Simple Pinto Beans
- 1 lb dry pinto beans
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp cumin
Rinse beans clean and drain. Dissolve 3 tablespoons of salt in four quarts of water and soak beans overnight. Drain soaking water and replace with fresh water, covering beans with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil, add the bay leaf, garlic and one teaspoon of salt, and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 1 hr, up to 2 hours, or until the beans are tender. Add cumin then season again with salt and pepper to taste.
To salt or not to salt? There are conflicting methods for salting beans. I have waited to salt my beans until the end of the cooking process, and I find this will work just fine if you are concerned about undercooked beans. The undercooked/overcooked factor with beans, including the time it takes to cook them, is actually based on the age of the beans themselves. Older beans will take longer to cook. Since there’s no way to determine the age of the dried beans on the store shelf, it can sometimes be a guessing game to figure out how much cooking time to set aside. It’s safest to simply give yourself plenty of time on bean cooking day and don’t try to rush to get these on the table.
To soak or not to soak? Regarding soaking, it’s definitely not necessary to soak, however your cooking time will increase. Also, if you’re skipping the soak, and in a hurry to get your beans cooked through, you might be inclined to boil them at a higher temperature, which will result in more split beans. Now, maybe you don’t care how your beans look, and sometimes I certainly don’t. I’ve skipped soaking my beans before and I find it’s just more difficult to get a creamy, but intact bean this way.
What if the pot runs out of water? Keep an eye on your beans as they cook - if your heat is too high, your water level might run low. You can always add water during cooking. Regulate your heat and water level and you’ll improve your chances of achieving more intact beans at the end.
How do I make refried beans? If you want a pot of refried beans (or beans with the refried texture) then you can simply cook your beans in the cooking liquid a little longer until very soft. You may need to add more water or some stock. Use a potato masher and mash the beans, stirring the bean starch back into the liquid to create a smoother consistency. From here you cans season with a bit of chili powder or minced onion, or leave it as-is.
If you want to make refried beans from leftover whole beans, heat a tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add your beans and keep a cup or so of chicken stock or water on hand. Add small amounts of liquid while you heat and mash the beans. Continue mashing, stirring, and adding liquid until you achieve your desired consistency. Note that the beans will firm up once they cool down.
Beans don’t have to be “fried” in oil to be refried, but you can start with extra fats for more flavor. For example, fry some chopped bacon in a skillet and remove the crisp solids from the pan, leaving the rendered fat. Add the beans to the fat and mash, adding liquid and stirring as described above. Return some of the bacon to the beans for extra flavor.