Cooking with Simplicity: Not-Refried Pinto Beans

cooked beans

Beans 2/3 of the way through this recipe

I want to share some recipes which are simple, as in easy, basic, and not expensive, recipes that are good for us, and good for the planet.

On another day, I will go into more thoughts about cooking and the Testimony of Simplicity. By then, I hope you will have tried this recipe!


Most Norteamericanos are used to bland, pasty refried beans.  We buy them ready-made into “refried” beans, in cans, if we buy them at all.

But well-made pintos can be delicious, healthy and easy to make.  They don’t even have to take a lot of active preparation.  If you know what you’re doing, a lot of the work can be done while you are up to other things. You can also do steps 1 and 2, and save the beans in the refrigerator for a few days or in the freezer for a longer period, and do step three another day.

I like to make this recipe for “Not refried pinto beans:”

I use a rice cooker to cook the beans.  If you have one, I really recommend this method.  But I will give alternate methods below.

First, take some dry pinto beans.  I use about 1/2 a pound of dry beans, because that’s what my small (5 cup) rice-cooker can handle once the beans are soaked.  If you’re using a crock pot or stove-top pan to boil the beans, you can do a whole pound and either make the whole batch, or once you finish step 2, save extra cooked beans in the freezer (with their liquid) ready to go into step 3 another time.

Step 1: Preparing the Beans

Wash the beans carefully under cold running water, and make sure there are no stones or bits of soil.

Soak the beans. Slow method:  you can fill a container with the beans and top them with at least three inches of water, and soak for 12 hours.  Quick method:  you can put them in a pan, cover with three inches of water, boil for 3 minutes, cover, and soak for an hour.  (I use the quick method.)

Step 2: Cooking the Beans

Discard the soaking water, rinse the beans thoroughly, and cook the beans in fresh water.  I add a whole chopped onion from the start of the cooking process, and a bay leaf which helps aid digestion. Don’t add salt or spices at this point.

You can use a rice cooker if you have one: this method is fast and easy.  Beans, chopped onion and bay leaf go into the pot, you cover with water, and cook under the normal (rice) setting.  Once the cycle is complete, repeat.  (On my machine, I have to leave the lid off and let it cool for five minutes before it’s willing to go again.)

For the second cooking cycle, I make sure water is again to the fill line in the cooker (or thoroughly covering the beans).  I add about 4-6 chopped cloves of garlic (depending on size and your taste) and a few dashes of cayenne pepper.  (Again, don’t add salt or spices containing salt until near the end of cooking time, as they can make beans tough — and remember: many prepared chili powders contain salt.)

Near the end of the second cycle, I will add a few dashes of chili powder, and a few dashes of garlic powder. (I personally hold salt till the next stage.)

If you do not have a rice cooker, you can find cooking directions printed on the pinto bean package or (if you don’t have a package) on this essortment recipe, which suggests that, after soaking, draining and rinsing the soaked beans, you

[place] beans in pan with clean tap water, covering beans at least one inch above the beans. Bring beans to boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Simmer beans with lid on for about four hours, checking every hour to make sure beans continue to have enough water.

The article also suggests that

If you have a slow cooker (commonly called a crock-pot), you can cook the pinto beans all day on low. Just make sure that the water level is filled as high as it can be so it won’t go dry.

And a quick search on the web suggests 5 hours in a crock pot on high will also do it.

Pressure cookers also work well, but if you have one, you probably know more about the cooking times necessary than I do. If not, a quick google will probably solve that problem.

I can’t rave enough about how much I love cooking dried beans in my rice cooker, however.  I had not realized, until I tried it, how much better dried beans tasted vs. canned.  Rice cookers start at about $10 and get quite pricey depending on their features. It’s worth considering how you will use it, and which features are worthwhile to you.

You can get smaller ones or larger depending on your family size; my 5 cup model will make enough rice for 5 people, but it will also make suitable amounts for a single person or a couple.  They can also make heart healthy steel cut oats almost effortless, and a rice cooker with a timer means you can wake up on a winter morning to your breakfast just when you want it.

Step 3: Making Not-Refried Pinto Beans

Anyway, back to the current recipe.  You now have a pot of cooked pintos (with some cooked onion, garlic cayenne and a bay leaf) in their own liquid.   You can pull out the bay leaf if you like at this point.

The third step in the process takes about 1/2 hour but can be done without a lot of pan-watching.   (I time it so that I start cooking the beans on the stove 1/2 hour before the rice cooker is done cooking rice.)

I toss the beans in a heavy pan with all of the cooking liquid.  They should have enough of their cooking liquid to cover them, but should not look like soup.

Here is a photo of what they should look like:

cooked beans

cooked beans

I warm them up on a low simmer, and once they’re heated a bit, taste them.  Even though I added spices during cooking, they will likely still be quite bland.  The idea now, is that you’re reducing the liquid while simmering the beans.

You should mash them slightly from time to time with a masher or large fork or the back of a spoon.  And you should add some spices (cayenne pepper, cumin, more garlic and/or garlic powder) and salt, slowly, a little at a time.  Only when the liquid has reduced considerably, and the liquid is thickened — near the end of the half hour — only then will you know how spicy or salty they really are.  So add salt and spices cautiously until this point!

For most of the 1/2 hour, I leave the beans simmering on a very low heat.  Very low.  They should not burn or stick.  And so they don’t need to be attended closely.  It’s a good time to catch up with a phone call or some blog-reading.

Once simmered down, you have a very thick bean stew, almost a paste, depending how much you mashed and how long you simmered.  Adjust the seasonings. You can add a splash of heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil, if you like, but the properly seasoned beans will be tasty without it.

This is what the finished product looks like:

beans after being reduced

beans after being reduced

1/2 a pound of dry beans will make more than enough Not Refried Pinto Beans for four people to have as an entree with rice, or even more people if it is a side dish or if the people are small.

They go well with rice, tortillas and the usual taco fixings, or eaten from a bowl like chili (perhaps with rice, some cheese and freshly chopped red onion).  They’re also good as a side for meat.

They’re simple in the sense of being cheap, relatively unprocessed, and easy to prepare.  It may seem like a lot of work, but really is fairly effortless.  And eating more vegetable protein, and less or no meat protein, is good for the environment as well as our health.

I hope you will enjoy them!


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3 Responses to “Cooking with Simplicity: Not-Refried Pinto Beans”

  1. NJtoTX Says:

    Trying this right now, though my rice cooker has no normal setting (steam cook, white rice, brown rice). ‘ll try the brown rice setting with 1 cycle. Browned the onions and garlic first. Smells great.

    • Kate Says:

      Hi NJtoTX,

      Thanks for your comment!

      For “normal” I would select “white rice.” Brown is probably fine too — the beans may not need two full cycles, though. The brown course is much longer. Test them for softness after one go-around.

  2. betharoo Says:

    This was a great method! I used my tastebuds for flavoring them instead of measuring, and the consistency is delicious. I used one brown rice cycle and several hours of the “keep warm” setting while I was at school, and they turned out just the right texture. Much more successful than any of my other attempts at un-canned beans.

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