It took me a long, long time to understand that very often the best things are the simplest. In an age where everything is “epic” and “mega” and “huge,” there is great pleasure to be found in things that are straightforward and uncomplicated. A simple pot of beans slowly simmering on top of the stove can provide an aroma that warms the very soul.
When it comes to fixing a pot of pinto beans, I defer to Ralph’s expertise. He takes cues from the memories of his loving mother, who made beans all the time in a simple and flavorful way. One taste and it is easy to understand why this dish is a staple in Mexican cooking because it deliciously delivers good nutrition and energy.
This is not a “quick fix” recipe – it takes a few hours, but it well worth the wait. They can also be reheated again and again, or even “refried.” This is a large recipe as Ralph prepared a big pot for his annual family picnic, so you could easily cut the ingredients in half if you wanted a smaller batch. It yields a pot of creamy, tender beans in a delicious broth – but the flavor of the beans really shines through.
Mexican-Style Pinto Beans
3 lbs dried pinto beans
1 fresh ham hock (do not use a smoked hock...you can omit this if you want to make a vegetarian version)
Enough water to cover beans by two inches
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 ½ TBSP salt
1 tsp ground cumin
Rinse dried beans in colander to remove any dirt and remove any small field pebbles that sometimes make their way into dried beans. Transfer beans to large pot (we used an 8 quart pot with lid) and cover with enough water to exceed the top of the beans by two inches. Place fresh ham hock in pot (make sure it is submerged in water) and cover. Bring pot to a boil then reduce heat and let simmer for 2 ½ to 3 hours.
Check beans for tenderness. If they are still a little firm, let them continue to simmer for a while longer. If they have softened, gently stir in chopped onion, salt and cumin. Cover and return to simmer for at least another hour. After, you can leave ham hock in or remove meat from hock, and add the meat back into the pot, if desired. Serve beans in bowl like soup, or over rice or on the side. Enjoy!