Respect for the Lowly Pinto Bean

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Mention pinto beans and most people simply shrug their shoulders with disinterest.  Even I used to do so.  After all, when you walk down the supermarket isle and browse in the bean section there are all kinds of neat beans with far more exotic and enticing names.  How about Cannelli, Anasazi, Adzuki or even those sexy Black beans.  So many really neat beans – why settle for the pinto?

The pinto bean is typically the cheapest bean on the shelf, whether in the traditional dried form or in cans.  Does being cheap make it less attractive?  I think not.  Because when it comes to beans, cheap, or shall I say thrifty, is a good thing.  And not only the that, the pinto is sturdy enough to withstand inexact cooking methods without turning to mush in an instant.

pinto beans in burlap sack

Let me describe these little fellas for you.  The Pinto bean is light beige in color with added reddish brown splashes of color.  They are kind of cute in as much as a bean can be cute.  The name “pinto” comes from the Spanish term for painted.  Like magic, when the pinto is cooked, it becomes a nice pink color, almost like the blending of the beige and the red on a painters pallet.  Neat.

So why am I telling you all of this?  Two reasons.  First, I have been experimenting with a no-brainer way to cook beans.  Forget the boiling water, forget watching the time clock.  I wanted to succeed in cooking dried beans start to finish in a crock pot or other slow-cooking pot such as cast iron Dutch Oven.

The second reason is that I wanted to put together an easy, delicious, and nutritious meal using cooked pinto beans.  More specifically, I wanted to come up with a dish that could pass for company fare yet cost just a few dollars to prepare.  And did I succeed?  Well you be the judge.

Let us begin.

Pinto Beans in the Crock Pot

Nothing could be easier than cooking up a batch of Pinto beans in the crockpot.  (And if you do not have a crock-pot, use a Dutch oven over a very low flame or in a slow, 200 degree oven .)

pintos in a pot

1.  Measure out the desired quantity of beans and put them in the pot.  I started with six cups although a good rule of thumb is to use about 1 cup per quart capacity of your pot.

2.  Soak the beans about 8 to 10 hours.  This does not have to be exact.  I found it easier to put the beans on to soak mid-afternoon but most people would probably prefer to soak them overnight.

3.  When the time is up (or convenient), dump the water and replace with enough fresh water to cover the beans plus an additional inch or two.

4.  If using a crock-pot, cook on low for 8 to 12 hours.  (I cooked mine overnight and my gosh, the house smelled wonderful in the morning as I was waking up).  The beans are done when you can squish them between your thumb and finger.

5.  Season with some salt and you are done.  I used 2 teaspoons of salt for my six cups of beans plus I added a healthy shake or two of Tabasco,  You could add other seasonings (chili powder, cayenne, or whatever you like) as well.  The important thing is not to season until the beans are cooked or they will get tough.

6.  Now at this point, I shut the crock-pot off and let it sit until I had time to deal with my big, beautiful pot of beans a couple of hours later.

Pinto Beans and Rice

The beans are done and it is meal time.  Now what?  Nothing could be simpler than fixing up a bowl of pinto beans and rice.  Here is what to do:

pintsos&rice

Cook up the desired amount of rice.  In my case I used 2 cups brown rice and 1 cup white rice mixed together but I don’t think the exact type you use will matter.  All results will be equally delicious.

While the rice is cooking, re-heat the desired quantity of beans.  I used a microwave but that is a matter of personal choice.

Layer the rice in the bottom of my bowl then topped the rice with a generous serving of reheated pinto beans. I add a few dollops of salsa, some shredded cheddar and some sour cream. That’s it – you are now ready to eat.

Come con ganas!

Planning ahead for a family or a company meal?  Layer the rice in the bottom of a baking dish then cover with a generous layer of beans.  Add a nice topping of shredded cheese and set the dish aside in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat.  Re-heat and serve with some salsa, sour cream and perhaps some additional cheese and crushed tortilla chips.  Trust me, this is delicious – like a taco without the shell.

Just How Thrifty are Beans and Rice?

The big pan of pintos and rice produced over six huge servings.  I was not very scientific in computing the cost and made some assumptions such as the fact the the salt and Tabasco was “free”.  Here is what I came up with using standard grocery store prices rather than the bulk food prices such as those you would find at a warehouse club or discount supermarket.

beans rice costs

Less than five bucks for six hearty adult-sized servings is darn good these days.  Plus, you can probably shave another dollar or so off if you are using bulk rice and beans.

The Health Benefits of Pintos

As with most beans, pintos are an excellent source of fiber.  In addition to lowering cholesterol, the high fiber content of pintos helps prevent blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after a meal.  This makes making these beans an especially good choice for individuals with diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycemia.

When combined with whole grains such as brown rice, pinto beans provide virtually fat-free, high quality protein.  And by adding a little meat, dairy products, rice or corn, pintos will supply all of the essential amino acids necessary to stay healthy.  For a more thorough discussion of the health benefits of pintos, check out this great article on the Whole Foods website.

The Final Word

A frequent question I get is “how do I squeeze a few extra dollars out of my budget to purchase extra water, food and gear for an emergency?”  My favorite answer is to think through your eating habits and to substitute quality, home cooked real food for processed, packaged or heaven-forbid,take-out style fast foods.  By substituting a simple but delicious meal of beans and rice one or two days a week, you can easily shave $5 or $10 a week and maybe more from your food budget.

I am lucky that I don’t have to budget that closely.  But you know what?  I do so anyway because I like to save up for those special moments in life such as a concert or a vacation.  Without watching my food costs, there would be little left over for fun.  And isn’t that what life is supposed to be about?

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Gaye

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Bargain Bin:  While not exactly survival gear, a crock pot can make budget cooking so much easier. There is something about the blending together of flavors that occur when ingredients are slow-cooked together over an extended period of time. Even though there are only two of us in my household, I have the 6-Quart Smart-Pot Oval Crock Pot but any old crock pot will do, even a thrift store version.

crock pot

My only recommendation is that you get a crockpot with a removable liner so you can store the leftovers after that fact.  This makes clean-up easier as well.

Lodge Logic 5-Quart Double Dutch Oven and Casserole with Skillet Cover:  I would remiss if I did not mention that a cast iron Dutch Oven will also make delicious beans.  Simply substitute the crock pot for your cast iron pot and use a slow, 200 degree oven.  I have seen some volatility in the price of  cast iron lately but anytime you can purchase a quality, pre-seasoned Dutch Oven for less than $40 you are doing good.  Of course a hand-me-down from Grandma would be better.  And with some elbow-grease, a thrift store find would be super.


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Comments

Respect for the Lowly Pinto Bean — 34 Comments

  1. Hurrah! I love these beans and what can be done with them. Try to avoid the dried beans that have been irradiated. That’s how they are treated on arrival in New Zealand to kill insect eggs. The irradiated ones won’t cook in a crockpot no matter how long you give them. I once left them cooking for four days and the beans were still hard! You can cook them in a pot though as the temp is higher. I’d love to grow them but am not sure how. Stick ’em in the dirt I guess. Thanks for the great post!

  2. Great article. I agree with you on pinto beans. They are my favorite bean. I will try your baked bean and rice recipe later this week.

  3. I grew up in the greater Boston area and we always ate Navy beans or great Northern beans. Small white beans with a mild taste. A little tomato (sauce, diced, mashed, fresh) a couple chunks salt pork (bacon is actually better) , some brown sugar and molasses, onions if you like them and salt and pepper. My actual first memoery was sittin in a high chair begging for a third plate of beans (my second memory was throwing up in my mothers bed, oops). I like pinto beans but without something to give them a good flavor they taste “earthy” to me. I like to throw in some tomato sauce and a little chicken bouillon, some fatty (but not grisly) beef cut small, onions and peppers and a anaheim chili (chopped coarsely) and I change the soaking water at least two times. Another trick is whenever I cook bacon I save the grease. If you have bacon grease add some to the pinto beans when you cook them and the flavor it imparts is huge.

  4. older (long storage) pintos are somewhat more resistant to cooking. after soaking overnight, zap ’em with a pressure cooker until they start to soften up and then transfer to the crock pot. if you don’t have a pressure cooker they are well worth the investment in fuel savings when fuel is tight.

  5. Be still my heart! Good to see some respect for the lowly pinto. A couple years ago my husband and I picked up a few 25 lb bags of rice and pinto beans from Costco and sealed them up for long term storage in Mylar bags and buckets. All but a bag of each that I planned to use “any day now”. Well “any day” finally came when I checked the “best if used by” date and discovered that I had less than 6 months left. Yikes! Better get cooking! Since then we’ve gone through a lot of rice and beans as they really hit the spot on cool days here in the Pacific Northwest. The two of us go through about two pounds of beans and two pounds of rice a week. That’s over 100 lb/year of each so we no longer bother to pack them for long term storage. We just keep five 25 lb bags of each on hand and rotate them like we do canned food.

    About 6 months ago I started using a “hay box” for cooking the beans. It is nearly as convenient as a crock pot, but in a pinch I can use a small wood fire to provide the initial heat. After an overnight soak, I bring them to a boil in a Dutch oven, maintain a slow boil for another 15 minutes, then place the Dutch oven in the hay box. Four or five hours later, they are done.

    BTW – just to be extra frugal, I water the garden plants with the soak water. I just can’t stand wasting all that good “bean liquor” that ends up in the water. The plants seem to appreciate it!

  6. Another way to use pinto beans in the southwestern style, “re-fried beans”. My cousin showed me a quick way to make the creamiest ones I have ever had. He and his wife grind them to powder in a coffee grinder and store them in pint sized storage bags, for short term storage. Mix in water to the consistency you prefer add salt and season to your tastes and presto tasty re-fried beans quickly.

  7. Gaye, I thoroughly enjoy your articles! Thanks for posting your recipe here! Everyone has always told me to cook from scratch for health and money savings. I’m trying to figure out how to make this practical for me. We are off-grid, so using a crockpot for that amount of time uses too much energy, and we aren’t home long enough during the day to cook on the stovetop (propane stove, but an electric element in the oven so even the cast iron dutch oven is not an option-grrrr!). I know I could sub in canned beans but I’d like to use healthier options! And I guess I could cook overnight on the stovetop, but I’m a little uncomfortable with that, safety-wise. If you have any ideas, please do share them! I love being off-grid, but cooking can be quite frustrating!
    PS As much as I LOVE your articles, there are some very annoying typos. Please, please proofread – with a computer AND your own eyes! It would make reading easier and more enjoyable! I’m probably the only one who catches these things, sadly, but spelling and grammar were serious business at my school! Thanks again for sharing your wonderful insights!

  8. I use a pressure cooker. black beans are the best. I use the food processor to make bean dip/ refrieds. sprouting is another way to shorten cooking time and increase nutrition.

  9. Here in Ky we eat lots of pinto beans. We have this contraption that attaches to the seat of our lawnmowers that catches the gas from pintos and we are able to mow the front lawn and half the back yard with just the gas from one serving of the pintos…

  10. I do these beans at least 2-3 times a month. I put in ham pieces that I cut up from the end of hams that I buy when they are on sale around xmas and freeze. I like to add onion and a couple of my dried chilies after soaking but before cooking. Eat this with some fresh bread and it doesn’t get any better. Someone noted a problem with older beans but my last batch I used beans I had been storing for at least 5 years in the back of a cupboard with no problem.

  11. I am going to put pinto beans on my shopping list for this weekend. Now, once I make this batch of beans (and the recipe with the rice and cheese sounds awesome) can I freeze any leftover beans?

    • Absolutely. There are only two people in my household yet I always make up a big batch and freeze the extras. They are so much better than canned plus they have no sodium or preservatives.

  12. And then slice an onion, make a skillet of cornbread, throw some chow-chow on a big bowl of those pintos, and then dig in . . . . it’s nice to throw a hambone or some bacon in while cooking the beans, too. . . .

  13. Guarantied anytime you come to my house and want a bowl of pintos, I will have them in the fridge. I cook 3 cups of dried at a time with some kind of pork. Bacon grease, hog jowl, bacon or ham. I store them in quart mason jars in the fridge. When I am down to the last jar, it’s time to start to soak the next batch.
    I’m not sure if it is true or not, you know old folks, but my grandmother told me you could keep cooked pintos forever if you keep them refrigerated. They never go bad. You never throw out cooked pintos.
    As a kid I remember my other grandmother would be sorting the beans (I know now it was to get out the rocks) and we would ask her what she was doing. She would always say “I’m pickin out the toots”. We would always say “I hope you do a better job this time than you did the last time”.

    • John – I cook 6 to 8 cups of pintos at a time in the crockpot (I cooked 8 cups overnight last night). I have found that if I store them for longer than 5 days in the fridge, they develop fuzzy friends and must be dumped.

      Do you think the grease acts as a preservative? The only thing I add is a bit of salt and some hot sauce.

      • Gaye I don’t know about the grease acting as a preservative. Everyone I know puts some kind of pork in their beans for the flavor and it seems to be needed to thicken the soup on the beans. The bacon grease is the cheapest way to go. We all like a thick soup on our beans.
        As far as googling “chow chow” just go find some and eat it. Any grocery in Ky stocks chow chow. My inlaws in West Virgina buy it there. I visited an uncle in Alabama last month and he had a jar. If you find it, you will be doing a blog on it, and your tongue will thank you…

  14. For a pot of beans the size you describe, I chop a large onion and a couple of tabasco peppers and cook with the beans. Salt and black pepper to taste, or Tony Chachere’s, the one that says more spice, less salt. Delicious!

  15. THE quick and dirty way to refry beans is.
    1. Cook them as described in the article.
    2. Heat up some cooking oil/lard in a skillet. Maybe add some garlic or onion or oregano. I said “MAYBE”. [The real Mexican cooks will wait until the oil starts to smoke, but most Gringos don’t go for this level of authenticity. Although exciting, it tends to be a bit messy.]
    3. Add some beans.
    4. Mash w/ a potato masher or a spoon or something until almost pasty.

    DONE!!

  16. Pinto beans need to be soaked for 8 hours and cooked for 4 hours. (12 hours total.) Lentils do not need to be soaked, cook in less than an hour, and contain more protein.

  17. FINALLY SOMEBODY MENTIONED CORNBREAD!!! Thanks, Rick! We often cook Pintos, and when we do we also have yellow cornbread right there to go with the beans. Eaten separately, or mixed together, they are a wonderful combination. Pintos are a versatile and tasty treat!!!

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