Charro Beans!

 **Please note: all food posts are from my previous blog The Flexitarian Kitchen. I've kept them here because... well, they're good recipes. And it's late. And I'm tired of adjusting my settings. Think of these recipes as the free prize in the bottom of the cereal box!

As I post this, I realize... the last recipe I posted was bean-based.

Oh no.

Well... heck.

I'm not sure what to do with this now, because this is a REALLY GREAT RECIPE. It cures insomnia, and runny noses, and general itchiness, and cases of advanced self-pity. If you're running for political office, this recipe might even help you win.  It's that good.

But too many bean-based recipes, too close together, on a vegetarian/flexitarian blog... ooooh... we know what we're opening ourselves up to now, don't we?

Yes (she said sorrowfully), we do indeed. We're opening ourselves up to... TO... TO...

Fart Jokes.

Ah... the Fart Joke. Listen folks, I grew up with brothers, and an abundance of other male relatives. I've birthed sons. I understand, intimately, the dynamics of the Fart Joke, and frankly, I think it's time to get my Mom on, shake my forefinger and say... not today, kids. Today, let's just eat a lot of beans and pretend that we don't have that bodily function. Let's call it... The Feminine Mystique. 

And then once we've done all of that... Let's just get on with it and make more beans!

And... there's always Beano.

Right?

So without any more drama or ado...

It's charro bean time!  And who doesn't love charro beans?!

Well, I mean, besides people who don't know what charro beans are.

And people who hate beans.

But besides those people, everyone else loves charro beans, right?

Of course they do!

If you didn't know, "charro" is Spanish for "the most amazing beans you've ever put in your mouth," and thus these beans are aptly named. Sometimes called "Frijoles Rancheros," charro beans are simply pinto beans cooked with bacon (if you're a flexer) and some veggies. They're divine... and easy. It's one of those rare dishes in life that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Before we delve into all of this beany goodness, let's talk about the place of bacon in the flexitarian kitchen. Because quite simply, I love bacon.

Baconbaconbaconbacon!

I don't care if it's fattening, and full of nitrates and sodium and just all around terrible for you. Bacon just makes things better! And let's be real, unless you're Adam Richman you're not eating it by the pound anyway.

Who, you say, is Adam Richman? I'm glad you asked, because it means you aren't watching h
 is show. Adam Richman is the host of a TV show called Man v. Food, and he travels the country scarfing down obscene amounts of food - things like 5 lb plates of nachos, and 72 oz steaks, and 12 lb hamburgers, just to prove that he can. This show makes me actually embarrassed to be an American at times. "Gluttony" may be an outdated word in our day and age, but you know what? It's still wrong, and it's still disgusting to watch. And as your mother always told you... there really are people who go to bed hungry at night while we, as a nation, celebrate someone shoveling 180 oysters down their throat just because they're getting paid to do it.

But I digress.

Bacon is one of those foods that gives a lot of flavor mileage in small amounts. Bacon ranks right up there with chocolate, red wine, and a good Sue Grafton novel in my Top Ten Guilty Pleasures list. As a matter of fact, bacon, seafood, and chicken stock are the three meat products that keep me from going totally vegetarian. They save me, you might say, from dietary extremism.

Not so with the 3 vegetarians in my house who have, to my sorrow, sworn off bacon entirely. So I don't use it in this dish anymore, and frankly, it feels like losing a good friend. But we are not dietary extremists on this site are we?

I can't hearrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr you!

ARE WE??

No, I didn't think so. So for today I'm going to leave the bacon in, and if you wish, you can leave it out, and we will all remain good friends. Should you go that route though you will need to make the following changes:

Saute your veggies in 3 TBSP of olive oil (to make up for the bacon fat you're losing)
Add a couple of tablespoons of vegetarian ham flavored base when you add the veggies to the beans. Frankly, pinto beans cooked on their own have the flavor profile of library paste. A good, cheap, vegetarian ham base is Goya's Jamon. It comes in a little brown box with a pig on it, in the Puerto Rican section of your neighborhood grocery store.

Now let's do this thang!

For a big pot of charro beans you will need:

1 lb dried pinto beans - sorted, rinsed and soaked overnight
6-8 whole cloves of garlic (peeled, of course!)
1 12-oz package of bacon, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 large tomatoes, diced really... please don't use canned tomatoes for this. I must insist.
1-3 jalapenos, diced finely how hot do you want it, big guy?
1 bunch of cilantro, stems removed, chopped
Salt

By the way, did you know when choosing jalapenos that the pointier the end is, the hotter the chili? So if you just want that nice, green jalapeno flavor without too much heat, look for the blunt ended peppers, and use just one. But if you're brave, and gutsy and brimming with machismo... go pointy. I'm a macho kind of guy myself. More power to ya!

So here's what we're gonna do.

*Cover the pinto beans with cold water, and add all the garlic cloves. Don't add salt at this point because salt can make the beans tough.

*Bring this to a boil. When it boils, reduce it to a simmer and cook, covered, over low heat until the beans are nearly done. Simmer is a key word here. The water should be barely bubbling. If you boil the heck out of the beans you'll end up with Split Bean Mush, and the angels will weep. About 2 to 2 1/2 hours of simmering will do the trick. Keep checking to make sure you don't need to add more water... burned beans are a smell you won't soon forget, and you do not want this odor permeating your curtains, believe me.

*Toss that diced up bacon into a pan on medium heat and fry it until it's almost all the way done. Add the onion and saute in the bacon fat until the onion is soft. Maybe 10 minutes or so. If you're using very fatty bacon you might want to pour off some of the fat before you do this. But probably, since you're a health-conscious citizen of the world you weren't using very fatty bacon in the first place. I applaud that; you were using lean bacon from locally grown, humanely processed pigs. Well done!

*When the onion is softened, add the jalapeno and the tomatoes. Cook for another 7 to 10 minutes, until the tomatoes are nice and soft.

*Slide this whole saucepan o' goodness into the pot of beans.

*What's that? *gasp* You want to drain off the bacon fat first? You can't be serious. We'll all pretend we didn't hear that preposterous suggestion. Add everything to the beans, and I mean every drop.

*Taste, and add as much salt as it needs. Now is not the time to be all sodium-conscious and responsible. We didn't come all this way for bland beans, did we? No, we did not. Make it taste good!

*Simmer this all together for half an hour. Stick your face over the pot and give yourself a bean facial. Inhale. Mmm... Bean aromatherapy!

*Add the chopped cilantro and simmer for another 10 minutes.

*Taste. Swoon. Repeat.

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