Cowboy Beans

by Matt on April 30, 2010

Hi. Remember me? I hope you do. And I hope you’ll go easy on me when I say that food blogging has been a little bit down on my list of things that have gotten done around here. And for that I’m sorry. After my trip last month to Virginia, a few interviews, a book review from Kristina, a big move and speaking at IACP in Portland, I’m prepared to jump back into my kitchen and get back to what I really love to do.

Oh, and then there’s some news of a book deal of my own I just signed. Needless to say I’m excited. It’ll be loads of fun, a bit silly yet sincere, a place where highbrow meets lowbrow. But much more on this later.

(and remember, you can always find me on twitter, where I’m usually oversharing, tweeting under the influence of rosé, and wondering why my self-censoring filter only kicks in after the 141st character, oh brother…)

But enough about that stuff.

Being Mexican-American and growing up in Texas you could count on rice and beans with almost every meal. I make light of my upbringing but it’s far from satirical – there were literally rice and beans with every meal. This worked great if enchiladas were on the menu, maybe not so swell when we ventured into other cuisines. Hamburgers and Rice and Beans didn’t make me very happy, neither did Salmon Patties and Rice and Beans, Spaghetti with Rice and Beans or Pot Roast with Rice And Beans. It took me many years to understand that rice and beans were an inexpensive way to extend a meal and that it was an extremely nutritious way to feed a group of people. It also took me many years to get past my disdain of mixing Mexican-with-something-not-quite-matching.

Perhaps if you had served me a Korean Taco in Elementary School I might have gotten this over much earlier. Such is life.

My, how things change. These days I’m happy making a meal out of a big bowl of beans, some pico de gallo and a good corn tortillas (make that about 5). There is satisfaction in its simplicity, a concept all but lost on my everloving husband. You see, far be this for me to say, he needs a slightly higher “wow” factor than a standard bowl of rice and beans could ever deliver.  When he’s gone working out of town I’m happy with the basics, when he’s home he’s on bean duty. And that’s just fine with me.

The recipe for his beans was based on Rick Bayless’ cowboy beans. Yes, I’ll admit that they are a bit more gussied up than a plain pan of pintos, but apparently that wasn’t enough for the big redhead. Remember that “wow” factor? It’s here in the form of bacon and sambal, and if I type those two words again – bacon and sambal – I can almost see the clouds part and little finches land on my shoulder while fawns sit at my feet. I can suddenly see why elevating this dish makes it special, cholesterol be damned.

At some point I decided to toss a handful of fresh spinach into my bowl, letting the heat of the beans wilt the leaves as a sort of offering to the raw gods. It also took a slight Southern slant this way, and considering I grew up on the gulf coast of Texas it seemed wholly appropriate.

So yea, bacon, beans, spinach, and sambal. I’d be happy to eat this all the time.

Cowboy Beans
This recipe is done in 2 parts. You’ll cook the beans first and once done you’ll add the good stuff: bacon, onions, tomatoes and sambal and then all the garnish.  You could easily omit the bacon for a big happy pot of vegetarian beans.

1 lb dry pinto beans
12 cups of water
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
salt & freshly cracked pepper

Sort the beans and then wash. Put all the ingredients into the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Once it begins to boil reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 to 2 ½ hours at a low gentile boil. Check for the doneness of the beans at about 2 hours.

The Good Stuff
4 slices of bacon
1/2 onion, minced
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon sambal
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 15-oz cans of fire roasted tomatoes, chopped with juice.

A handful of baby spinach (bagged or bunched)
queso fresco
chopped cilantro
sour cream

Chop bacon into small pieces and cook in a 4 to 6 quart pot until crisp and brown. Once brown remove the bacon from the pot and fry the minced onion in the bacon renderings. Add a little canola oil if needed. Once the onions start to brown around the edges, 3 minutes or so, add sambal, garlic, spices and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Return the bacon to the pan along with both cans of tomatoes and cook over medium high heat for 5 to 10 minutes to reduce slightly. Add the pinto beans and broth, taste for seasoning and add salt if needed. This dish is meant to be more of a soupy bean dish so add water if necessary.

To serve: place a few spinach leaves in the bottom of a bowl and ladle beans and broth on top. Garnish with chopped cilantro, a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of queso fresco.

You can find queso fresco in Latin markets, sambal in grocery stores or Asian markets. Or all together in some places in Los Angeles cuz that’s how we roll.