Pink Beans - A Lesson in Legumes

Monday, March 9, 2009

I'll be honest, until recently what I knew about beans didn't amount to a hill of them.

After hearing about how organic heirloom beans were supposedly the next big food trend (which still sounds silly to me, heirloom beans, though I'm not sure why, probably because I've been trained through life that beans are routine and humdrum) I figured I would try cooking some for once. Now, I'm a big proponent of canned beans since I think they taste fine and they're ready at hand so I this was new territory for me. However, I foresaw few troubles in cooking a small batch of legumes over the stove.

I went to whole foods and picked up some pink beans. Pink beans because, well, they're pink. There isn't a lot of pink food. They seemed exotic yet still slightly mundane in their petit pink pile. I went home and talked to my roommate, Candace, about them as I went about measuring some of them out for the night's dinner.


"Yeah, why?" I asked passively, not really expecting a logical answer due to the fact that the beans were just beans.

"Yeeeeeah, you're going to want to soak those for about four hours at least," she said flatly. I could hear the dry smile turning upward from the living room.

"Zuh? Explain." I demanded.

"They have to soften up. Then you have to simmer them for at least two more hours," she walked into the kitchen, "after that you can eat them. Beans take a long time, but trust me they're way better fresh than from a can. They just take some planning ahead and some time."

I was crushed, I wanted to cook them right then and there. So no beans were had that night. I let them soak until the morning, and then cooked them for lunch the next day, simmering them slow and long as she had instructed. I was impatient, I wondered if it would be worth the work. If they turned out like canned beans, so be it. I would learn something anyways.

The result? The most delicious beans ever. They had simmered in salty water with a bay leaf and a few peppercorns. After draining them I mixed them with a tablespoon of bacon grease and a smatter of kosher salt and ground pepper. The bacon grease gave them a slick, slightly meaty flavor that really gave them some nice compliment with the earthy but light flavors of the beans. The flavor was full, resounding with the minty hint of bay and pepper at the back. Fantastic.

And I learned something I always knew: beans are so cheap! How could I have gone this long without discovering the frugal and tasty glory of freshly cooked beans!? Pink to save green. Indeed, I plan to go back to the store shortly to fill my pantry.

Pink Beans

1 cup of beans
bay leaf
kosher salt
ground pepper
tablespoon of bacon fat

Soak the beans in cold water for 4-8 hours. Drain. Cover in fresh cold water, two inches over the beans. Toss out any floaters. Add a good amount of salt (a couple tablespoons), a bay leaf, and some peppercorns. Bring to a boil then simmer, covered, for two hours or until soft. Drain and add the bacon fat and some salt and pepper. Stir and serve.


  1. There's nothing like freshly cooked beans. Be careful with salting, though - if the beans are old, salting the cooking water will result in beans that will never soften. Salting after is safer, unless you know the provenance of your legumes.

    Now, off to find myself some pink beans, you've given me a craving.

  2. Two words Garrett

    Pressure Cooker

  3. Fresh beans with a dollop of crema mexicana, a squirt of lime juice, and some queso fresco crumbled on top is truly one of the most delicious foods ever consumed by man.

  4. Another reason to soak beans - farting. Soaking helps to remove the sugar that our intestinal bacteria eats, creates gas, and thus, farts. More info here:

  5. Indeed, beans - heirloom or not - are the new trend. Even in my country the government is planning to promote eating beans as an alternative to (more expensive to produce, process) meat. Try for fresh (probably you'll have to borrow them from someones kitchengarden) yin-yang beans (black and white), borlotti beans and absolutely fresh: capucins

  6. Welcome to the world of soaking beans! The same epiphany on soaking/cooking also hit me this year. Try bringing chickpeas to life and you'll have mountains of the best hummus you've ever tasted for pennies.

    Also, I agree with Vicki.
    Try salting them with about 20 minutes to go before you pull 'em off the burner. Otherwise, they could end up a little hard.

  7. Hahaha, I had a similar experience the first time I went to make beans. Now I pretty much soak and cook a pound every weekend for use throughout the week.

  8. Sweet Lord, Pinky, that crema/lime/queso fresco combo makes me drool. And, Garrett, we live to learn, right? I shop mail order from Rancho Gordo (no Whole Foods nearby), and I have discovered some spectacular beans. One of the most recent I tried is called Mayacoba...look like little pale green sea pebbles, cook up like Great Northern and, so help me God, taste a lot like baked potatoes. Can just imagine some dolled up Pinky-style. Keep on cookin', Garrett...and writing, too.

    1. I discovered Mayacoba beans several years ago & LOVE them! Wonderful flavor without adding much - work in every recipe I've used them in. I'm cooking a batch of pink beans right now - which is how I came to be reading this blog.

  9. Rancho Gordo sells heirloom beans and has a bunch of different varieties. Checking out their blog is certainly worthwhile.

  10. I was wondering where you were going with this. I usually agree with you and was surprised when you mentioned canned beans. I am Puerto Rican and ate beans every day of my life until I was 30 (now just several times a week, hee, hee) so I consider myself kind of an expert.

    I simmer my beans with an onion cut in two or three pieces and a couple cloves of garlic, removed after beans are done. Salt the beans when they are almost done. After that--the sky is the limit. Inexpensive, good for you and delicious.

    PS My boys learned the soaking lesson when they were 5 and wanted to make dinner for me.

  11. Yep, Elise is right about the pressure cooker. They cook in about one third the time (after soaking). Fresh ones (shellies/shelling beans) can be found in the fall require no soaking and cook in about 20 minutes.

  12. Fresh beans are the way to go... unless you are in a rush and have no choice. But, soaking isn't always necessary or best - it depends on the bean. Either way it's a slow process. And yes, it is best to wait to add the salt.

    I love pink beans - especially Rancho Gordo's Heirloom Pinquitos.

    If you are looking for more ideas, I blogged about a recipe for Chili con Carne using Rancho Gordo Pinquitos here, should you be interested.


    ~ Paula

  13. For the best pinto or black beans, add 2-4 cloves of garlic per pound of beans, and add salt to taste when the beans are just starting to soften (time can vary with the freshness of the beans, start checking after an hour).

    As much as I hate to contradict Elise (if it is she from Simply Recipes, she truly has some of the greatest recipes I've ever come across), a pressure cooker will make acceptable beans, but never *great* beans. Get fresh beans, do an overnight (quick soak if you're in a hurry: bring to a boil, remove from heat, rest for an hour), or just boil for 4 hours, make sure to add garlic, and... woot! Awesome beans.

    Black beans are the best- black bean tacos, tostadas, soup- you name it, it's 100 times better with fresh beans.

  14. I second Elise - PRESSURE COOKER. Same results as a slow cooker but at a fraction of the time! - Priti

  15. Hi Garret, thank you for the post on beans. If it's in your budget the next time you make a pot of beans, try throwing in a smoked turkey leg or wing while they cook, I don't think you will be disappointed.

    The meat should be tender enough that you can tear it from the bone and mix right into the beans.

  16. Your world of food is about to explode, and I mean that in a good way!

    I recently wrote a post on black bean brownies, so they can even be a delicious dessert!

    Beans are a staple in our house.

  17. Two additions to the conversation:

    Fresh beans/shelling beans, sold in pods before they dry as mentioned earlier, are absolutely amazing.

    Also you can cook beans in the slow cooker.(This comes in handy here in the Sacramento heat.)

  18. Hey Garrett: Elise is correct if you want fast beans, but Michelin-star beans can only come though a very slow process:

    First is the overnight soak, or the boiling water soak another commenter mentioned. Either way, at least a few hours.

    Second, and this is what I have learned from considerable experimentation, is to cook your beans BELOW a simmer in as neutral water as you can find. You want your water to be neither acidic (which leads to beans that never soften), nor too basic (which leads to beans that turn to mush). If you cook at about 170 degrees, give or take, the end result will be a beautiful bean that has retained much of its initial color, will hold its shape AND will be soft inside, with a little al dente bite from the skin.

    The keys here are time and the ph of the liquid. Wine is acidic, for example, and tomato sauce is even moreso. "Hard" water can affect your beans, depending on what the minerals in the water are, as can water that is overly "soft."

    Anyway, the bottom line is that beans ought not to be rushed.

  19. Do you save bacon grease?? My mom always did and so do I.

    I love pink beans. There is a "quick soak" method. Bring beans to boil then turn off heat and cover. Let sit for 30 minutes. Drain and add fresh water and start over. Should be done in 90 minutes.

  20. I'm a huge fan of pinto beans and echo Hank's comments that the best results come from soaking the beans for at least four hours and gentle cooking, not a pressure cooker. My all time favorite recipe is the charra beans from Homesick Texan:

    These beans are simply incredible, and if prepared in a slow cooker/crockpot, very low maintenance.

  21. Oh my... yet another obsession you've started for me... beans beans beans. Can't wait to try some of the suggestions here too!

  22. We can't talk about pink beans without mentioning Puerto Rican-style rice and beans. Here's more or less my recipe; I've altered it slightly for here because, well, most people wouldn't be able to find ingredients like annatto and recao.

    There are two tricks to this recipe:

    1. The beans are cooked with diced or cubed potato, which helps thicken the liquid. The potatoes sometimes almost completely fall apart in the broth.

    2. You simmer the beans in one pot with some flavoring ingredients, and you make a "sofrito" (seasoning sautee) in a separate skillet or sautee pan. This sautee will be added to the bean pot close to the end in order to add a lot of flavor to the broth.

    I make smaller batches than most people (make them on Sunday night, last me until Wednesday lunch), so feel free to double all of the amounts if it suits you better. The beans are better the next day, so make sure to make plenty.

    Simmered beans ingredients:

    1 cup dry pink beans
    4.5 cups of water
    1 red potato, peeled and cubed/diced (this helps thicken the sauce)
    1/2 medium sized onion, choped coarsely
    1/4 or 1/3 of a medium red bell pepper, chopped coarsely
    3 cloves of garlic, peeled
    Bay leaf
    A big pinch of oregano
    A pinch of thyme
    Fresh-ground black pepper
    Salt (to taste)

    Sofrito (seasoning sautée) ingredients:

    1 tbsp oil for sauteeing (I use home-prepared annatto olive oil)
    1/2 cup diced ham
    1/2 onion, diced finely
    1/2 green bell pepper, diced finely
    1/4 or 1/3 of a red bell pepper, diced finely
    3 cloves of garlic, minced
    Cilantro leaf, chopped finely (this is a substitute for recao, so sorry, I don't know how much is appropriate)
    4 tbsp tomato sauce
    1/2 to 3/4 tsp smoked paprika

    Soak the beans for 8 hours in the 4.5 cups of water. When the beans are done soaking, put them together with the soaking water in a dutch oven (I use Lodge enameled cast iron), together with the cubed potato, oregano, thyme and pepper. Take the coarsely chopped onion, red bell peper, garlic cloves and bay leaf, put them into a "soup sock". Submerge the soup sock in the cooking water, bring everything to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer gently with the cover on.

    (If you don't have the "soup sock," you can use some cheesecloth and string to make a bundle, or if worst comes to worst, slice the onion and bell pepper into really large pieces and just put them into the pot; it's just going to have to remove the pieces later.)

    While the beans simmer, dice the ingredients for the sofrito (ham, onion, green and red bell peppers). After prep is done, heat your oil in a sautee pan or skillet, then add the ham and sautee until slightly browned. Add the onion and bell pepper, sautee until the onion wilts; add the garlic and sautee until fragrant. Add the chopped cilantro leaf and mix thoroughly with the saute, then add the tomato sauce, mix well, and let the liquids evaporate. When most of the liquid has evaporated, add the smoked paprika to the sautee, and mix thoroughly under heat. Reserve the "sofrito" you've just made.

    When beans are nearly done, pour the sofrito into the pot and mix thoroughly with the beans and the liquid. Keep simmering, uncovered, until the beans are done and the sauce thickens. Salt to taste close to the end.

    This is eaten by spooning it over plain white rice. The more formal way of serving it is to give each diner white rice on their plate, and the beans separately, in a coffee cup or small soup cup; the diner spoons the beans over the rice and mixes them at the table. You can of course just spoon them right out of the cooking pot onto your rice plate for causal dining.

  23. I had my doubts since I haven't had much experience with beans, but wow! They were perfect so yummy, chopped the bacon up and tossed in the beans, my 1 year old devoured them! :) I'm excited to make more beans, and try some of these recipes!

  24. If you can your own beans you know what is in them. I buy the dry beans and use 2/3 cup in a pint jar, fill with water and put in the canner for 60 minutes. Perfect and no soaking. Always ready when you want them. :)


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