As I mentioned in my menu plan for this week, my 3-year-old son’s favorite food ever is beans. Mexican-style pinto beans, actually, although he likes black beans, too. Lucky for me, they are easy to make and quite frugal, too. I make a large batch in my slow cooker and freeze any that we don’t eat in about a week (except that I can’t remember the last time there were any left to freeze). One recipe makes about 11 or 12 cups of cooked beans and uses 4 1/2 cups (about 1 2/3 pounds) of dry beans. Since I buy a huge 25-pound bag of pinto beans at Costco for about $15 (that’s $0.60/pound), my 11-12 cups of cooked beans cost a grand total of $1.00. If you add in generous estimates for the onion, salt, garlic and spices (another $1.00) and maybe $0.20 worth of electricity for the 9-hours-on-high cook time (I could do the math but somebody else estimated it for me), that’s $2.20 for the equivalent of about 6 cans of beans, except that these beans are BPA-free, less salty, use fresh ingredients and taste about 17 times better.
There are lots of things you can do with these beans once they’re cooked. We like to put them on taco salad or in burritos instead of meat for a vegetarian meal. They are wonderful in quesadillas with cheddar cheese, too. If you’re up for a little more work, you can use a potato masher to make them into “refried” beans, adding a little cooking water until you reach your desired consistency. These are good as a side dish for a Mexican meal or as a base for bean dip with sour cream, cheddar cheese and salsa.
You can certainly vary the amounts of the ingredients to your liking. My husband and I would prefer a little more chili powder, but my 3-year-old disagrees. I find that the 6 teaspoons of salt is plenty to make the beans flavorful but isn’t as much as the original recipe (7 1/2 teaspoons). (And don’t worry, you’re not actually consuming all that salt since you are likely not drinking all the bean cooking water along with your beans.) And about the soaking – you don’t have to soak the beans overnight (or for any particular length of time). I personally think soaking for about 8 hours helps increase their digestibility, but it doesn’t decrease cooking time. I’ve done both; do as you like. I’ve also tried waiting to add the salt until an hour or two before the beans are done (for potentially faster cooking or softer skins) but haven’t noticed a difference either way.
Slow Cooker Mexican Pinto Beans
adapted from a recipe from my friend Laura
4 1/2 cups dry pinto beans
1 onion, chopped
1 to 2 Tbsp minced garlic, or approximately 3 to 6 cloves
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
6 tsp sea or Kosher salt
approximately 13 cups water for soaking
approximately 13 cups water for cooking
The night before, look through the dry beans, removing any stems or pebbles. Rinse them and place them in a bowl with about 13 cups of water to soak overnight. To save time in the morning, I like to go ahead and cut up the onion, mince the garlic, measure out the spices and put all these into a container in the fridge overnight.
The next morning, drain the soaking water and rinse the beans again. Place beans and all other ingredients in a 6-quart slow cooker. Fill the slow cooker to about 1/2 inch from the bottom rim with water, or about 13 cups. Cook on HIGH for about 8 1/2 to 9 hours or until the beans are easily cut with a fork and the consistency is to your liking.
If you have a smaller slow cooker, just scale the recipe for your cooker. This recipe pretty much fills up the 6-quart slow cooker that I have, so if you have a 3-quart slow cooker, make half the recipe. (You can also make half or any other portion of the recipe in the larger slow cooker if you don’t need quite that many beans.)