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Charro Beans

You have ruined me on charro beans.

– guy in our D&D group.

Okay, I can’t take any credit at all for this recipe. I haven’t experimented with them so much as meticulously followed my husband’s texted instructions. It’s his recipe and he apparently came with it pre-installed – there’s no other reasonable explanation for its existence.

He says that his mom has made beans like this before, and all I can say is that, in twelve years, I’ve never had them.

Anyway, these charro beans are about as authentic as you can get short of the Rio Grande valley. They veer heavily Mex on the Tex-Mex scale and are very much a border food. Serve them as a side, or as a meal in themselves, we use them either way.

  • 1 lb. pinto beans, picked over and washed
  • water
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 lb. bacon, diced
  • 1 lb. roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 yellow sweet onion, diced (~1 cup)
  • 1 serrano pepper, seeded and minced (unseeded if you’re brave)
  • 2 cloves garlic*, minced
  • half a bunch fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 1 lime

There are two ways to start these. You can either soak them ~8 hours and then cook them, and they’ll cook in about 45 minutes… or you can just throw the dry beans in a pot with plenty of water and simmer them until they’re done, which takes about 2-3 hours.

We’ve cooked them both ways and they are roughly equal in unfortunate bean side effects, so you can pick the method that suits your timetable. I prefer the no-soak method, which produces deeper brown beans than the presoaked version.

Anyhow.

Presoaked beans:

Combine a tablespoon of kosher salt, about 8 cups of water, and your dry beans in a bowl for 6-8 hours. Rinse them, throw them in a pot with some fresh water and bring to a simmer.

Dry beans:

Combine a half tablespoon of kosher salt, about 8 cups of water, and your dry beans in a big pot and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the beans are cooked, 2-3 hours, adding more (hot) water if needed.

I know everyone says cooking beans with salt makes beans hard. Everyone is wrong. A hard bean is just an old, dry bean – salt has nothing to do with it. Salting your beans (especially during the presoak) is the only way to actually season the bean. Otherwise, you end up with bland beans and have to salt the cooking liquid heavily to make up for it.

Trust me. We cook a lot of beans.

With that controversy behind us, when the beans are mostly cooked throw in the diced bacon and let things continue to simmer while the bacon and beans finish cooking. About 30 minutes before you want to serve them, add the tomatoes, onion, serrano, and garlic*.

*it is acceptable to substitute garlic powder for fresh garlic. Just sprinkle it in to taste.

About five minutes before serving remove the beans from the heat and stir in the cilantro and juice of one lime. These flavors dissipate with extended cooking, so I always wait till after I’ve turned off the burner before I add them. Give things a few minutes to meld, and then serve.

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