For me bean dishes are all about cooking as you go. My friends are always asking me for the recipe for my bean dish. It’s never the same. It’s about what I have on hand. What I feel like. What will match the meal. Mexican pinto beans are a stable in my rotation though. Always good. Better than you’ll get at most restaurants.
This recipe has lots of room for improvisation. As written, it’s rich. Savory. Pork, cilantro and green chili are the dominant flavours. Classic Mexican. Add some pure chili powder and it moves towards red chili territory. Want it bright and assertive? Add lime juice and chipotle puree. Want it lighter? Leave out the pork. Want it vegetarian? Leave out the bacon too. No time to cook dry beans – use canned. Beans are a canvas – waiting for you to paint them with the flavours you love.
I use salt pork in this recipe. Out of the box it’s way too salty. You need to blanch it a couple times to extract most of the salt. This recipe is based on a recipe from Diana Kennedy’s The Cuisine’s of Mexico. Her recipe uses pork rind but that’s harder to come by where I live. I’ve found the salt pork, once de-salted, to work very well.
The techniques used here are similar to those in Indian cooking. While the beans cook, you make a tempering – the flavours that will ultimately season the dish. Mix the tempering with the beans and simmer briefly. Pretty much exactly the same half way across the world…
mexican pinto beans
- 1 lb dry pinto beans
- 6 oz salt pork
- 1 onion diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 4 slices bacon diced
- 2 tsp cumin powder
- 1/4 tsp Mexican oregano
- 3 jalapeños seeded and diced - about 1/2 cup
- 1 cup cilantro chopped
- 15 oz can diced fire-roasted tomatoes - Muir Glen are good if you can get them
- Slice the salt pork into 1/4 inch slices.
- Place pork in a small saucepan of cool water and bring to a simmer.
- Drain and repeat.
- Cut salt pork into 1/4 cubes.
- Combine onion, pork and garlic with 6 cups of water and simmer, covered, until beans are tender - about 90 minutes. Add water as needed. You want to wind up with a bit of water in the beans but not so much you need to drain them (you don't want to lose all the flavour in the liquid). Worst case, drain the beans into a bowl and reduce the cooking liquid.
- Heat 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil or pork lard if you have it in a frying pan over medium heat.
- Cook the bacon until lightly browned.
- Add the cumin powder and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds.
- Now add the jalapeño and cook for another minute or two.
- Mix in the cilantro, tomatoes and Mexican oregano.
- Simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Add a bit of water if the mixture starts to get dry.
- Combine the tomato mixture with the cooked beans and simmer another 15 minutes.
- Adjust salt to taste.