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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Summer means BBQ means pinto beans

Growing up in Chicago, I never saw pinto beans, never heard of them, didn’t know a thing about them. My mother cooked “northern” or “sweet” beans—navy beans from the can that she doctored with molasses or brown sugar, mustard, ketchup, and onion. I used to do that, too, until I discovered Bush’s original beans. They honestly do taste just like those Mom made and are a lot easier.
But on to pinto beans. The handy thing about them is you can start them in the morning and pretty much ignore them while you cook the rest of a meal. They’re one of many new foods I encountered when I moved to Texas all those years ago. My first introduction was probably at Joe T. Garcia’s restaurant where I had refried beans—and loved them. I’m sure they have lots of lard in them, and rumor is that they have beer too—maybe that’s what makes them good.

Someone gave me a cookbook about cooking wild game—not that I was going to go hunting, but now I would cook wild game.  Closest I’ve come, though, is bison. That cookbook had the best recipe for beans I’ve ever found—and this was probably 40 years ago.

A Pot of Beans

Rinse 1 lb. pinto beans and soak overnight in cold water. Discard broken, disfigured beans and those that float to the top. Next morning, drain the beans; in your Dutch oven sauté a chopped piece of salt pork or slab bacon or whatever you want to call it. Use a piece about four oz. When it begins to fry, add one diced onion. When the onion is browned, remove from heat, add the beans and cover with cold water. Return to stove and add five beef bouillon cubes or the equivalent. Sounds like a lot, but it makes them really tasty. Give it a good stir, bring close to a boil and then simmer all day. Supposedly if you never let beans come to a full boil, they won’t cause gastric distress later. There are several other theories about how to avoid that condition, but I’m not sure which works and which doesn’t.

I’m a believer in “from scratch” cooking but I admit to using Ranch Style beans for a couple of dishes. One is a salad someone made probably thirty years ago. Suzi Kaman is long gone from my world—no idea where she is—but her bean salad lives on in my household.

Suzi Kaman’s Bean Salad

1 3 lb.-4 oz. can Ranch Style beans, drained and rinsed
1 onion chopped
1 tomato chopped, or more if you want
Grated cheese to taste
At least 1 4-oz. can chopped green chilies
Chopped lettuce (I found it got soggy and usually left it out but you could add crisp lettuce to individual portions at serving)
1 small bottle Catalina dressing
Mix all together and chill. Helpful hint: I often omit or cut down the Catalina—everything else has such good flavors! And I learned to serve the Fritos on the side, so that they stay crisp. If you put them in the salad and you have leftovers, the chips get soggy and awful and nobody will eat the leftovers.
Another helpful hint: If you want to make a main dish of this, fry 1lb. of lean ground beef and add some taco seasoning. Add to the salad.

Reva’s good beans
I fix this “as is” in spite of my ironclad rule against including green peppers in anything!

1 3-lb.-4-oz.can Ranch Style beans
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes (or two 14-oz. cans)
1 onion, chopped
½ green pepper, seeded and diced
Drain beans, but do not rinse. Put into crock pot along with other ingredients and simmer however long is convenient. (You want them to thicken up and the flavors to blend.)

Mixing beans is popular today, so here’s a recipe that echoes Mom’s sweet beans but uses pintos, black beans, red beans, and Great Northerns.

Picnic beans
2 slices bacon
1 onion, chopped
1 can each of red, pinto, black and Great Northern beans
16 oz. tomato sauce
¼ c. cider vinegar
3 Tbsp. molasses
¼ c. brown sugar
1 tsp. chili powder
Fry bacon and onion until lightly brown. Mix beans together and add bacon and onion. Mix the tomato sauce, vinegar, molasses, brown sugar and chili powder and pour over the beans. Stir will, put in a baking dish, and bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour. Serve hot.


  1. Though I also barely simmer beans, my method for avoiding "gastric distress" with beans is a bit different.

    After soaking the beans overnight,drain the water, replace it and bring the beans to a boil. Repeat three times and then proceed with cooking.

    I don't remember where I found this, but it works. Actually, it doesn't take as much time as one wold think, because the beans are hot and thus heat up the replacement water. It does work.

    It is also said that cooking the beans with epizote is effective. That herb is available at Mexican grocery stores.

  2. I'v heard the epizote suggestions before, and somehow I remember that baking soda was supposed to dos omething, but I was alays afraid it would taint the beans.