BASICS: Frijoles de la olla

There are people that remember smells from their childhood: chocolate chip cookies, marinara simmering on the stove or meatloaf.  For me, it is the smell of frijoles cooking slowly on the stove.

I remember coming home after school, welcomed by the deep, earthy aroma of pinto beans.  This was especially true on Fridays, as my mom was getting food ready before the Sabbath began at sunset.

We ate a lot of beans at home.  We ate them because they were inexpensive and we were definitely the opposite of rich.  We ate them because we are a Mexican family and they are a Mexican staple.  But mostly, we ate them because they are delicious!

Before I became an intolerant person (lactose-wise), I loved a fresh bowl of beans with sour cream.  Yum!  Combined with the tortillas de harina (flour tortillas) my grandmother made, it was a complete meal.  At least it was for me.

That is why this is a BASIC recipe for me.

There are many ways of cooking beans.  This is the way I cook them.  You can cook them with these ingredients or you can go in an even more simple direction:  just beans, water, heat and salt at the end.

Frijoles de la olla

1 1/2 lb dried pinto beans (about 700 g)

1 serrano chile, whole without the stem

1/2 medium white onion

2 bay leaves

salt to taste


Place the dried beans on the counter or cutting board and sort through them to separate any stones, “bad beans” or other debris. You don’t want anyone to bite into a stone.  Even after sorting, it still happens.  This is what I look for and discard.


Rinse the beans well in a colander and place in a large pot.  Cover the beans with water (about 2-3 inches above the beans) and add the onion, serrano pepper and the bay leaves.  Remove any beans that float.

Some people add oil or lard.  Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless add 2 tablespoons of lard, but I don’t.  My mom sometimes added a few cilantro sprigs and Rick Bayless adds epazote.  I don’t.  But you can if you want.


Bring to a boil.  Once it is boiling, reduce the heat to a slow simmer.

Simmer for about 2 hours.  About an hour into the simmering, heat up some water to a boil in a separate pot.  If the beans need more water, you need to add water at the same temperature, not cold water.  And I take out the serrano pepper.  You can keep it in longer, but I like just a hint of its flavor.

After about an hour and a half, take a bean or two and try them out.  If they are soft, but somewhat firm, you are done.  If not, keep checking every 15 minutes.  When they are done, add the salt (to taste) and let them sit for 30 minutes.


A simple bowl of beans.  Delicious!


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