Liddie’s Traditional New Mexican Dishes: Pinto Beans

Pinto Beans with Green Chile. Photo by Liddie Martinez
Española Valley

When the summer heat begins to fade and the light winds stir up the last of the blooming flowers, I remember the early autumn work that capped off my summer vacations as a kid. We would begin to pack and store the veggies we had dried on framed screens: rings of squash, dried green chile that had been roasted and peeled, peeled and cored apples cut into half-moons that Grandma called orejones because they resembled ears and the countless mason jars filled with the fruit of our summers like jewels floating in liquid gold.

In the depth of winter my Grandma would bring out a jar of cherries or apricots and we would tell stories of their harvests and of our silly cousins who fell out of trees or flooded the wrong orchards and we would have to pick fruit barefooted in thick mud. Those conversations always provided a temporary escape from the harsh winters and a wonderful treat we all appreciated.

Another of those numerous chores on our farm was the harvesting of pinto beans. We planted the beans after the last frost and watched in amazement as they grew fast and furious. Always the first to push their heads through the soil, they grew in a tangled mess bunching up on each other and creating a protective mantle over the beans that grew beneath. But they were always the last crop to harvest. We watched as the plants flowered and the green beans pushed out and then slowly and quietly at the back of the garden turned yellow. We would stop watering them then and just wait it out until the seed pods hardened.

Then, on a windy day, we would pull up the plants and pile them onto a huge tarp and then all the kids would jump on them. I always thought this was a silly way to harvest a crop but it sure was fun. We’d shake the plants and watch the beans fall onto the tarp and then, as the right amount of breeze was blowing, we would move to the edges of the tarp and toss the contents into the air. My mom and Grandma always held the corners with my big sister and cousin, and we would watch all the shell particles fly away leaving a mountain of clean beans at the bottom of the tarp.

Pinto Beans. Photo by Liddie Martinez

Beans, potatoes and chile were an ever-present combination at our dinner table. Growing up on a sustainable family farm taught me the value of knowing where your food comes from and how it is grown. It also taught me a way of life I cannot imagine not having. I planted my first crop of pinto beans this year and they are beautiful. How could something so simple give someone such pleasure?




Pinto Beans

2 Cups Pinto beans, cleaned and rinsed

3 strips thick sliced bacon, chopped

½ onion, chopped fine

2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

2 Cups Chicken stock

4 Cups cold water

1 Tbsp. Olive Oil

1 Tbsp. Butter

In a pressure cooker over medium heat sauté bacon and onions in olive oil. When onions are transparent, add garlic, beans, stock and water. Stir well and seal pot locking lid in place and placing the weight on the pot. When steam rises, lower heat to low and time for 50 minutes. When beans have cooked, place pot in sink and, while running cold water over the pot, release pressure slowly before unlocking the lid. Be very careful. There is little worse than an exploded pot of beans all over your kitchen and walls. Add butter and smash a couple of spoons of beans against the side of the pan and stir.  This will thicken the beans and add a bit of creaminess. Serve with red or green chile and a warm tortilla.

Alternately, you could put all the ingredients into a slow cooker before heading out to work and the aroma will be awesome when you open your front door at the end of the day. They will be very good, and this method is very convenient but, I think they are perfect in color, form