Frijoles Charros (Cowboy Beans)

Beans, beans, the magical fruit – the more you eat, the more you…want more!

I think it’s amazing that simple pinto beans can be transformed into so many dishes. The purest and simplest pinto beans are beans from the pot, Frijoles de la Olla. Cook them in beer and add bacon and they become Borracho Beans, or add a few extra ingredients like chorizo, hotdog slices, ham, chicharrón (pork rinds), and it becomes a hearty dish called Frijoles Charros.

I always looked forward to family summer cookouts growing up because someone was always sure to contribute this Northern Mexican dish.

To be honest, I am not a fan of too many extra ingredients and I wanted to share a recipe where the beans are the star of the show. These frijoles charros are flavored with smoky bacon, onions, garlic, fire roasted diced tomatoes, and jalapeño slices.

This recipe can be made in the slow cooker or in a dutch oven on the stovetop.  It is the ideal potluck or cookout dish to make – it’s inexpensive, easy to make, and extremely delicious.

When trying to develop a recipe I found a recipe by Rick Bayless that is perfect, so rather than reinventing the wheel I am sharing his recipe.

After the beans are cooked he adds two cups of beans and liquid in the blender to puree and adds them back to the pot of beans giving them a creamier consistency. I had never done that before, but really loved the texture and highly recommend it.

While the beans were simmering I was reminded of my grandmas’ kitchen – she always had a pot of beans on the stovetop and sour cream on her kitchen table. I used to love smothering a warm corn tortilla with sour cream and sprinkle it with salt. I’d roll it up tight like a mini burrito and eat it with a steaming bowl of freshly made beans.

Sure, you can serve these beans as a side-dish, but eating a warm bowl of beans like soup is a comforting meal and oh so heavenly.

WHAT YOU WILL NEED:

Frijoles Charros (Cowboy Beans)

These frijoles charros are flavored with smoky bacon, onions, garlic, fire roasted diced tomatoes, and jalapeño slices.

Ingredients

  • 4 to 5 slices thick cut bacon, cut crosswise into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 medium white onion, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, sliced
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice (preferably fire-roasted)
  • 1 pound (about 2 1/2 cups) dried pinto beans
  • Salt
  • 1 cup loosely packed, roughly chopped cilantro

Instructions

  1. Measure out the beans. Spread the beans over your counter so you can look for beans that are broken, discolored, or shriveled and remove them. There will also be small stones or pebbles that should be sorted out of the beans during this phase. Discard all of the undesirable pieces.
  2. Place beans in a colander. Rinse the beans thoroughly with cool water.
  3. In a removable insert of a 6-quart slow cooker (or a large 10-inch skillet if your slow cooker does not have a stove-top safe insert) set over medium heat, cook the bacon several minutes, stirring regularly, until bacon starts to brown and renders its fat.  Add the onion and cook until golden, about 6 to 8 minutes.  Add garlic and jalapeños and cook until the garlic begins to brown and is fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and cook another minute.
  4. Fit the insert into the slow cooker (or transfer the mixture from the skillet to the slow cooker) and add the beans, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 7 cups of water. Cover and turn the slow cooker to high. Your beans will be done in 3 to 4 hours, though you can hold them for longer.
  5. When ready to serve, remove 2 cups of the beans and process in a blender or food processor until smooth.  Add the smooth beans back to pot and stir in the cilantro. Taste and season with more salt if needed. Ladle into bowls and serve.

No Slow Cooker?

  1. Follow the directions for cooking the bacon, onion, garlic, chiles and tomatoes in a medium-large (4- to 6-quart) pot (preferably a Dutch oven) over medium-high.  Add the beans, salt, and 2 ½ quarts water. Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce to medium-low and cook the beans at a gentle simmer, partially covered, until thoroughly tender, about 2 hours. (You’ll find it necessary to add water from time to time to ensure that the level of liquid remains about the same.)  Finish the recipe as directed above.
Photography by Jenna Sparks