If you live in the South then chances are you have had “soup beans” or pinto beans at some point in your life. Pinto beans are a staple around here. They are cheap and fairly easy to prepare. I can purchase a large bag of dried pinto beans for just a couple dollars. This one bag of beans will feed my family for several meals and the leftovers can often be used to create other dishes (like this Cowboy Ranch Casserole). Not only are beans cheap but they are a great source of protein and fiber.
Growing up, one of my grandmother’s would always cook a big pot of pinto beans if she knew that we were coming to visit. It’s just one of those staple meals that you will find in many Southern kitchens.
Main Dish or Side Dish
Are pinto beans a main dish, or a side dish? That all depends on who you ask.
In my family, when I was growing up, my mom would cook a big pot of pinto beans and that was the main portion of our meal, but it sure wasn’t the only dish on the table that night. We would often have other side dishes to go with it, which might include macaroni and cheese, mustard greens, fried potatoes, sauerkraut, fried okra, chow chow relish, and of course you had to have cornbread. Usually to accompany our meal we would have pickled beets (that we canned ourselves) and an onion chopped up to eat with your beans. When soup beans and cornbread was on the menu for that night you knew we would be eating off the biggest plates and that our plates would be loaded with food.
For other Southerner’s pinto beans are served as a side dish. Pinto beans might be served alongside a plate of fried chicken or pork tenderloin.
When I was in college, I had a professor in my senior year that had just moved to Kentucky from Utah. She was not familiar with “Southern” food and had never even tried many of the dishes that are popular in this area. At the end of that final semester, our class went to lunch one day at Cracker Barrel. Our main purpose was to expose our professor to some Southern foods. Being a good sport, she allowed us to order for her, so we made sure that she had the chance to sample some standard Southern fare. We ordered her a meal of pinto beans, cornbread, fried apples, and fried okra. She had never had any of those things before and was actually a bit apprehensive about whether or not she would like those foods. But much to her astonishment she actually loved all of these new foods.
What’s Your Secret Recipe?
In the South, not only does the way you eat your pinto beans vary but so does the way that you cook your beans. When I first moved out on my own I would often prepare meals similar to what my mother prepared as I was growing up. However, my recipes were not as good as her’s. It took me several years to perfect my own recipes.
When preparing pinto beans, many people only use canned beans. I have talked to several people in the past that have never prepared pinto beans, except for what came out of a can. Their reason was that they just didn’t know how to prepare the dried beans.
For myself I have only prepared canned pinto beans on a few occasions. Sometimes, when I was single, I would open up a can of pinto beans for dinner rather than prepare a big bag of dried beans.
If you do a little Google or Pinterest search for Pinto Beans Recipes you will see a ton of different variations. Here is my recipe for Pinto Beans (Soup Beans):
1 lb bag of dried Pinto Beans
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick)
1/2 Small Onion, diced
1 tsp Garlic
Salt (to taste)
1. Remove bad beans and rocks. Yes, I said “rocks”. Sometimes rocks find their way into your bag of dried beans. You may also find some beans that look bad. You’ll want to toss those out as well. To sift through the beans, I pour a handful of beans into my hand and carefully sort through the beans, removing rocks and bad beans. After sorting through each handful, I place them in a large colander.
2. Once your beans have been sorted, hold the colander under running water. This will rinse the dirt and debris from the beans so that you do not have gritty dirty beans. I like to use the sprayer nozzle at the kitchen sink and use my hand to move the beans around in the colander as I spray them with water.
3. Once your beans have been rinsed, dump them into a large pot or dutch oven. Cover with water, about 1 to 2 inches of water above the beans and allow them to soak. It’s best to soak overnight but if you forgot to do that the night before, at least let them soak for an hour or so before cooking.
4. After the beans have soaked, drain the water off and add fresh water, about 1 to 2 inches above the beans.
5. To the beans and water, add butter, onion and garlic. If you have leftover ham from a previous meal, or have the “ham bone” you can throw that in the pot as well to help flavor the beans.
6. Turn onto high until the beans come to a boil. I usually allow them to boil for about 20-30 minutes.
7. Turn the heat down to a medium heat, cover, and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally.
Doesn’t that look so healthy with that butter floating around?
8. Allow the beans to simmer for 2 to 3 hours. The longer you allow the beans to soak before cooking, the faster that they will cook. I don’t really have a set amount of time to cook my beans. Once they have been cooking for 2 hours I taste a sample to determine if they are done. If the bean is still tough it will need to cook longer. As the beans are cooking you may occasionally have to add more water to your pot.
9. Once you have determined that the beans are done you can add the salt. Why wait till the end to add the salt? If you add salt while the beans are cooking it tends to make them tough, so you always want to wait until the end to add the salt. How much salt you add is a personal preference. I like my beans salty but my mom doesn’t. I will usually add a little salt and then we can each add more salt once we are ready to eat. After adding the salt, allow the beans to simmer about 10 more minutes.
What if you don’t have time in the evenings to spend 3 hours waiting for the beans to cook? No problem! Add your beans and other ingredients into your slow-cooker and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. My slowcooker has a setting for low heat for 8 or 10 hours. If I am not home from work in 8 hours the Crockpot will switch to the Keep Warm setting, keeping my food warm until dinner time. You can find a programmable slowcooker on Amazon for under $50. There are so many options available if you are in the market to purchase a new slowcooker.