November 19, 2008

Jen's Slow Cooker Pinto Beans Surprise

Last night, I was nosing through my pantry looking for, I mean vegetables and whole grains...and I came across a bag of dried pinto beans. I don't remember ever purchasing a bag of pinto beans!?!?!?! They looked totally unfamiliar. I checked the expiration date (I was surprised dried beans actually had an expiration date) and found that it was Jan 2009. Why, that is not too far away! Rather than risk having to throw these nutrition beans out, I decided to do something with them.
I figured I would cook them and then figure out what to do with these beans later. You know, typical procrastination tactic. I soaked them overnight, as per the instructions. Then, when I woke up this morning I decided I would put them into the slow cooker with some herbs, aromatics, and spices and then just wait and see what happens. I think I am going to divide this batch in half and make some refried beans, and then leave the rest whole for whatever application that tickles my fancy later on. I literally just started poking through my fridge and pantry, and whatever sounded flavorful made it into the pot. Traditional Mexican style pinto beans typically have lard or some sort of pork fat in them, so I decided to cut up a couple slices of uncooked bacon and throw them into the mix. I think with the long cooking time, the bacon fat will render out nicely. I will fish out the bacon pieces later. I was going to tag this post as 'healthy' until I realized bacon fat does not make these beans healthy (although it is a relatively small amount).

I think I will use these beans (in the form of smashed refried beans) for tostadas tonight. If that doesn't work, then I do have a Tamale Pie recipe that requires pinto beans, too. I am not sure...we will just have to see how my beans behave. I am hoping that, as it gets closer to dinner time, I will be able to formulate a dinner plan that incorporates my beans. We will see...I love experimental cooking!

Jen's Slow Cooker Pinto Beans Surprise

1 2 lb. bag of forgotten pinto beans
1 onion, cut into chunks
2 stalks of celery, cut into chunks
2 slices of bacon, cut into chunks (OPTIONAL-Omit for vegetarian version)
6 cloves of whole garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 cup of plain, chunky marinara sauce (I had some in the fridge)
2 bay leaves, whole
1 Tablespoon of red pepper flakes
2 Tablespoons of kosher salt
1 Tablespoon of black pepper
1 Tablespoon of minced onion
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 small can of green chiles
1 Tablespoon of Ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1 Tablespoon of cumin
1 Tablespoon of coriander
2 Tablespoon of hot sauce (I used Tapatio)
plenty of water

1) Spread beans out on a large sheet pan and sort beans by talking out any pebbles, sticks, undesirable objects. Cover beans with water, and soak overnight in a large stock pot or slow cooker insert pot (make sure to discard any floating beans or particles).
2)Pour beans and soaking water through a colander. Save beans and discard soaking liquid. Place beans back into slow cooker insert pot and cover beans with fresh water.
3) Add all ingredients in with beans and cook on low for 6-10 hours. (I programmed my slow cooker for 8 hours on low to start with, since I am really not sure about cooking time for this recipe.)
4) When beans are soft and taste "done", strain off liquid into a separate bowl and save (This liquid should be really flavorful, and you may want to use it later for making refried beans or something else).
5) Sort through beans and discard any chunks (i.e. celery, bacon, garlic, onions, bay leaves, etc.). Store beans and cooking liquid in separate containers, or use immediately for other recipe(s).

Jen's Notes:
All quantities are estimated. Also, the directions are more like a 'game plan', since I have never made this recipe before. I think beans are fairly forgiving, so I am hoping that this recipe will work. This can easily be adjusted to a vegetarian recipe, if you leave out the bacon.

The Results:
Oh man! These beans were fan-freakin’-tastic! Awesome! Amazing! Delicious! Certainly the best beans that I have ever made. Dare I say, the best beans that I have ever consumed. They were that good! They were full of flavor and texture, but not overwhelming in any way…just super-yummy. I love that they were easy to make and fairly inexpensive, since all the ingredients were things I had in my pantry anyway. I heart these beans very much, and I am glad that I have a bunch leftover. Although these beans are really not quick to make, I think this will be my go-to beans recipe. I will just keep a couple of cans of beans on hand if I need a fast-fix meal.
The flavor difference between slow cooking/seasoning your own dried beans from scratch vs. beans from a can is unbelievably noticeable. It just goes to show how numb we become to how food actually tastes, because we get so used to eating processed foods. It always amazes me when I make something homemade for the first time; it is a complete sensory experience. I can literally feel my palate wake up. I am telling you, my whole frame of reference changes for what is good and what isn’t good.

I did separate out the cooking liquid in one container, and the whole pinto beans in another container to use in another application. The only chunky items I got rid of were the celery stalks and bay leaves. The garlic, onion, and bacon cooked thoroughly and broke up into small pieces. If you decide to make these, please, please do not leave out the bacon; it perfumed the whole dish and just made these beans very savory. I beg of you…use the bacon!
I took enough beans for tonight’s meal and lunches tomorrow and made ‘refried’ beans by adding 2 Tablespoons of butter, some of the cooking liquid, and smashing the whole concoction with a potato masher. Total perfection! I am very glad that I stumbled upon these beans by accident; otherwise I might not have ever tried this method.

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