The humble pinto bean, it comes from a fine family, phaseolus vulgaris or the common bean family, better known by many as frijol pinto the “painted bean” or frijoles for short. First of all a bit of a warning, never use any of the common bean family if they’ve sprouted, and when you cook them, start at a high setting on the stove of the crock pot. Beans such as pintos, and especially kidney beans, need to be boiled for ten minutes as part of the cooking process because they have a natural toxin that the heat will break down. There have been cases where people have been made sick from a humble, but tasty pot of beans. My old crockpot didn’t get hot enough to do this, but the new one will so I don’t have to boil them on the stove before I slow cook them anymore.
Back to our friend the pinto, one cup holds a quarter of the protein required by adults daily, this goes up a bit by adding meat to the pot. They are loaded with soluble fiber, which if you listened to your doctor the last time you got fussed at, this can help lower cholesterol. They are loaded with thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin, B vitamins that help with energy, stress relief, and its helps the tissues grow and heal. They are also chock full of calcium, phosphorous, potassium and iron, and if you watch how you cook them they are good for a low sodium diet.
A cup of them gives you about 140 calories, they are also loaded with carbohydrates that can cause a little trouble in the GUI tract, and I think you know what I mean, if not, think musical fruit. Anyway, beans do best when soaked prior to cooking them, my favorite way to soak them is to put them dry into the crockpot that I’ll going to cook them in and pout boiling water in until its full and let them soak, even an overnight won’t hurt. Then drain them and rinse them and most of the carbs that will cause the internal confusion and combustion will at least be reduced.
Now, cooking them. I don’t have a recipe, I just have stuff I throw together when I put together a batch of beans. Minced garlic and chopped onion, dried is just fine for both, they’re going to slow cook for hours so they’ll rehydrate just fine. Then salt, pepper, a little season all, and just a pinch of cayenne pepper to give it a hint of attitude.
How much of all these things? How should I know, you have to eat it so season it to your own taste. I generally put a very thin layer of onion so that it covers the top with some gaps, then sprinkle on enough garlic to cover your cupped palm. Then a dusting of salt, pepper and season all.
Then, the Pièce de résistance, one smoked ham hock. When this is all in the pot together ad water until the crockpot is full, but remember that this is going to get hot and things will expand, so stop adding water about an inch from the top of the crockpot. Second important thing to remember, never let the beans amount to more than half the capacity of the pot, they are going to absorb water and swell up on you and they can be really messy when they climb out of the pot on you. Beans are quicker to make a mess than a pack of preschoolers if you put too many in a small area.
Start it on high for about an hour and then turn it down to low and don’t mess with it, let the pot do its slow simmering best. If you stir too often you beat up the beans and separate them from the skins. Its ok to peek and make sure they aren’t getting dry, it won’t hurt anything to add a little water, but when it comes time to serve you don’t want them soupy, the consistency of chili is what you’re after.
Yes, you can alter the ingredients and make a really good chili, but that’s for another day, we’re talking beans right now.
When they are soft and tender they’re done, that’s going to be at least six hours, but I’ve soaked them for a few hours after dinner the night before, started them cooking around midnight, and served them around 5 the next afternoon. I just keep adding a bit of water here and there to keep things from thickening up too much. If possible taste them about an hour before you plan to serve and see if you need to doctor the flavor a bit, and fish the ham hock skin and bones out but leave the meat.
Personally I like mine served over cornbread with a big glass of iced tea on the side, now that’s good eatin’!
Thanks to the University of New Mexico for the nutritional information about their state vegetable, the humble pinto bean. They have a musical fruit for a state vegetable, who’d have thunk it?
© 2009, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.