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Recipe: New Mexican Frijoles

Food & Beverage

Growing up in northern New Mexico has left an indelible mark on my senses, particularly my sense of taste. I love spicy food, I hate cilantro (it’s not commonly used in New Mexican cooking), and I’ll always pick pintos over black beans.
In the fall, you could walk into any kitchen in almost any northern NM village and find a pot of pintos beans simmering on the stovetop. If you were even luckier, there’d be fresh red chile sauce simmering next to the beans, some homemade flour tortillas wrapped in foil in the oven, and maybe even some crumbled chorizo sitting in a skillet nearby.
A pot of frijoles is easy and economical to make, plus fills your tummy with something yummy and satiates the craving for warm, nourishing food I get when the weather starts to cool down. The only hard part of the recipe at all is that you need to soak the dried beans overnight, so plan ahead!
When I was setting out to write down the recipe and document the process, it got me thinking about other New Mexican dishes I’d like to share — calabacitas, posole, homemade tortillas, sopapillas, and more. Stay tuned!

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Recipe: Pinto Beans
Pinto beans about 2 cups dried
Stock or water
Onion 1 medium, chopped
Garlic 3-4 cloves, minced
Red chile powder New Mexico is best. Found in the Hispanic section of the grocery store, usually in cellophane packets.
Vegetable oil for sauteing garlic and onions (optional)

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  1. Rinse the dried pinto beans, and sort through them for any stems, rocks, etc. that might have come along for the ride.
  2. Put the beans in a bowl, cover with water, and let soak overnight. This softens the beans and cuts down on the cooking time substantially.
  3. Drain the beans and rinse them again.
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  1. Chop the garlic and onions, and saute them for 5 minutes or so in the bottom of a large cooking pot or Dutch oven. Add the drained beans and saute for a few more minutes. (If you’re using a really rich stock, adding meat to the pot, or wanting a very low-fat version, you can omit this step.)
  2. Cover the mixture with water or stock and bring to a soft boil. Turn down to very low, and let simmer for a couple of hours, adding water as needed.
  3. When the beans change color but are still firm to the touch, add a couple of tablespoons of chile powder and some salt and pepper. Stir well, and continue to simmer for another hour.
  4. The beans are done when they’re soft and mashable. Season with salt and chile powder as needed.
  5. Serve in a bowl with chile sauce, chopped onions, and/or crumbled chorizo. Warm flour tortillas, preferably homemade, are a mandatory accompaniment.


15 thoughts on “Recipe: New Mexican Frijoles

  1. says:

    It is so good to know that I’m not the only New Mexico ex-pat that prefers pinto beans and hates cilantro. I’m from Southern NM though, so I have a huge love of green chile in addition to red.

  2. Lisa Premo says:

    Ummmm. Now I’m hungry. I picked up some pinon nuts when I was there last week. It’s a good thing I have to work so hard to get them out of the shell because I would eat way too many if I didn’t!
    Can’t wait for all your recipes!

  3. Javene says:

    I’m putting some pintos in to soak now, perfect idea for this dreary day! Thanks for the inspiration.

  4. Courtney says:

    May as well pop up and represent central New Mexico!
    I foresee some green chile stew tonight, with homemade tortillas. This post has made me so hungry, I’m tempted to set off and start cooking immediately.

  5. Matt Mets says:

    Oooh! That looks really good. I was only a Phoenician, but I still miss the excellent New Mexican food that was available there. Wow, now I really miss the desert.

  6. dleija says:

    The way my family always made it was with a crock pot. Sort the beans for things you don’t want in there. Rinse them, then throw them in the crock pot with salt, alot of water, and whatever ingredients you like: salt pork, jalapeno, rotel, onion, and some stores even have “pinto bean seasoning” which is pretty good too. Keep an eye on them for a few hours to make sure the water level stays above the beans, especially when they swell up. We keep a kitchen towel over the lid to lessen the cooking time. When they get to your desired consistency, they’re done!

  7. Sadiesma says:

    Yay, Shawn. You have me hungry for frioles! I look forward to your next installment. My family is from the Toas area and I too HATE cilantro!

  8. Kim says:

    Yay for real New Mexican food! I’m from up north, but I still looove green chile. Can’t wait to read more!

  9. Shawn Connally says:

    I was seemingly fixated on red chile, but a green chile stew and some green chile enchiladas both totally deserve their day on the blog! I was just looking at ordering some green chile from Hatch earlier this week! Another NM ex-pat at The LA Times wrote a great story recently:, followed by a blog item:

  10. Natalie Zee Drieu says:

    I love pinto beans and always feel guilty when peeps I’m with will order the black beans. I’m starving now – I definitely want to make this!

  11. Anthonette Chavez says:

    Hi Shawn, I’m from Taos. I’ve lived in CA for 20 years now. I learned to love cilantro here. I still don’t like black beans very much. On my To Do list on my refrigerator is the item “Order Hatch green chile”. I miss that.

  12. Amanda says:

    Southern New Mexican food is so much tastier than Northern NM food. I lived in Las Cruces for 25 years and now live in Albuquerque and I was surprised at how different the food was up north.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I hail from Northern New Mexico & miss my homeland! I look forward to more Northern NM recipes…there is nothing better, nor comparable! Would you consider posting a no-fail recipe for making real NM chile sauce that can be used on stacked enchiladas, eggs, and such?

  14. Billie says:

    I’m making these today! The pintos are soaking right now! Please post more recipes, I’d love to try them!!!

  15. Joseph Charles MacKenzie says:

    This is correct, the most ancient and venerable tradition of Northern New Mexico. The simplicity of our cuisine is perfectly represented here and the recipe is infallible.

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