Cowboy Beans

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.


  1. says

    Adding sambal to beans is brilliant! I’ve been making a kale and wheat berry dish with sambal and find it an addictive combo. Big congratulations on your book deal. I’m sure it will be beautifully done!

  2. melissa mcgee says

    i. am. IN LOVE with that bowl.
    … and i can’t even tell you the love in my heart for what’s *in* that bowl. (and that is the most gorgeous dollop of sour cream i’ve ever laid eyes on.)

  3. Annemarie says

    Hey Fellow Texan! That certainly elevates the rice-and-beans dish of yore! Seriously, I’ve got to make this now! I’m from Brownsville, TX and I definitely remember the beans-and-rice with everything deal. This is a whole different ballgame. Thanks for sharing. Where on the Gulf did you grow up?

  4. says

    that bowl… oh dear god… i need one immediately!!!

    and I would eat an entire giant vat of this… topped with a boat load of queso fresco…. because we all know how I love my cheese :) Can I add a little side of guac too?

  5. soo says

    Can’t wait for more details on the book!

    You’re intro reminds me of how I grew up with kimchi with every meal. Every. Meal. Like kimchi and spaghetti and meat sauce. And kimchi and sausages. I wasn’t such a fan, but my dad couldn’t like without it. We discovered a few winning combinations, like kimchi with thanksgiving turkey – you should try it!

  6. says

    I can’t wait to hear more about your book deal! Wonderful. Veg or not, this looks like a great batch of Cowboy Beans. Never have tried Sambal, nor have I have little finches sit on my shoulder. xo

  7. says

    My partner has been a Rick Bayless recipe making machine lately! She absolutely loves the flavours of his food and is thinking of going to a cooking school in Mexico this summer! You can see lots of photos of her delicious Rick Bayless inspired dishes on my blog…

  8. says

    Growing up Mexican American, I too had a love-hate relationship with beans. But, after coming into adulthood and moving to Austin, and also being conscious about the healthful benefits of beans and rice, they make their way to my mouth at least four times a week. I also noticed that you didn’t pre-soak your beans. I don’t either. I think they have more flavor just simmered for a long, long time.

    Felicidades on the book deal!!!

  9. says

    Your photo is beautiful. You are amazing to take a picture of beans and turn it into something beautiful! Congrats on the book deal! I am sure that it will be a stunning book. I cannot wait!

  10. says

    My Dutch Oven just smiled. Man o man these beans look great, a perfect compliment to the ribs now relaxing and spice rub ready in the fridge. Can a man find happiness eating ribs and cowboy beans for a week? Oh, yeah!

  11. says

    beans have seriously never looked so good. Fantastic photo mate, and recipe! What a dish too, love the wear on it. Good to see you back :)

  12. says

    This recipe looks great, can’t wait to try it. Congrats on the book deal. You are such an incredible talent and inspiration, looking forward to seeing more.

  13. JannaB says

    Love the site and this recipe is on the fridge for this week. Gotta ask tho’ with the beans, how do the non-jews boil water? (gentle vs. gentile) Thanks bunches!

  14. says

    Congratulations on your book, Matt, and thanks for a great excuse to make beans for dinner. Have to say that bacon and beans sounds better than pork and beans. Have to ask, I’ve never seen canned fire roasted tomatoes. Do you have any suggestions for making my own?

  15. says

    what a stunning dollop. and a very big congratulations and best of luck on the book deal. it is well deserved.

  16. Matt says

    Regular canned tomatoes would work too. I’m sure the flavors at the end will be comparable. I’ll send you some cans if you need me to :)

  17. says

    I’ve never seen cans of fire roasted tomatoes before either, I must not have paid attention when my mom lived in Texas! Do you think you could sub your own roasted tomatoes and a bit of tomato juice/water?

  18. says

    Me guuuuuusta frijoles charros! I once sat down to a dinner where Barbara Hansen’s rendition of these beans was the first course, after a second helping I was sated and there was zero room for the rest of the meal!

    Also, my fellow Mexican-American, it was only when I went off to college that I learned beans, chile and macaroni (made the “italian” way) isn’t a typical family meal…but always have, always will relish it.

    Oh, felicidades on the book!

  19. says

    Congrats on the book deal. I grew up with a lot of Mexican influences. So I know a pot of pinto beans all too well. Your recipe looks like it has a ton of flavor.

  20. Tracy says

    These were a perfect meal the other day, now that our beautiful (and strangely early) April flowers have turned into cold May showers. Minnesota spring in reverse.

    Short on time, I slow-cooked the beans portion a day ahead (as opposed to using the “slow *gentile* boil” called for in the recipe…). No soaking, just all the “Beans” ingredients except salt in the pot on high for about three hours. For “The Good Stuff,” since I’m vegetarian, I omitted the bacon and added some pimentón to the pot on the stove. Served the final product with all the garnishes except the spinach, which I forgot to procure in time for supper. Delicious!

    Thanks, Matt! And congratulations on the book deal!

  21. says

    Great recipe, my family always enjoys it when i make chili for dinner. This something i will be trying out very soon, thank you!

  22. says

    Hi Matt,

    No excuses needed for being behind the blog ball. I was at your photogaphy workshop at IACP in Portland, and I’m finally getting around to implementing all of your great, simple tips. So, I wanted to stop by and say, “Thanks!”

    I used to use the [lame] excuse for not taking more [read: any] time on my blog photos because I’m a writer and I value the words, well, more. No more! You are an amazing writer *and* photographer who uses both media to convey a magnetic personality with soul and grounding.

    Thanks again for sharing what you know!

  23. says

    yum! i’m a sucker for beans as well – made some great drunken beans from rancho gordo last weekend, ate them for dinner, then breakfast and then lunch!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *