Friday, February 12, 2010

Pinto Beans

My daddy was born and raised in Texas. He didn't move over to Louisiana until his 20's, but he soon after met my momma, and they settled down together in New Orleans. Growing up, the meals I ate were heavily influenced by the amazing New Orleans cuisine and the abundance of seafood that was available to us. But, our home was also heavily influenced by the foods my daddy grew up eating. To put it mildly, he is a meat-and-potato guy. He loves steak, meat, roast, meat, brisket, and more meat.

In addition to the meat, there are the beans. I can remember that at almost every meal we ate there were beans. Seriously. Most of the time, my mom would make a pot of beans "from scratch," but even if there wasn't time for that in the hectic schedule, my daddy would just open a can of Ranch-style beans and warm them up on the stove.

My momma can make a mean pot of navy beans, red beans, and most importantly, pinto beans. I think pinto beans are the official bean of the state of Texas. They are vital to the Texan's diet. Every time we arrived at my grandmother's house--which was just outside of Dallas, TX--there was, without fail, a pot of pinto beans simmering away on the stove. Even today, these beans hold such a place in my heart. When we go home to visit my parents, we always manage to cook a pot, and my heart is warmed with nostalgia as I pour myself a bowl.

Now, for those of you who weren't raised eating these lovely legumes on a regular basis, beans can seem boring or overwhelming, but let me tell you, they are so simple to make and are delicious. Not to mention, beans have major healthy points!

Here is my version of my mother's bean. I say "my" because my momma has her bean-cooking down to such an art that she doesn't use measurements. She just does it. (Which makes me question: When will I get to that point as a cook?)

Pinto Beans

1 bag of dry pinto beans, rinsed and sorted (pull out any dirty or ugly beans)
6 cups water, plus more as needed
3 slices of bacon
2-4 tablespoons of chili powder (season to your tastes)
1-2 teaspoons of salt, more or less depending on your tastes)
1 teaspoon pepper


1. Rinse and sort beans with water, making sure that you adequately remove the dirt. No one wants dirty beans.
2. Place rinsed beans in a bowl and cover with water. Allow to soak overnight or for 6-8 hours, before cooking. (If you aren't able to do this, most bags that the beans come in have a method for quick-soaking. Just follow those directions.)
3. After beans have been soaked, rinse them one more time for good measure. There are lots of nooks and crannies for dirt, people.
4. Place CLEAN beans in a large pot or dutch oven. Cover beans with 6 cups of water (Be sure there are at least 1-2 inches of water over the beans). Bring to a boil.
5. Once water is boiling, add the bacon, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Recover pot.
6. Cook/simmer at a soft-rolling boil for 2-3 hours, being sure to stir frequently and add water as needed.

It is imperative that you continue to add water to your beans as they cook. The beans soften as they absorb the water; therefore, the amount of liquid in the beans will diminish as the water is absorbed. You need to keep replenishing the amount of liquid so that it doesn't evaporate completely and cause your beans to stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.

Been there. Done that. It stinks. Bad.

I suggest tasting the beans about half-way through to see if you need to adjust your spices. You may need to up the salt, and if they seem a bit bland, add more chili powder.

So, watch your beans carefully. Add a 1/2 cup of water to it every now and then and stir. The beans are done when they are soft and don't have a bite to them.

When done, serve up the beans in a big bowl and serve with bread. (Growing up, we always served it up with some white, sliced bread. Simple, but delicious).

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