Mother Earth Living

Cooking With Cilantro: Frijoles a la Charra

(Ranch-Style Beans in Tomato Sauce)
By Lucinda Hutson
August/September 1998
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Serves 8 to 10

Mexican ranch hands used to cook frijoles a la charra on the campfire in an olla (earthenware pot). This version is flavored with bacon and beer and simmered in a spicy tomato salsa. Serve it with warm corn tortillas and small bowls of additional chopped onions, chopped cilantro, chopped serranos, and oregano.

• 1 pound pinto beans, rinsed, soaked and drained
• 1 onion, peeled and quartered
• 6 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
• 3 dried chipotle chiles, stems removed, whole or chopped ­(optional)
• 1 bottle Mexican or other light beer, at room temperature
• 1/2 pound bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (optional)
• Salt to taste
• 2 tablespoons reserved bacon fat or vegetable oil
• 1 onion, chopped
• 3 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
• 3 to 4 serrano peppers, stemmed and chopped
• 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
• 1 cup cilantro, chopped

1. Place the beans in a large saucepan with the quartered onion, half ofthe chopped garlic, cumin, and dried chiles. Add the beer and enough water to cover the beans by 2 inches. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and ­simmer, covered, for about an hour, adding warm water if necessary to keep beans covered.

2. Meanwhile, sauté the bacon until nearly crisp. Drain, reserving 2 tablespoons of the fat for the salsa. Add the bacon and salt to the beans and simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until they are tender, adding more liquid if necessary.

3. For the salsa, sauté the chopped onions and remaining garlic in the bacon fat or oil, then stir in the tomatoes, serranos, oregano, and salt to taste and simmer for 6 minutes.

4. Add the sauce to the beans and simmer for 8 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and serve.


Lucinda Hutson is the author of The Herb Garden Cookbook, 2nd edition (Gulf, 1998) and Tequila: Cooking with the Spirit of Mexico (Ten Speed Press, 1996). She lives and gardens in Austin, Texas.

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