Though beans are eaten in many countries in Latin America and around the world, there is probably no other country as closely associated with this foodstuff as Mexico. Beans are prepared in a thousand different ways there, but the most basic (and the manner in which most other bean dishes start out) is what is called frijoles de la olla, or “pot beans.”
Frijoles de la olla are traditionally cooked in an earthenware pot, which adds a wonderful rustic flavor to the beans, but they can also be made in a standard metal cooking pot, pressure cooker, or slow cooker with delicious results.
As happens with so many foods that are fundamental in a culture, each Mexican cook has his or her own particular way of preparing beans. What follows is a solid basic recipe to get you started on your way to your very own version. For more detailed information, see 6 Tips for Cooking Great Beans.
- 1 pound (about ½ kilo) of dried beans (pinto, black, flor de mayo, or another variety)
- ½ medium-sized onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 3 quarts (3 liters) of water
- 1 sprig of epazote (if preparing black beans)
Spread the dried beans out on a table or other flat surface. One by one, slide each bean off the table with one hand, catching it with the other, leaving behind any tiny stones or other debris.
Place the beans in a strainer and rinse.
Place the rinsed, drained beans in a medium- to large-sized cooking pot over medium-high heat. Add the water.
Dice the onion and the garlic and add them to the pot. Cover the pot and allow to come to a boil. Once the boiling point has been reached, reduce heat to medium-low to keep a steady simmer that does not produce large bubbles.
Cook beans until they are soft. Make sure there is always plenty of water in the pot, adding boiling water when and if necessary.
Cooking time vary depending on the freshness of the beans (those harvested many months before will take longer to cook). Typically, though, beans will take an hour and a half to two hours to soften, though they could take a little less or quite a bit longer.
Beans are cooked when one can be easily smashed between your thumb and forefinger. (Be careful not to get burned when trying this!)
If you are making black beans, it is traditional to season them with a sprig of fresh epazote. Add the herb just a few minutes before taking the beans off the stove, as epazote’s wonderfully rustic aroma and flavor cannot withstand long cooking.
Once the beans are cooked, add the salt and stir. (If salt is added before beans are thoroughly cooked, it prevents them from becoming completely soft.)
Enjoy your delicious, soupy beans in bowls as a side dish to grilled or fried meats, or use a slotted spoon to dish out just the beans (without their broth) to accompany any savory dish—you will be amazed at how delicious this simple preparation is!
Use leftovers as an ingredient for other dishes such as refried beans, bean soup, or ranchero beans or refrigerate leftovers for reheating; they will thicken and become more delicious each time they are eaten.