How to heat up a cold spring: Smoky Spicy Chipotle Pinto Beans

Our grill has been hibernating in the garage since November. Last night we had to drag it out. 51 degrees has been the high temperature for the last couple of weeks in Seattle. Drastic measures are required. I won’t be held back by this ridiculous bleak weather. Cooking is an escape for me and cold weather might be the easiest thing to magically dispell if I can just summon the right meal. I knew just where I wanted to be. What I wanted to eat.

Twenty years ago, I moved from New York to San Francisco with Andrea, my college roommate. We had this little apartment in Russian Hill and on weekends we would escape (as if you would need to escape San Francisco!!) to my family’s old ranch house, about an hour and a half south of the city. Most weekends went something like this: On Friday after work, we hopped into her little silver Nissan Sentra with the air vent decals, with shorts and bathing suits stuffed into weekend bags and stashed in the trunk. A bottle of wine and a couple of six packs in a cooler and we took off down 101. Several cars full of friends followed from around the city. Often we met up at this Mexican roadhouse, the Sinaloa, on the old highway just outside of town. Crowded into a big booth under dreamy plaster murals of stars over golden hills we downed margaritas and gorged on gooey enchiladas. Afterwards driving slowly up to the house under a star studded black sky, we wound our way through gold grassy hills now dark. As we crunched over the drive, bats skimmed over the pool. Crickets sang loudly with a croaking toad. The air felt as warm as our skin. We unlocked a quiet house, dropping our bags and everything else.

There is nothing like a lazy morning with a group of like minded friends. The drip and sputter of a big pot of coffee. French toast suddenly sizzling in browning butter – that must have been Lee – I can just see him standing, barefoot and serious, in front of the white enamel stove in his shorts, flipping cinnamon-crisp golden slices. Half moons of pale orange melon and red berries appeared on an enameled platter – I think I can thank Andrea for that. I loved sitting in my bathing suit and a big old white terrycloth bathrobe with Amy on the diving board in the fresh morning air, sopping up maple syrup and toast, toes skimming the chilly water of the swimming pool, the sun warming my shoulders. We spent the whole day by the pool, grazing on salsa and tortilla chips, cherries chilled in ice water and drinking cold beer. Flipping through “Hello” and “OK” until we dripped sweat, then throwing ourselves into the perfect chill of the unheated pool. A couple of somersaults, a botched swandive, swimming down to touch the drain. Then lying down on the hot concrete to slowly dry off.

When the setting sun backlit the live oaks that crowned the hill, the hard edge of the heat began to soften. We were practically liquid from the sun and sleep of the day and it was time to wake up and cook. The best swim was the one in the soft early evening. That pool is so cold. First we lit up the grill. While waiting for the coals, Mark measured Triple Sec, lime juice and tequila into the big pink plastic pitcher. Thick coarse salt round the rim of my glass and I swam in lazy laughing circles around the deep end, trying hard not to spill. Andrea and her boyfriend sat at the edge of the pool, swinging their legs in the water. Amy and Lee lay toe to toe at either end of the diving board. Later when the coals were ashy and nearly crumbling, we grilled flank steak and ate it with spicy pinto beans on warm corn tortillas. Guacamole, bright with cilantro, limes, and garlic, we scooped from an old brown glazed terracotta bowl alongside.

I made steak, beans and guacamole for dinner last night. And margaritas. Is it really possible to conjure that hot lazy day from a simple dinner I made years ago!? I think so.  This was the best pot of pinto beans I’ve ever made, smoky and spicy. The stealthy, rich burn of chipotle is just the thing on a too cold spring night. Just as we sat down for dinner, the sun actually came out and shone brightly over the dinner table. It was magic, I swear.

Smoky Spicy Chipotle Pinto Beans

This menu is just a variation of the Mexican Fiesta menu I wrote up last year. The steak grilling method and guacamole recipes can be found here.

  • 2 cups pinto beans, soaked overnight
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, chopped with a sharp knife to a pulp
  • 3 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • 2 tsp cumin – if you can get it together, toast and grind the whole seeds yourself – you’ll thank me
  • 1 1/2 tbsp New Mexico chile powder
  • 1  1/2 tbsp flour
  • sea salt
  1. Put the drained beans with 8 cups of cold water into a heavy pot – that can hold about 6 quarts. Turn the heat to high and when the water boils, let it go for about 10 minutes, skimming off any scum.
  2. Add the chipotle and lower the heat to a simmer.
  3. Heat the canola oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and cumin and saute for 5 minutes, stirring so it doesn’t catch. It should be browned not burnt and bitter.
  4. Turn the heat to low and add the flour and the chile powder and cook for a few more minutes, keep scraping at the bottom of the pan. Don’t let it stick and burn.
  5. Scoop up 1 1/2 cups of water from the bean pot and pour it into the saute pan, stirring. When the sauce has thickened,  scrape the whole thing back into the beans.
  6. After the beans have been cooking about half an hour add 1 1/2 tsp of salt. Continue to cook  until the beans are tender, about a half hour more.



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