January 19, 2010

Pot of Beans on a Wintery Day - Reba's Tex-Mex Pinto Bean Recipe

I remember going to visit my uncle when I was very little, the one who was named for an Indian Chief and therefore, very mysterious and all-knowing.  My parents, uncle, and aunt would all set in the kitchen while we kids played out back, with the big dog, Monster, and the little runt, Pretty.  They'd drink coffee or iced tea, and periodically we kids would hear all of them laughing together - the sounds of my dad's big guffaw bouncing out of the screen door and into the back yard, under the pecan trees where we huddled in the low-lying branches.  And all the while, setting on the back burner of the stove in my uncle's special clay Bean Pot were his special pinto beans. 

I can never remember a visit where those pinto beans weren't bubbling in the background, rain or shine, summer or winter.  Perhaps it was because my uncle (the oldest of many brothers, my dad being somewhere in the middle) had lived through the Great Depression (you know, the first one) and it was a good thing to always have something tasty cooking on the stove. 

Over the years, I've monkeyed with his basic bean brew.  Basically, I've added some "Mex" to the "Tex" and I think my uncle would approve -- and I know that lotsa folks ask me how I make these beans, so I'm thinking they're worth you giving them a try.  Maybe my fond childhood memories do sway me, but there is something very nice about having a pot of beans simmering on the stove when its a grey, chilly afternoon that makes everything cozy and nice.  Peaceful, even. 

Reba's Tex Mex Pinto Beans

2 pounds pinto beans, dried (soaked overnight after being culled through for rocks or bits of dirt)
1 package bacon, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 bunch cilantro, leaves chopped and stems discarded
3 big tomatoes (homegrown is best, use 4 if you go with Roma or a smaller fruit)
1 Texas Sweet onion, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 serrano chilis (seed them even if you like fire, otherwise they'll take over the pot), chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1 T comino
1 T chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

It's really important to get the dried beans right.  Soak them overnight means a good 12 hours, and making sure that you've checked for the rocks and things.  Drain off the water that they soaked in.  Don't use it.

Put the beans in your big pot, cover with water.  Add enough so there's a good couple of inches of water above the beans, give them room to move.  Bring the water to a boil, then lower your heat so that it's a very low simmer. 

Now, add all the ingredients listed above, except for the cilantro.  And yes, you'll want to use fresh cilantro.  Some may tell you that dried coriander and fresh cilantro are the same thing, but I don't believe it.  They taste different.  Go with the fresh cilantro here.  And no, you don't cook the bacon before you put it in the pot.  That bacon swimming thru there flavors the beans and no, there isn't a fat layer on the top when the beans are done.  I never said these were low-cal beans. 

Add more water to the boil as needed so they don't boil dry.  If you're losing water too fast, your flame is too high.  You want these to cook slowly, let all the flavors meld. 

These are great with homemade cornbread, just by themselves in a bowl, or you can serve them as a side with things like barbequed brisket (the Tex part) or cheese enchiladas (the Mex part).  Yum, yum. 
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