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Author Notes: "Cowboy beans" in vintage cookbooks are often made with baked beans, which are a bit too sweet for me. As a food historian, I'm always fascinated by what people actually ate, and thought this might be a good approximation of what cowboys may have actually eaten. This scratch dish can be a bit soupy, which just means it's perfect for serving over rice or cornbread. To make it even more convenient, you can cook the beans in a crock pot or slow cooker (soak overnight, then drain, add water, spices, salt, and tomato paste) and just add the onion and sausage at the end. —Sewassbe
- 1 cup dried black turtle beans
- 1 cup dried red kidney beans
- 1 large yellow storage onion
- smoked Spanish paprika
- cayenne or chli pepper
- ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 pound kielbasa
- 1 tablespoon bacon fat or lard
- Rinse and sort through the beans, removing any broken, shriveled, or discolored ones. Cover with water an inch over the beans and soak 6-8 hours or overnight.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot, saute chopped onion in a little bacon fat, and add spices. I usually use at least a teaspoon of smoked Spanish paprika, and just a sprinkling of cayenne OR chili powder (because I'm a wimp when it comes to spicy things), but feel free to add more if you like.
- Drain beans and add to the pot. Cover with water by 1 inch. Add tomato paste and stir well to blend. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to flavor the beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook beans until tender (usually at least 1 hour).
- Once the beans are tender, add kielbasa and cook until everything is heated through. Taste for salt and add more if necessary.
- Serve hot over rice or with cornbread. Top with chopped white onion, a little lemon or lime juice, cider vinegar, sour cream, shredded cheddar, or nothing.