Cooking Pinto Beans: How to Tame This Wild and Magical Legume

cookingpintobeansPhaseolus vulgaris, or the pinto bean, is a very popular high-fiber, cholesterol-lowering, iron and magnesium-providing vegetarian wonder food that can be prepared many different ways and added to an array of recipes. These magic beans also provide you with energy from the iron they contain and have been proven to lower the risk of heart attack as well as help those suffering from diabetes to balance blood sugar levels.

Almost as important as the health benefits, pinto beans also taste good and are versatile and found in many different types of cuisines. To cook properly, they require a bit of time and attention, but its nothing a little preparation can’t cure. If you’re in the mood for a little bit of pinto bean or a whole mess of ’em, there’s a recipe out there to satisfy your legume hankering.

Methods for Cooking Pinto Beans

Pinto beans are incredibly easy to find and are probably even in your cupboard as we speak, and you may not even know it. The beans may come uncooked in a bag or purchased in bulk, or in a can, whole or refried. If purchasing raw beans, make sure they are whole and not cracked as well as free from moisture and any kind of insect damage. Canned beans retain their nutritional value compared to the raw ones and are just fine and take very little time to prepare.

*Tips to remember before you start cooking*

Cooking any kind of raw bean will take a while and requires some attention, so be ready to put in a few hours to cook any significant amount of raw beans. First, spread the beans out on a flat surface in order to check for stones in the beans. Next, place the beans in a strainer and rinse them thoroughly in cold water for 30-60 seconds in order to loosen up any debris. Finally, to shorten the cooking time for the beans, soak the beans in water for 8 hours overnight if time permits (or soak them in hot water for just an hour). Place the pot in the refrigerator so the beans don’t ferment, let them sit overnight, drain, rinse then cook.

How to cook the beans

  • Beans can be cooked in a pressure cooker or on the stovetop. If using a pot on the stove, fill it with 3 cups of water (or broth) for every cup of dried beans. The liquid should be about 1-2 inches above the top of the beans.
  • Bring the beans to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, then cover with a loose lid. If the lid is too tight, the steam can’t vent and the water will overflow.
  • Simmer for 1-1.5 hours until the beans are soft.

Seasoning tips: Aromatics like few bay leaves or garlic or even a ham bone may be added to the beans before cooking to enhance the flavor. Also, salty or acidic seasoning should be added near the end of the cooking process, as adding it before will increase the cook time of the beans and may make them tough. Other things like cooked and cut pork (bacon), onions and any other extras can be added when the beans are cooked.

Recipes that Feature the Pinto Bean

While pinto beans are quite tasty, they usually don’t star in a meal or recipe. They make nice additions to Latin fare like burritos and tacos and stand out in nachos, chilies and soups. These simple (but sometimes time-consuming) recipes utilize pinto beans cooked on a stove top like in the above recipe, or in a slow cooker.


This Mexican side dish is easy, delicious and can be made just how you like it. It utilizes the slow cooker method of cooking the pinto beans and can take quite a bit of time.


  • 1 lb. dry pinto beans
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 medium white or yellow onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and membranes removed, chopped
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • banana peppers
  • queso fresco (optional)
  • salt to taste


  1. Cook the beans as mentioned in the section above, but stop after 15 minutes of simmering.
  2. Remove the beans from the heat, drain and place in the slow cooker. Cover with water and add the garlic, onion and jalapeño and salt. Cover and cook on high for 4-6 hours.
  3. When done cooking, ladle out 1-1 1/2 cups of the liquid and save for later. Drain the beans of most, not all of the liquid. Leave enough to lightly coat the beans.
  4. Place the beans and veggies along with the vinegar into a food processor or blender (or use a potato masher)
  5. Working in batches, process or blend the beans and veggies while adding the leftover liquid to the beans to achieve desired consistency.
  6. Salt to taste, and garnish with banana peppers and cheese. Beans can be kept in a freezer if necessary.


Finally, the pinto bean is the star (along with the ham). This simple soup recipe starts off with the beans being cooked the traditional way mentioned in the previous section.


  • 1 lb. pinto beans
  • 6 large carrots, sliced 1/2 in. thick
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 6 celery ribs, sliced
  • 3 1/2-4 lbs. smoked ham hocks
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • salt and pepper


  1. Cook the beans in the method described in the section above, adding the carrots, onion, garlic, celery, paprika and meat.
  2. When done cooking, remove the ham, cut into bite sized pieces and put it back into the soup. Salt and pepper to taste.

The mighty pinto bean: delicious; healthy; humble co-star and main attraction. While it can take up to 6 hours to cook these guys in a slow cooker (apt name), it is still a simple dish to prepare, just as long as you’re ready the night before or in the morning. Its a staple for Latin countries but is delicious with any kind of cuisine. Go ahead and soak some tonight and see where they take you tomorrow.