight, don't need much in the way of hands-on time?  A kettle of beans is an easy thing to throw on the back burner while you prepare dinner.  They keep in the refrigerator about a week and they are a healthful and delicious accompaniment to Mexican dishes as well as American BBQ favorites.

Mexican Beans
I assume I originally got this recipe from the label on a bag of beans.  This recipe is based on pinto beans, but the same process can be applied to other dry beans.  Alter the seasoning according to your taste. 

1 lb dry pinto beans
1 onion, any color, diced
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon dried oregano (or Italian Seasoning)
lots of black pepper
1 dried cayenne pepper (optional)
kosher salt

Soak: Dry beans should be rinsed and examined before cooking.  Remove any small rocks or clumps of dirt. In Dutch oven or large pot, soak 1 lb of beans in about 12 cups of cold water overnight or all day.  (If you forget this soaking step, you can still make beans, but you'll need to allow about 30 minutes extra cooking time.)

Cook:  Turn the heat on under a Dutch oven or other large lidded pot.  As water is coming to a boil, dice onion and crush garlic and add to pot.  Add oregano, lots of black pepper and the cayenne.   Do NOT add the salt and do not add anything acidic (such as vinegar or citrus juice), as these ingredients will prevent the beans from softening. When water boils, stir and reduce heat to a simmer.  Depending on how your stove works this may be medium, with no lid or low with the lid slightly ajar.  You want some steam to escape, partly because the aroma of that onion and garlic is so delicious. Keep an eye on your beans, you don't want them boiling; this would burst the skins, but you don't want the water stagnant.  You want a true simmer with some bubbling.  You also want the beans to remain under liquid by about half an inch.  If the liquid level drops below the beans, add more water. You might want to have a tea kettle of hot water handy, so that you don't reduce the temperature by adding cool water and slow the cooking.  Depending on the freshness of the beans and temperature of the water, the beans will need to cook from 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours.

After about an hour, check the beans by spooning a couple out, running them under cool water and biting into them.  They should be soft, but not falling apart, with no crunch or graininess. When beans are softened, add a generous tablespoon of salt and more black pepper. Turn the heat up so that the liquid cooks out and the salt seasons the beans. If you've kept your liquid level just above the beans this should take about 5 minutes.  If there's a lot of liquid, you may want to drain some of it out, before adding the salt and pepper, but understand that you are loosing some of the flavor with that bean water.


  1. I wonder if you don't use salt to the beans. Can this be done? I have someone who is on low salt diet and has to watch his salt intake. Can a salt substitute work?

  2. Beans without salt would taste pretty bland to most palates, as beans really take on the flavors of whatever they are cooked with. If you have a low sodium salt-flavored substitute, I think it would be fine here, though. Just be sure to add it toward the end of the cook time. Thanks for reading!

  3. Have a tea kettle with hot water handy? See? You are a genius! (Also another reason why I will continue to enjoy your beans, and avoid making my own!!)