Back to Basics: Beans!

The news tells us that one of the biggest ways we can help slow down climate change on an individual basis is to consume less meat and dairy. It also tells us that new research is pointing towards ketogenic diets (focused on high fat, low carb and low sugar) to help increase our own longevity, fight diseases and increase health. Trying to do both simultaneously requires an amount of dedication and research that is impossible for most of us to invest in order to maintain. There is so much to focus on in both the world at large and our own tiny lives and the majority of us have a finite amount of income and time to spend on what we eat, thus ruling out the team of dedicated chefs and employees Gwyneth and her ilk employ in order to achieve clean eating nirvana.

So, rather than beat myself up regularly or choose avocados over mortgage payments, I am trying to seek inspiration from those who came before us- who have long since known how to stretch a buck and feed a family using whole foods. Enter what I shall call my beans phase…


Beans have been considered peasant food as long as they have been around. To make them really taste good they take a bit of planning, as well as a bit of persistence. But just like anything else, our palates, habits and expectations evolve over time – so it’s worth putting in the effort in manageable amounts.


I began this phase by using beans on the sly- adding black beans or pintos into chilies and soups, lentils into spaghetti bolognese, even mashing butter beans into meatballs so they would fly under the radar. (This little and often mantra I spoke about last week really can be applied to just about everything). Then I started celebrating them rather than hiding them; white beans with salt, lemon and tomatoes, adding black beans to our morning breakfast routine of eggs and toast or into our roast chicken and sweet potato dinner. Full disclosure: sometimes they are eaten happily (or at least unnoticed). Other times left on the side of the plate. But they are no longer something I am sneaking in, so it’s a step.


The more I eat them the more I love them, and can appreciate how well they absorb the smoky, earthy flavours that come with Mexican home cooking. Better for the environment, and good for many bodies; the goal is to one day get to the point where we are all completely satisfied with beans for dinner with little else to accompany, no matter what form that comes in.


I’ve gone down the google and YouTube wormhole researching Frijoles de la Olla (literally translated means ‘pot of beans’). Since my grandmother never made them, I can’t call any of them ‘mine’ per say, but I can tell you there are so many different options out there!

Some cooks like to chop and sauté their onions first, some even do this in lard or the fat from rendered bacon. Both are delicious. Some recipes put the salt in first to allow the beans to soak it up, some put it in towards the end of the cooking stage for a slightly fresher taste. Some add Mexican oregano, some camomile leaves (or a tea bag- which I’ve tried). Some add chiles through out the whole process, dried chiles at just at the start for a base layer of earthy heat or fresh jalapenos for a tip-of-the-tongue bite. Some recipes keep it simple and paired back to onion, garlic, bay leaves beans and salt. The choice is yours to make each time you cook. Please consider most of these ingredients below for this particular recipe optional. Do what works for you, your family and your taste buds. This recipe is intentionally vegetarian but the varieties that include smoky bacon or beef stock are also delicious.

Inspired Frijoles de la olla

2 cups dried pinto beans, soaked overnight

1/2 white onion

6 cloves garlic, left whole with skins on

2 teaspoons Mexican oregano

1 camomile tea bag

2 chiles del arbol

1 cascabel chile

2 cloves

2 bay leaves

salt to taste (I use Maldon)

vegetable stock or water to completely cover beans plus more during cooking process

Wash, rinse pick and soak your beans overnight. Then add everything into a pot, add a lid and put over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer. Cook beans for about an hour, before lifting the lid and giving them a stir. Top up with water or stock if needed so as to keep the beans covered in liquid as they cook.

At this stage I like to remove the chiles so the heat they add is subtle. Keep them in if you want more punch. You can at this stage keep the pot on the hob or transfer it to an oven at approx 150C/300F and cook for a further 60 – 90 minutes with the lid still on, stirring once or twice more to check for tenderness. The dish is done when the the beans are soft and tender, but not so soft they begin to split.

I like the to let the liquid reduce enough so the top layer of beans is nearly dry for a little texture, but with ample broth still underneath.

The flavour of these beans are subtle enough to be served for breakfast lunch or dinner- as the main attraction or on the side. They will happily keep in the fridge for about a week, handy for quick meals on the fly and for experimenting with with how and when you serve them.

About The Author


Eat. Drink. Wander. Think. Write.

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