Lately I’ve been on a goldilocks-like journey through the world of bean recipes. Some are just too spicy, others shockingly bland. There are recipes that call for chopping this and that and yet give me too little flavor yield, and others that involve bell peppers, which stimulate my hostility.
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My search for a hearty and flavorful bean dish was launched by my need to find a recipe that is both easy and proportioned for a group, as an offering to the neighbors on our night to cook. As I have mentioned in this space before, we cook for a family of four two doors down on Mondays, and they return the favor on Thursdays. There have been enchiladas (theirs) and spicy turkey meatloaf (ours) and all manner of large salad. This week, I turned to beans. Beans, I say, in spite of my husband’s skepticism over their, um, fibrous quality.
After trying a few different recipes, I settled on Borrachos by lastnightsdinner for the combination of ease and flavor, and the fact that you can meddle with it in ways that will render no undue harm unto your taste buds.
Let’s start with the beans themselves. You can opt for the quick soak method, as lastnightsdinner recommends. I did note that some cooks found this left their beans too hard for too long, though it was suggested that this could be mitigated by adding the tomatoes later in the process, as the acid may hinder softening. (Don’t you love this community and all its food science deliciousness?) Or, of course, you can also soak them overnight.
I, being me, went halfway, and soaked my pintos about six hours while I did other chores and errands. I can tell you they turned out perfect in texture, per the cooking instructions. (I can’t speak to canned beans other than they would take far less time to cook obviously, and probably would not be as nice.)
Moving on to the next steps. I used one large yellow onion and boy did it smell delicious cooking in that bacon fat. I omitted the chilies because I thought they were not child-friendly. If you want your beans to have a kick, you know what to do here. I tried to find Mexican oregano but failed; I clipped my own oregano from the garden, dried it in a 150 degree oven for an hour and crumbled that in. It was mighty fragrant, but my understanding is the Mexican version would lend a sort of “dustier” taste, in a good way. Feel free to weigh in below on this.
My beer of choice was Red Stripe, and it was a perfect fit; beer makes these beans, people. I was out of diced tomatoes, and used tomato paste (about 1 heaping Tablespoon) instead, which I actually prefer because this dish has a fair amount of liquid, and does not need more; the paste gives a nice tomato concentrated flavor.
Okay, reading this back it seems like I did a lot of changing. Really it’s on the margins. You’ve got options here, that’s all I am saying. I recommend you make this on a weekend afternoon as you go about your other household business -- which may or may not be sitting with two other women at your kitchen table drinking hard cider and eating cheese and stopping occasionally to render a verdict on your children’s outfits or adjudicate a fight over Salt and Vinegar chips which, in fact, are extremely worth battling over.
Let the dish sit overnight in the fridge. Have some for breakfast. Squirt a little Sriracha in if you need the kick. You might not though – I loved the smoky, slightly beer-soaked comfort of this dish, which would be wonderful with a chunk of warm corn bread. If you’re cooking for others, feel slightly sad as you watch this dish make its way down the street.
Pick over the beans to remove any stones or debris, and place them in a large pot. Add 6 cups of cold tap water, cover the pot, and bring it to a boil. Let boil for 2 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the beans stand, undrained, for an hour. (Note: the beans should be fairly tender at this point, though older beans may need more soaking time.)
In a large, heavy bottomed pot, begin browning the bacon over medium heat. When the bacon is nicely browned on all sides and has rendered much of its fat, remove it with a slotted spoon and set aside. Ask a question about this step.
Add the onion to the pot and cook until softened. Add the garlic cloves and oregano or marjoram, rubbing it between your palms to crumble it a bit, and cook until fragrant. Add the beans with their cooking liquid, then add the tomatoes, the beer, the chile(s) and the chile brine.
Return the bacon to the pot and add a generous pinch of salt. Bring the beans up to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and cook, partially covered, for 1 to 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally and tasting to adjust salt as needed. Stir in the lime juice just before serving, then ladle into bowls.
Like Jenny? Read more of her weeknight trials and tribulations, with whoopie pies and such, here.
Photo by James Ransom
By day, Jennifer Steinhauer, aka Jenny, covers Congress for The New York Times. By night, she is an obsessive cook.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).