A single food can be the springboard for an entire supper, and few ingredients have as much to offer as the humble bean. Pinto beans in particular are appealing because they have a creamy texture and mild flavor, are widely available, and dirt cheap. You can turn a pot of pintos into a multitude of soups, salads, plates of hearty rice and beans, and of course, tacos and tostadas.
While a sturdy pot set on the stovetop cooks beans just beautifully, the slow cooker allows you to do the job without minding the store, so to speak. It’s become a matter of course in our house to get the crock pot going with a pound of beans on Monday morning to use in meals throughout the week. While I’ve tinkered around with different techniques — soaking the beans, adding a chopped onion or cloves of garlic, playing around with various seasonings — nothing has been as successful as the bare bones approach by Mexican food affianado Deborah Schneider in her book The Mexican Slow Cooker. The beans aren’t soaked in advance, everything goes into the slow cooker all at once, and the five-ingredient recipe calls for nothing more exotic than crushed red pepper.
The result? One delicious pot of slow cooker pinto beans. They were so good, in fact, that Rosie did up a bowl for her after school snack (what could be more warm and nourishing?) and didn’t mind that those same beans were the centerpiece of our meal just a few hours later. I built tostadas on a base of corn tortillas crisped in a pan with a slick of oil, then topped with pintos, salsa, a chopped cabbage salad, and crumbled cotija cheese. What remained in the pot went into school lunches the next day and a breakfast of huevos rancheros the day after that. That’s my kind of cooking.
These pinto beans couldn't be easier to make in a slow cooker. Any that you don't use within a few days can be stored in a container or resealable bag and kept in the freezer. To turn whole pintos into a healthy version of refried beans, saute a little onion and garlic in olive oil until tender, add the beans and some of the cooking liquid, and cook for a few minutes. Then, mash with a fork or puree in a blender.
- 1 pound dried pinto beans (2 1/2 cups), rinsed, picked over for tiny stones
- 7 1/2 cups wter
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Put the beans, water, crushed red pepper, salt, and black pepper into the slow cooker and stir. Cover and cook on low until the beans are tender but not falling apart (7 to 9 hours). The time will vary depending on the size and age of the beans. Once cooked, turn off the slow cooker. If you leave the beans in the slow cooker for a while, they will continue to absorb the liquid as they cool, making them more tender and creamy.
Adapted from The Mexican Slow Cooker by Deborah Schneider