Last weekend, probably like many of you, I was invited to a labor day potluck. On the menu was carne adovada from the most recent issue of Milk Street Magazine with my favorite sonoran style tortillas from Mi Abuelita Bonita. Keeping with the Tex-Mex theme, I was told I could bring a “pinto bean side dish”. My first thought was what is a pinto bean side dish besides plain pinto beans? Keep in mind I’ve spent the past 6 years being indoctrinated into a Mexican family. For special occasions they may make frijoles charros, a dish stewed with different cured meats and tomatoes, but I didn’t want more meats with the heavy meat main course. Then my mind drifted to the canned chili beans my dad used to heat up as a quick addition to many Mexican meals he cooked when I was a kid. They’re a nostalgic food for me and so I decided to recreate them – this time upgraded and from-scratch.
We start by cooking the pinto beans the night before. Everyone has their own opinions about cooking dried beans, but in my opinion there’s no need to soak the beans, just throw them in a pot with water and salt and simmer until done. Then we start building flavor by charring fresh chiles, sauéting bacon and onions, and simmering everything together with spices. Since we’re recreating a distinctly American product here (I’m petty sure you’ll never find cans of these on the shelves at mercados in Mexico) we’re using chili powder, which if you’re not in America is actually a spice mix of cumin, garlic, oregano and paprika. The resulting beans are creamy, smoky, and well spiced, a perfect addition to a Tex-Mex feast or as a simple meal with thick flour tortillas.
- 4 c. cooked pinto beans
- 1 poblano chile
- 1 jalapeño chile
- 2 slices thick cut bacon
- ½ medium onion, diced (about ¾ c.)
- 2 yukon gold potatoes, diced (about ¾ c.) (optional)
- 1 t. chili powder
- Over a high flame or under the broiler, char the poblano and jalapeño until their skins are almost completely blackened. Remove and allow to cool to the touch.
- Slice bacon crosswise into thin strips and add to a saucepan large enough to eventually hold all the beans. Turn heat to medium-low and cook until the fat is almost completely rendered from the bacon.
- While bacon is cooking, rub a paper towel over the poblano to remove the charred skin. Remove the stem and seeds, then slice into ribbons and dice. Remove the stem from the jalapeño, remove seeds if desired, and dice in the same way as the poblano.
- Once the fat has rendered almost completely from the bacon, add the diced onions and chiles and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the chili powder, stir and cook for 1 minute longer for the spice to infuse the oil.
- Add the beans and their cooking liquid, as well as the diced potatoes if using) and bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust for salt, then cover and continue to simmer for 45 mins to an hour, stirring occasionally and adding liquid as needed to keep the beans submerged.
- This dish can easily be made vegetarian by omitting the bacon.
- They can also be made in a slow cooker by adding all ingredients and setting for 2 hours on low.
- The potatoes are optional because, believe it or not, I over salted my beans. I’m so used to cooking my beans for consumption by themselves, that I added the normal amount of salt, but once I added the bacon they were a bit overboard. Adding potatoes is a trick to help when you’ve over salted a dish because they can take on a lot of salt and balance a dish out. While they’re not necessary, I do like the extra creamy texture they lend to the dish.
- Just a reminder to always taste your food throughout cooking and add salt little by little!