My Mom and I share a love for the simple pinto bean so I dedicate this pinto bean stew to her.
The first thing she will say when I give her a bowl is that it probably should have more spice in it. She’ll ask sheepishly if it’s OK if she customizes it a bit. Of course! And that’s the beauty of beans, they respond to all our favorite flavors, which is why they really should be more popular in our cooking.
Dry or Canned Pinto Beans?
How much time do you have? This is the answer to whether you want to use dried or canned pinto beans for your stew. If you need this to be done in an hour or so, then use canned. If you’re planning to make this in a day or two, it will be slightly cheaper and, I think, will taste a little better if you used dried beans.
Embrace the Vegetables in Your Pinto Bean Stew
I will admit that I often will use ham or sausage when I make a bean stew of any type. Looking at you red beans and rice!
However, after a weekend of eating pulled pork and chicken wings (it’s college football season as I write this) I felt I needed a cholesterol reset. I turned to beans because they are known to help lower certain forms of the arterial deposits.
Without meat in the mix, I turned to vegetables to help build flavor and bulk up these pinto beans. I started with a healthy mix of mirepoix, aka onions, celery, and carrots. I then added canned tomatoes and their juice for some acid. For some heat, I dumped in a can of diced green chilis and a diced jalapeno. Finally, I decided to go heavy on more carrots and some potatoes that we had in the pantry.
I had planned to even add shredded cabbage to this batch. However, I underestimated how long it would take to cook the beans and ended up forgetting about the cabbage. But I left it in the enclosed recipe because, well, yum! You could add other veggies to this easily, such as squash, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.
A Slight Mexican Spice with a Smokey Twist
The can of fire roasted chilis and a diced jalapeno give the pinto bean stew a hint of Mexican flavor. Then, for seasoning, I chose ground garlic, ground cayenne, and most importantly, ground smoked paprika.
I like to use smoked paprika very tactically. I choose it only when I am looking for a smokey flavor that is not imparted by another smoked meat or smoked vegetable, such as chipotle. Otherwise, I think it can overpower dishes and honestly has become overused of late. It’s so much better than other options, especially liquid smoke, which to me tastes like the old acrid grease from the bottom of the grill.
You are welcome to alter these flavors as you see fit and that’s the wonderful thing about beans in general. They adapt to almost any flavor profile.
How Long to Cook Your Pinto Bean Stew
If you decide to use canned beans this whole thing will come together in a couple of hours. You simply saute your mirepoix in some oil, add the spices and saute them, then dump in everything else, including vegetable broth, and cook it for about an hour. Any longer and the canned beans really start to deteriorate.
If you are using dried beans and have soaked them overnight, then expect to cook them at least 3-5 hours, maybe longer. You saute the mirepoix, add the spices and saute them, then add the beans, broth, tomatoes and chilis. You reserve 2 cups of carrots and potatoes for the last hour of cooking so there’s some texture in the pot.
I underestimated the cooking time during this batch. I started testing the beans for doneness after two hours by mushing them with a fork or popping one in my mouth. It took 5 hours to get them properly cooked. My house is at 2,000 feet, so if you are nearer to sea level it might take less time. I don’t use a pressure cooker (yet) so that would certainly help with time, too.
How To Thicken the Pinto Bean Stew – or Not
I’m sure there will be disagreement here, but I prefer to thicken my bean stews. Some people I think prefer the unadulterated beans in a thin broth. I prefer a little extra body.
Normally I would make a simple roux and thicken a stew with that. I wanted stay healthy with this batch. After the beans cooked to a soft, silky texture, I began mashing them with a fork against the side of the pot. I mashed about 2- to 3-dozen beans this way, which thickened up and enriched the broth. It wasn’t porridge thick, but it did have a rich body to it, almost like a thin gravy.
Some people use an immersion blender for this step, but I think mashing the cooked beans does just fine and leaves you with one fewer thing to clean in the kitchen.
How did the Pinto Bean Stew Taste?
This version tasted just how I had planned. The fire roasted tomatoes and chilis gave it a hint of Mexican flavor, while the cayenne added heat. The smoked paprika added flavor normally imparted by sausage, which also worked wonders. The whole dish came out wonderfully balanced, complex, and very healthy, which is just how I like it!
Pinto Bean Stew - Vegetarian, Vegan and Gluten Free
- 1 tbsp Olive Oil
- 16 oz Dry Pinto Beans, soaked for 12 hours Or 3 14.4oz cans of canned pinto beans
- 1 med Sweet yellow onion, diced
- 2 med Yukon gold potatoes, diced
- 4 cups Carrots, diced
- 2 14.5 oz cans Fire roasted tomatoes, drained and diced
- 1 7 oz can Fire roasted diced green chilis (mild)
- 1 Jalapeno, diced Optional
- 4 cups Green cabbage, fresh and shredded
- 2 qt Vegetable broth
- 1 tbsp Smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp Ground garlic
- 1 tsp Cayenne pepper
- 1 Bay leaf, whole
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Rinse dried beans, add to bowl and cover with water by 2-3 inches. Refrigerate and soak overnight or for 12 hours.
- About 4.5 hours prior to when you want to serve these, Heat olive oil over medium heat in large dutch oven or stock pot.
- Saute onions, celery, and half the carrots in in pot until onions are slightly brown - about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally so onions don't burn.
- While veggies are cooking, drain beans in a colander and rinse.
- Add smoked paprika, ground garlic, and cayenne pepper to mixture and saute another minute.
- Add beans to pot and stir, then add tomatoes, chilis, jalapeno and broth and bring to a boil. Turn down heat to low and simmer, covered, for 3 hours, stirring occasionally.
- After 3 hours, test beans for doneness by removing one and eating it. It should be very soft and have a silky texture. If they are not done, cook another hour or until done.
- Once beans are cooked, mash a few dozen cooked beans against the side of the pot with a fork, being careful to not burn yourself. This will create some body and texture to the broth.
- Add remaining carrots and potatoes and simmer on low another hour.
- Serve with cornbread and any of your favorite toppings!