I didn’t get hooked on dried legumes until I discovered pot beans. The preparation style evolved from frijoles de olla, traditionally cooked in earthenware pots in Mexico. Instead of cooking dried beans in 2 stages—once in pure water until soften and again with ingredients that give them flavor—everything is thrown into the pot with the soaked beans. As soon as they’re done, dinner is served.
Pot beans absorb broth and seasonings yet remain adaptable to almost any bean dish. Suddenly, cooking up a pound of dried beans seems worthwhile. Imagine: Before going to bed Sunday night, you spend 3 minutes setting the beans to soak. After work Monday, you give them a rinse and toss them back into the pot with some onion, carrot, garlic, herbs, and stock. About an hour later, you have your first meal: Seasoned Pot Beans. You also have the basis for many quick meals the rest of the week. Huevos rancheros. Beans on toast. Asian bean dip. Hummus. Quesadillas. Corn, Bean, and Pepper Salsa. Burritos. Myriad soups. Sourdough Empanadas. Louis Armstrong’s favorite Louisiana-style red beans, perfect for Fat Tuesday. The list goes on—and I’ll be adding to it all month.
Seasoned Pot Beans
3 tablespoons salt
4 quarts cold water
1 pound dry beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium fresh or frozen grilled onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1–2 medium carrots, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 head garlic
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon dry thyme, sage, and/or other herbs
1/4 teaspoon crushed chili flakes or Home-Smoked Chili Paste
6 cups Vegetable Stock
In a stockpot, stir the salt into the water until dissolved. Briefly rinse the dried beans in a colander under cold running water. Add them to the pot, cover with a lid, and let the beans soak 6 to 24 hours.
Drain and rinse the beans through a colander, and then clean and dry the pot. Chop the onions and carrots, and cut the rooty bottom off the garlic head to expose the cloves but leave the skin intact.
In the pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and carrot cook for about 5 minutes, until softened and slightly brown. Add the head of garlic, bay leaf and other dried herbs, chili, and drained beans, and then pour in the stock, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, uncovered, at a gentle simmer for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, until tender.
Remove the beans from the heat and pull out the bay leaf and head of garlic. Squeeze the garlic cloves from their skin back into the pot, mashing them lightly with the back of a spoon. Let rest 5 minutes before serving. Makes about 8 cups.
Tips & Tricks
- Any bean works here. Soak kidney and/or pinto beans if you want to turn some into a Southern meal (see below), or grab some black beans if you’re planning a Mexican or Caribbean one.
- If you’re using store-bought stock, check the label; it may be more heavily salted than you’d like. If you use homemade stock with little to no salt, you might want to add up to 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt or a salty ingredient, like a Parmesan cheese rind, to the cooking pot.
- Besides using pot beans in other recipes, you can feature the beans among other ingredients. Baby potatoes and tomatoes can be added while the beans are cooking. Once finished, toss chickpea pot beans with roasted spaghetti squash. Blend kale into cannellini beans and serve it over polenta. Add more stock, along with vegetables and tiny pasta or mushrooms, to various beans for soup.
Twice as Tasty
As I wrote last week, Louis Armstrong’s signature dish was Creole Red Beans (Kidney) and Rice. I’ll admit right now that he probably wouldn’t approve of my recipe: no salt pork, no smoked pork butt, not even the chicken fat or beef tongue he recommends for “non pork eaters.” Then again, Pops was a voracious eater, as passionate about Chinese and Italian dishes as his New Orleans comfort foods. So perhaps he would have simply tucked in.
Seasoned Pot Beans are key to the flavor profile of this vegetarian dish. Whenever I feed it to meat lovers, they’re surprised by the amount of flavor packed into each bite. The second cooking the beans get in this meal only intensifies their flavors—and quickly. In the time it takes to steam a pot of rice, the beans are ready to eat.
Red Beans and Rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
2 cups Seasoned Pot Beans made with red pinto and/or kidney beans
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 dried red chili, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
8 ounces fresh diced tomatoes or frozen cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup fresh or frozen diced bell pepper
1/4 cup lime juice
freshly ground black pepper to taste
fresh cilantro, minced, for garnish
Rinse 1 cup of basmati rice in a mesh colander under cold water, and then pour it into a small saucepan. Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.
Once the rice is on the stove, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Dice the onion and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until soft. Stir in the beans, along with the soy sauce and seasonings. Dice and add the tomatoes, if using fresh, or add whole frozen cherry tomatoes; dice and stir in the bell pepper, along with the lime juice. Bring the bean mixture to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for at least 10 minutes, until the rice is done, to blend the flavors. Taste and add more lime juice and black pepper as needed. Serve the beans over or alongside the rice, sprinkled with cilantro. Serves 4.
Tips & Tricks
- If you’re a pork eater, you could follow Louis’s advice and alter either the pot bean or the bean and rice recipe. But I encourage you to give the vegetarian version a shot; you might be surprised by its full flavor.
- In summer I make this recipe with garden-fresh vegetables, but the winter alterations given here use easily stored produce. If you aren’t yet freezing cherry tomatoes in season, Grilled Tomato Pizza Sauce or even store-bought tomato paste will taste better than February toms.
- This recipe is a great example of the versatility of pot beans: the cumin, coriander, and lime give the beans a new flavor profile, and the additional vegetables round out the dish. I love the colors given by using a mix of pinto and kidney beans, but the flavor really is all in the seasonings.
Want to play with more variations? Learn more about cooking with beans in a workshop held in your own kitchen, among friends—and with my personal help. Click here to learn more.