Mexican Beans From Scratch

Mastering how to make a pot of traditional pot of Mexican beans will change your life! Homemade beans are cheaper and taste much better than canned beans. With this recipe you can have a week’s worth of vegetarian meals.

Dried Pinto beans

Where Do Beans Come From

Once believed to have originated in Peru, the common bean is now thought to have been first cultivated in what today is called Central Mexico. From there it spread throughout Central and South America before making it’s way to Europe via the Spanish.

Do Mexicans Eat a Lot of Beans

In Mexican cooking there are 3 ever-present ingredients: chiles, corn and beans. They can all be prepared into a great variety of forms, but what doesn’t change is their importance in the deep history of Mexican cuisine.

In the book “Nuestro mero mole”, Jesus Flores y Escalante wrote that Mexico is the country where beans are used the most.

He goes on to say that beans can be found in 70% of Mexican dishes, the percentage includes appetizers, snacks, side, and main dishes. That is a huge number and a great reason for those interested in authentic Mexican cuisine to learn to cook beans from scratch.

Most Mexicans have cooked beans either on the stove or in the fridge ready to go.

Beans are such an integral part of our daily nourishment and so Mexican cooks take the process of simmering a pot of beans quite seriously. Each person has their own unique way of preparing them.

Everything from the preferred bean variety, the type of pot used to the seasonings can differ greatly from one cook to another.

You don’t have to feel overwhelmed because your beans can be prepared any way you like. I’m going to share some basics and tips to help you navigate the process. At the end you will have all the information you need and be proud of your simmering olla de frijoles (pot of beans).

Ingredients for beans from scratch

Frijol or Frijoles: Guide to Mexican Beans

Frijol means beans, as in dried beans. Frijoles referrers to cooked beans.

Which Dried Beans Should You Use

In Mexico there is a big choice of dried beans. It’s believed that over 50 varieties of beans are eaten in Mexico. They are all delicious and can all be prepared the same way or in a variety of recipes.

Each family tends to have a favorite or a couple of favorites they stick too. Different Mexican regions will also determine which beans are used.

The most popular beans for making a pot of beans are pinto and black beans. But there are also peruanos, flor de mayo and bayos.

Mexican Beans from Scratch

How to Make Mexican Beans From Scratch

To make a basic pot of Mexican beans you can use dried pinto, peruano (also know as mayocoba) or black beans.

Choosing The Beans

The beans should be of good quality. Avoid wrinkled, damaged beans, and ones with holes.

  • The wrinkled beans are too dry, they’ll take much longer to cook and won’t taste as good as smooth-skinned beans.
  • Damaged or ones that are chipped or split should be discarded.
  • Beans that have holes may be infested with bean weevils, you don’t want to eat them. You might want to throw out those packages because the weevils will infest other dry goods in your cupboard.

Sorting The Beans

The next step is to pick through them. This means that we need to inspect them for rocks, debris, and wrinkled, discolored, damaged, or beans with holes. We, of course, will throw those in the garbage and only keep the whole smooth-skinned ones.

Do Dried Beans Need to Be Soaked

Growing up I never once saw my mother or any other extended family member soak beans overnight. I personally don’t like to pre-soak beans, the only exception is if I won’t be home for the required simmering time.

The reason some cooks pre-soak beans is because it speeds up the cooking time. Some also believe that this process eliminates the enzyme that causes flatulence. (In the seasonings section I’ll tell you another way you can neutralise the enzyme.)

One reason I don’t like to pre-soak beans is that I’ve read that nutrients can be lost in the process. Additionally, they can easily begin fermenting and develop a sour smell and taste.

If you choose to pre-soak The World’s Healthiest Foods website suggests “placing them in a bowl of cold water and keeping them in the refrigerator for eight hours or overnight…drain and rinse the beans well with clean water” before cooking.

What About The Quick-Soak Method

Another method people use to expedite the cooking process is the “quick-soak” method.

Quick-soak is done by bringing the dried beans to a boil, then turning off the heat and allowing them to sit for an hour before continuing to cook until soft.

Saveur had to say this, “we found that an hour in warm water made virtually no difference in the cooking time, so go for either the overnight soak or none at all. “

Vegan beans from scratch

What Kind of Pot Should Be Used to Cook Mexican Beans

You don’t need to own all of these, one kind will do just fine.

Earthenware

Many Mexican people use earthenware pots (called ollas de barro in Spanish) to cook their beans. These pots are where the name for beans, prepared this way, get their name: frijoles de olla or beans of the pot, the pot being an earthenware one.

Those that use earthenware believe that the pots impart an indispensable and unique flavor.

Pressure Cooker

My mother, like many other Mexican cooks, occasionally uses an old-style pressure cooker to cook beans. She once had one explode and after seeing the results I forever swore off of those pressure cookers.

The new modern electric pressure cookers are a much safer bet. I use mine all the time.

How To Season Pinto Beans

This is another element in the frijoles cooking process where opinions vary greatly. I’ll give you my opinions and different options but feel free to pick and choose from the list.

Salt

If you research instructions for cooking dried beans the opinion is to skip the salt until the beans have softened. My brother-in-law salts only at the end, while my mother waits after the beans have softened and 20 minutes before the beans are done.

In all honestly, I sometimes add the salt at the beginning and other times after softening, I haven’t noticed a real difference in the cooking times. What I would suggest is to always use sea salt.

Herbs

One of my sisters likes to use culantro (not exactly the same thing as cilantro), I like to add leaves of epazote. You might have a difficult time locating this Mexican herb, but if you find it then I highly suggest using it.

Epazote has a very unique smell and flavor that I find quite pleasant. It is also used by many because it prevents the unpleasant side effect (flatulence) some can experience from eating beans.

I recently read that some cooks like adding baking soda to help eliminate the intestinal problems. I’ve never seen Mexican cooks do this so I can’t tell you if in fact, it works. It makes me wonder if a bitter taste is left on the beans?

Onions, Garlic and Chiles: The use of these three varies greatly. Some Mexican cooks use only onion, while others don’t use any until the boiled beans are ready to be made into refried beans.

About half of the family members I interviewed said they like to add a clove or two of garlic.

No one in my family mentioned adding chile peppers to the boiling beans, but I’ve read many recipes where people add a jalapeño or Serrano chile.

One of my cousins made a good point, she said she waits to add any additional ingredients until she either mashes or makes a dish out of the boiled beans. I personally like to use all three (onion, garlic, and chiles), but it is up to you.

Oil: I always use olive oil to sauté the onion, garlic, and chiles before adding my beans to the pot. Though this isn’t the traditional Mexican oil of choice, it is mine for health reasons.

Half of my family members also mentioned adding a splash of oil to the simmering pot. One cousin said she does so to prevent the beans from becoming sour and to help them last longer.

Vegan Mexican Pinto Beans

What Causes Beans to Take Longer to Cook

The following are ingredients to be cautious of when cooking a pot of beans.

Though not commonly used (in fact I’ve never seen them) by Mexican cooks, acidic ingredients in a basic pot of beans call for caution.

Ingredients like lime, lemon, tomatoes, vinegar, etc., should be added only once the beans have cooked through. The reason being that acid will slow down the cooking time tremendously. Instead, if you want to add those ingredients wait until you mash them or prepare the cooked beans into bean stews.

Okay now you’re ready to get that first pot of beans on the stove! Below is how I make frijoles for our everyday consumption. (Well, we actually don’t eat beans every single day, but you get my point.)

How to Make Mexican Frijoles de Olla

Making a big pot of frijoles de olla is incredibly easy and so inexpensive! Check out my easy recipe and all of the tips to make Mexican pinto beans.

Mexican Vegan Pinto Beans

How to Make Mexican Pinto Beans (Frijoles de Olla)

Nancy Lopez-McHugh & MexicanMadeMeatless.com
Making a pot of traditional Mexican beans is easy and cheaper than buying canned. Taste the real flavours of Mexico with this delicious recipe.
4.96 from 22 votes
Save Recipe
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 2 hrs
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 6 to 8 People
Calories 579 kcal

Ingredients
  

Ingredients

  • 2.2 lbs. or 1 kilo dried beans pinto or bayos or peruanos or flor de mayo
  • ¼ small white onion skin removed
  • 3 whole large cloves of garlic peeled & left whole
  • sea salt to taste
  • fresh or dried epazote optional but adds great flavour
  • plenty of water
  • fresh or dried Mexican chillies optional

Instructions
 

Instructions

  • Pick through the beans to remove and dirt, rocks and broken or damaged beans. Rinse thoroughly, then place the beans in a large pot that has a lid.
    Mexican Beans from Scratch
  • Add the onion, garlic and epazote if using. Pour in plenty of water to more than cover the beans. Cover and turn the heat to high and allow to come to the boil.
  • Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for about 2 hours. You'll need to check on the beans now and then to make sure they have plenty of water, if not add more so that they don't burn.
  • After about 2 hours or ONLY once the beans have softened and their skin begins to curl or break away, you can add sea salt. Add a about 1.5 teaspoon at first then simmer and then taste the beans again and adding as much more salt as you desire — just be careful because it's easier to add than it is to take away saltiness! When salting the beans you can add more water and simmer for another 20 minutes, taste again and repeat if necessary. Don't worry if there's "too much" broth as you can use it for reheating the beans and for making refried beans.
    Vegan beans from scratch
  • Store leftovers, once cooled, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or you can freeze for several months if desired, they freeze quite well.

Video

Notes

• Cooking time can depend on the quality of beans, drier ones will require longer simmering. Make sure to keep adding water so the pot does not dry out. If using black beans cooking time will be considerably longer.
• Store the beans (once cooled) in the refrigerator in an airtight container. They will keep for about 1 week. Alternately you can also freeze them in ziplock bags for up to several months — they freeze quite well.

Nutrition

Serving: 6servingsCalories: 579kcalCarbohydrates: 104gProtein: 36gFat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gSodium: 20mgPotassium: 2323mgFiber: 26gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 1IUVitamin C: 11mgCalcium: 190mgIron: 8mg
Keyword beans, pinto beans, vegan
Tried this recipe?Mention @MexicanMadeMeatless or tag #mexicamademeatless!
Mexican Vegan Pinto Beans

Now that you’ve made a pot of Mexican beans you can use them in any of your favourite Mexican recipes or turn the pot into a beans stew. The beans you’ve just made can be served as is with some warm corn tortillas on the side for a hearty beans soup meal. Alternatively they can be mashed up to make frijoles refritos or refried beans.

Ingredients used in this recipe. (Purchases through these Amazon links help support this blog. Thank you!)

Originally published on February 2014

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97 Comments

  1. I had always liked beans, but never really learned to truly appreciate them until I moved to Mexico. This was a love post–I like to think of it as a tribute to a favorite ingredient. And thanks for your kind words, Nancy. It was my husband who was having some worrisome health issues.

  2. Great article on the diversity of bean cooking, there’s nothing like a fresh pot of beans with home made tortillas and salsa de molcajete, its a feast for royals!!! Remember when you where luttle and mamy used to feed us caldo de frijol con tortillas, hey that was a true tortilla soup!!! Lol

    1. why only 2 stars Friddam? I haven’t tried recipe yet, so I gave 4 stars for all the helpful and detailed info. I’ve been throwing my own version together for a few years now. But it doesn’t taste like the frijoles I love from Mexican restaurants. I use chili powder, not chilis. Does this compromise the taste? I also don’t use salt. I will add my sea salt to the end of cooking time. I have a pot simmering on the stove as I write this. I just came across your site today when looking up frijoles recipes. I will search for more recipes from you. Thanks for the time, love and effort you put into your work.

      1. Hi Cat!

        I think the chile powder does have a different taste than fresh chiles, but not necessarily in a bad way. Salt is a must because it really brings out great flavour in the beans. You’ll notice the difference with that straight away. Everything else (the onion, garlic and chiles) are a personal preference that you can play around with. I think it’s great that you’ve been experimenting with your own versions. Enjoy your frijoles! Thank you

  3. Nancy,
    I am a pre-soaker if I have time. The pressure cooker–I am a great proponent for cooking beans. Pressure cooking uses less propane/gas and if you let the pressure natural release (not running water over but just letting time do the release), the skins stay on and the texture is the same as a well-cooked batch of beans. Great post. Y epazote!

      1. 5 stars
        Love pinto beans and refried. I usually have pintos cooked in th refrigerator and if I want something lite I use beans cheese, onion in a rolled up fresh tortilla. Sometime I’ll throw fresh made chili on top with cheese and onions. Keeping you recipe.

  4. I use beans also lately, we have such a cold winter this year. I cook lots and lots of comforting food-)) We need spring!

    Dear Nancy, thank you for a very interesting post and greet ideas.

    Hugs,

    Yelena

  5. I honestly feel terrible for anyone who has not cooked beans from dried before–I used to think I couldn’t eat beans/didn’t like them when all I had was from cans (unpleasant stomach side effects, bland pasty textures, etc.). Since I’ve been cooking them from scratch, it’s a whole new world!
    I have trouble finding epazote, so I sometimes will throw in a small square of kombu seaweed (primarily used for making miso soup), which does the same thing for promoting good digestion. It doesn’t flavor the beans whatsoever. And of course the Indian method is fenugreek and turmeric, but those are fairly strong flavors.
    Now, off to plan my next pot of legumes…

    1. Hi Fawn,
      I’m not a fan of canned beans either, Fawn. Glad you were able to start enjoying “real” beans and the epazote too — love your substitute,thanks for sharing that tip. Enjoy your legumes!

      1. 5 stars
        Thank you for your thoughtful instruction and explanation. I’ve loved making my own for years. Helpful to learn your method, especially the timing of adding spices. I like adding carrot to mine. I put finished beans in batches into food processor to get desired consistency.

    1. You can find dried epazote. I don’t know how it will do but since I have a jar I will use it today and find out.

  6. This is exactly how I like my pinto beans cooked! Pretty much the same ingredients, but different peppers. Your pot of bean look awesome! I want to scoop some out and wrap them up in a tortilla. So good! Like you mother, I use my pressure cooker. I did watch rice spew out the pressure valve once all over the ceiling, but at least it didn’t explode. Ouch!

  7. Thanks for all of your tips. Pinto beans were a staple in our house when I was growing up. My parents were from Louisiana and Creoles love red beans and pinto beans. My mother always soaked her pinto beans and black eyed peas. After reading this post I will no longer soak mine. I was a young adult before I had refried beans and it was love at first bite.

  8. I am so happy to have found your site. Have you ever made these beans in a slow cooker? I am going to a slow cooker (crock pot) party this weekend and want to make these beans. Also, do you ever use dried chiles like adobo or chipotle or chipotle in adobo? Thank you.

    1. No, I have never made them in a slow cooker — though I’d love to give it a try sometime. If you read through the comments you’ll see that many people do use a crockpot with great results.

      Yes, I love dried or chipotles en adobo when added to beans. They can transform them from a simple side-dish to quite a flavourful one or even a main meal. Enjoy the brand and have a blast at your party!:) ~Nancy

  9. OK, “Spicy Foodie” AKA Nancy, I’ve been fighting the Epazote issue for a very long time with NO joy. Now I see that dried, broken leaves are available from “The Spice House” over the internet.
    If I must use those broken leaves, how much would I use to replace 2 or 3 fresh leaves?
    I Love Mexican food and fix it frequently.

    1. Hi Bill,

      Congratulations on finally finding epazote! I would say about 1/4 teaspoon. My recommendation is to start off with a small amount then you can taste the dish and adjust if you feel it necessary. The fresh leaves are more pungent, but I’ve used the dried epazote with great results too. Have fun experimenting and enjoy all that Mexican food! 🙂

  10. I am a bean lover since 1984, minnesota, usa, vegetarian. The information here is superb. I eat beans every day, and this site has given me much to enjoy for taste and health.

  11. Hi i was wondering if i used a jalapeno pepper would it make them spicy i have kids and they eat the beans to so i dont want them to be spicy and i have no epazote so should i still do everything the same with the onion and oil and garlic

    1. Hi Wendy,

      Jalapeños can be spicy if you’re not used to the heat. Since this is your first time I would suggest perhaps omit the chili altogether. Or you could remove all of the seeds and pith and use only a small piece to give the beans flavour but with only a little bit of heat. Another option would be to use poblano peppers (also without the seeds) or a non-spicy bell pepper.

      Good luck and enjoy the beans! 🙂 ~Nancy

  12. i’m an old Southern farm girl; we grew all different sorts of beans, dried our own & cooked them. Loved this article. Right now have a crock pot of beans cooking. Would have beans almost every day but my husband disagrees. Thanks for the info.

  13. I love this recipe. Officially bookmarked. The only thing I did different was use bacon grease instead of olive oil.

  14. I made this recipe last weekend. I’ve always made refried beans with canned beans, but now that I’ve decided to take the plunge and use dried beans, I will never use canned beans again. These were so delicious! I followed the recipe exactly, except for the epazote because I couldn’t find any. My husband walked into the house while they were cooking and asked what I was making because it smelled fantastic. I’m making a double batch tonight because I am hooked on them.

    1. Hi Linda,

      That’s fantastic! You’ll not only be enjoying all of those delicious pots of beans, but also saving lots of money in the long run. Thank you:)

  15. HI, Nancy. Thanks for this recipe! I picked up some mayocoba beans today at Aldi out of curiosity and found you while poking around for a way to use them. Like you, I prefer to make my own lunches as a more healthful and economical alternative to eating out during the week. I also happen to have some epazote on hand, from Penzeys, so I should be all set for the ingredients.

    A note on beans and gas – it’s actually the complex carbohydrates in the beans that cause gas in some people. Not everyone’s body produces the enzyme (a biological catalyst) needed to break down the complex carbs on their way down the GI tract. If they arrive intact at the end of the road, the microbes that live there happily eat them, creating the gas. Epazote supplies the enzyme, as do those little pills you can buy. Baking soda works as an addition to pe-soak water, as it also will break down the complex carb. However, you have to pour off the water and rinse the beans, as the sodium content of the baking soda will interfere with the cooking process, slowing it, and result in a less-than-satisfactory dish.

  16. I’ve made a lot of homemade beans with a variety of different techniques and this is definitely my favorite! It’s easy, you can remove the onions after they’re done cooking (I don’t like chopped onions in my beans), and the beans turn out super flavorful. Thanks for this great recipe!

  17. I spent time in Mexico and with family here. We often made frijoles de olla . We never soaked the beans and the only thing we added was salt . Then we would eat it as a soup by adding sour cream and onions. Delicious! then we would make the rest refried.

  18. Everyone should try anasazi beans. They are Navajo beans and much like. Pintos. You can buy them on amazon I get mine 10 lbs at a time. Just cook them per the regular recipe best beans ever.

  19. Just read how to cook pinto beans,
    Have you tried cooking them in a crockpot that is the only way I cook them and they come out great,
    The next time I cook them I’m going to try adding onion and garlic.

  20. 5 stars
    FRIJOLES DE OLLA , A FEAST FOR KINGS. While visiting my in-laws in Mexico, one early morning my husband and father in-law went out to the farm, My mother in law woke me and my daughter up to go eat breakfast, (it was around 8 am) she had made a fresh batch of frijoles de olla, she also had a huge batch of freshly made corn tortillas made from the corn my father in-law grows, and she had taken it to the molino very early in the morning to grind so she could make the tortillas. She had Salsa de molcajete and queso fresco made from her cows milk. and the most delicious cafe de olla. We sat and ate this delectable meal by the wood burning comal.

  21. I’m not seeing in the actual recipe where you use oil to fry the onion, garlic and pepper (like you’d mentioned in the text before the recipe) so I’m wondering, if it’s also a good result to drop them in with the beans as they cook, rather than sautéing first? Do I cut the pepper or leave it whole?

    1. Hi Tiffany!

      Yes absolutely you can just add the onion, garlic and pepper to the pot with the beans and just boil them. I’ve actually started doing that so I could skip adding oil and calories. If you’d like the beans to have a little bit of extra heat you can go ahead and slice the pepper, or for milder taste leave it whole.

      Thank you and enjoy!
      ~Nancy

  22. 5 stars
    I have tried so many recipes on my quest to master the art of cooking (vegan) Mexican beans, and none of them compare to this one. Turns out, at the end of the day, simplicity wins by a long shot! I just ate a bowl of these plain and they were more delicious and satisfying than any pot of beans before that have called for cumin, tomato, adobo, *chopping* the garlic… etc. Great reminder to KISS in the kitchen (keep it simple, stupid)!

  23. 5 stars
    Great Britain eats more beans per capita than any other country in the world…however, it is almost exclusively Baked Beans from a tin. I have no doubt Mexico is the champion of much more varied and delicious bean-based dishes…

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  29. My mother always added a little bit of baking soda after the beans were tender. A little bit means 1/8 teaspoon or less. The liquid will foam up at that point so make sure there is enough head room in your pot to allow for that. Once the foam subsided she then seasoned the beans. The baking soda darkens the bean skins a little bit & adds a little saltiness. With such a small amount the change in flavor is minimal. It did seem to reduce the flatulence.

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