How to cook pinto beans for a healthy protein alternative

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Selecting pinto beans

Pinto beans are named from the Spanish word for “painted,” which describes the characteristic reddish-brown streaks that appear on the surface of the bean. The dry beans typically come in 2-lb packages at the supermarket, but are also available in bulk. When choosing pinto beans out of the bulk bin, make sure the beans are fresh. Fresh pintos have a smooth, tight skin with a slight sheen to them. Avoid beans that are rough, wrinkled and dull.

As well as being inexpensive, one cup of dry pinto beans will go a long way in the kitchen. Each cup of dry beans yields about three cups of cooked, which stretches the food dollar even further.

Preparing the beans

To get the beans ready for cooking, pour one cup onto the cutting board and sort through them to remove any rocks. Most beans today come “triple-washed,” but it’s always a good idea to double-check. Rinse the sorted beans thoroughly and place them in a large bowl or pot. Fill the bowl to the top with cold water and allow the beans to soak overnight in the refrigerator. Remember that the beans will swell up to about three times their size, so use a bowl large enough to accommodate this.

Cooking pinto beans

Learning how to cook pinto beans is fairly simple. An easy method is to boil them. Put two quarts of water in a large pot on the stove, cover it and turn heat on high. Drain the soaked beans and rinse them well. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add the beans to the pot and bring the water back up to a boil. Turn the heat down so the beans are gently simmering and continue cooking for approximately three hours. Check on them occasionally; giving them a stir and looking to see that the water level remains at least 1/2-inch above the beans. The beans are ready to eat when they are fork-tender.

Seasoning the beans

Pinto beans have a good, earthy flavor on their own, but do absorb seasonings very well. For additional flavor, cook the beans in chicken or vegetable broth or add sautéed onion, garlic or even sweet potato to the water while cooking. One important thing to remember about seasoning pinto beans is not to add salt to the water during the initial cooking process. This will only toughen the beans. Add salt to taste at the end of the cooking time for the best results.

Uses for pinto beans

Pintos make an excellent low-fat side dish when mixed with salsa. Wrap the beans in burritos, bake in casseroles or blend or make a rich, creamy soup seasoned with minced onion and cilantro. Make a homemade, healthy version of refried beans by blending two cups of cooked beans in a food processor. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and saute minced onion and garlic until soft. Add the blended beans and cook until heated.