Mastering how to make a traditional pot of frijoles de olla or Mexican beans will change your life! Homemade beans are cheaper and taste much better than canned beans. With this easy recipe you can have a week’s worth of delicious meals. No-soaking required and can be made in a pot, Instant Pot or slow cooker.
Table of Contents
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 by 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.
You will typically find cooked beans either on the stove or in the fridge in pretty much any Mexican household.
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 type of beans, the type of pot used, and to the seasonings can differ greatly from one cook to another.
You don’t have to feel overwhelmed because your homemade batch of frijoles 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 frijoles de olla or pot of beans.
Frijol or Frijoles: Guide to Making Mexican Beans
Frijol means beans, as in dried beans and frijoles referrers to cooked beans.
In Mexico we call our traditional beans cooked in a pot frijoles de olla. Some Northern Mexican regions call them frijoles de la olla. It’s all the same thing.
Cooking beans is part of the weekly kitchen chores for many Mexican households.
They are eaten throughout the week either as a side dish or part of a main dish like when used for enfrijoladas. You can be sure that they are an important ingredient of Mexican food.
Trust me amigos, when you start making frijoles at home you won’t want to go back to the canned stuff. You’ll quickly notice the huge difference not only in the flavor of the beans but also in your wallet!
FIY I actually interviewed my whole family for this article so that I could give you as much information and variations as possible for making frijoles de olla.
What Kind of Pot to Use
The Spanish word for pot is olla.
Frijoles de olla translates to beans from the pot.
The most traditional way to cook a pot of Mexican beans is to use an earthenware pot or olla de barro. These large clay pots are believed to impart an indispensable and unique flavor to the beans.
But don’t worry if you don’t own one because you can still make authentic and delectable frijoles de olla in a regular pot. (Psst…I love using my enameled cast iron Dutch oven pot.)
My mother, like many other Mexican cooks, occasionally uses an old-style pressure cooker to cook beans. I’m scared of those pressure cookers. But thankfully nowadays the electric pressure cooker is widely available. I use my Instant Pot all the time to make my frijoles de la olla de presión.
You could even make Mexican beans in a slow cooker if you’d like, more on that to follow.
Which Dried Beans to Use for Frijoles de Olla
In Mexico there’s 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 types of beans used for making a pot of beans are pinto beans, black beans, peruano also called mayocoba, flor de mayo and frijol bayo. All of which are delicious in their own right and can be used in an array of recipes.
Sorting The Beans
The next step is to pick through them. This means that we need to inspect them for small rocks, debris, and wrinkled, discolored, damaged, or beans with holes.
The beans should be fresher beans and of good quality. Avoid wrinkled, damaged beans, and ones with holes.
Why you ask.
- 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 just to be safe.
- Beans that have holes may be infested with bean weevils. You might want to throw out those packages because the weevils will infest other dry goods in your cupboard.
How To Season Frijoles de Olla
This is another important 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.
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 of cooking, 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. So it’s up to you.
What I would suggest is to try to use sea salt for better flavor.
One of my sisters likes to use culantro (not exactly the same thing as cilantro), some people like to use bay leaves or even avocado leaves.
For my pot beans I like to add fresh 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 traditional cooks because it’s believed to prevent 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?
The most common seasonings for making beans are: 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 one or two garlic cloves.
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 pepper. Sometimes I add chile de arbol.
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.
Half of my family members 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.
I know some people add a little bit of oil when cooking beans in the Instant Pot. It’s believed that this prevents them from foaming and the foam leaking out of pot. I’ve never had this problem, though.
I personally don’t add any type of fat until I use the cooked beans to make frijoles refritos and then it’s usually olive oil for health reasons.
The liquid used when cooking traditional frijoles de olla is just plain water.
But I have seen some non-authentic recipes calling for chicken broth.
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’s believed to speed 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 neutralize 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…the next day…drain and rinse the beans well with clean fresh 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. “
Frijoles de Olla Ingredients
Amigos this simple dish requires such simple ingredients that are, or should be, pantry staples.
- Dried Beans: For this recipe we’ll be using pinto beans.
- Herbs and Seasonings: white onion, garlic cloves, jalapeno pepper, epazote and salt.
How to Make Frijoles de la Olla
Making a big pot of frijoles de olla is incredibly easy and so inexpensive!
Remember that for this basic recipe we’ll be using frijoles pintos, but do check out the links to my other bean recipes below. For crock pots and Instant pot Mexican beans instructions check the recipe card.
Step 1: Pick Through Beans
Place the beans on a countertop or table and little by little inspect them. Push the good quality beans to one side and all the damaged ones and any rocks off to another side to discard. Continue until you’ve inspected all of the frijoles you’ll be cooking.
Step 2: Rinse
Pour the beans onto a colander then thoroughly rinse with cool water. Drain off excess water.
Step 3: Add to Pot
Place the rinsed beans in your pot of choice. Add the onion, garlic, and chile if using. Pour in enough cups of water to cover the beans by a few inches. If you notice any beans float to the top, scoop out and remove because those are bad beans.
Step 4: Simmer
Turn the stove to medium-high heat and allow the water to come to a boil. Once boiling turn the heat down to medium-low, cover the pot, and let the beans cook in a slow simmer until tender. Add hot water as needed. Keep an eye on the pot lid to make sure that it allows out enough steam without causing it to boil over.
Step 5: Salt
After about 60 minutes you can taste the beans to see if they have softened. If not continue to cook until they do. Once soft and tender you can mix in the salt and simmer for another 20 minutes. Carefully taste for salt and if needed add more.
How to Serve Frijoles de Olla
A simple and great way to enjoy your freshly cooked frijoles is by serving yourself a large bowl with some broth. You can top with some chopped cilantro, crumbled queso, maybe some pico de gallo or your favorite fresh salsa, and some warm tortillas.
It’s such a simple meal that’s incredibly flavorful, satisfying, and ultimate comfort food.
How to Store
Allow leftovers to come to room temperature before storing in an airtight container for later use.
Frijoles de olla will keep fresh in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. You’ll know they’ve gone off because they’ll have quite an unpleasant pungent smell.
In the freezer they can be stored for up to 3 months.
How to Reheat
You can reheat the amount needed on the stove for about 10 minutes. Or you can also reheat in the microwave for a couple of minutes – just be careful because they may splatter inside the microwave.
More Mexican Bean Recipes to Try
- Frijoles Negros Recipe
- Refried Frijoles Negros
- Authentic Refried Beans
- Peruano Beans (peruvian beans)
- Frijoles Charros
- Bean and Chorizo Dip
What Causes Beans to Take Longer to Cook
Occasionally you may have beans that even after cooking a long time still aren’t soft. So what causes this?
A tough bean can be the result of using old beans. Remember previously I stated the importance of using fresh dried beans. Well here’s a very important reason why and a great excuse to not let your dried beans sit too long in the pantry.
Acidic 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.
I’m so happy you stopped by. If you have any questions or want to let me know how you liked this recipe, do leave a comment. Muchas gracias, I appreciate you!
How to Make Mexican Beans (Frijoles de Olla)
As you have now seen, making a pot of traditional Mexican beans is easy and cheaper than buying canned. Taste the real flavors of Mexico with this delicious and easy recipe.
Once you start making a pot of Mexican beans you can use them in any of your favorite 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, or flour tortillas, to make a hearty bean soup meal. Alternatively they can be mashed up to make frijoles refritos or refried beans.
How to Make Mexican Pinto Beans (Frijoles de Olla)
- 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
- 1 teaspoon sea salt adjust to taste
- 4 leaves fresh epazote optional but adds great flavour (use 1 teaspoon dried epazote)
- 8 cups water or as needed
- 1 fresh jalapeno or serrano pepper optional
- Place the beans on a countertop or table and little by little inspect them. Push the good quality beans to one side and all the damaged ones and any rocks off to another side to discard. Continue until you’ve inspected all of the frijoles you’ll be cooking.
- Pour the beans onto a colander then thoroughly rinse with cool water. Drain off excess water.
- Place the rinsed beans in your pot of choice. Add the onion, garlic, and chile if using. Pour in enough cups of water to cover the beans by a few inches. If you notice any beans float to the top, scoop out and remove because those are bad beans.
- Turn the stove to medium-high heat and allow the water to come to a boil. Once boiling turn the heat down to medium-low, cover the pot, and let the beans cook in a slow simmer until tender. Add hot water as needed. Keep an eye on the pot lid to make sure that it allows out enough steam without causing it to boil over.
- After about 60 minutes you can taste the beans to see if they have softened. If not continue to cook until they do. Once soft and tender you can mix in the salt and simmer for another 20 minutes. Carefully taste for salt and if needed add more.
Instant Pot Pinto Beans
- Sort through the beans and discard any dirt, debris or small rocks. Thoroughly rinse with cool water.
- Place beans in the pot of the pressure cooker. Add the garlic, onion, pepper if using, epazote and enough water to reach the 6 cups water mark.
- Secure the lid on the pot. Set valve to Sealing, select High Pressure and set timer to 40 minutes.
- Once the cooking time has completed, allow to naturally release for 15 minutes. Then carefully release the pressure.
- Pour in the teaspoon of salt, mix well then allow to sit for another 10 minutes. Taste and adjust salt if desired.
Slow Cooker Pinto Beans
- Sort through beans, rinse thoroughly then place inside the slow cooker and add onion, garlic, epazote and pepper if using.
- Pour in the water, cover and set to low and slow cook for about 7 hours. Check for tenderness and once cooked you can add the salt, mix and allow to cook for another 15 minutes.
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Originally published on February 2014
Nancy Lopez is a food blogger and author of the cookbook Mexican Tamales Made Meatless. Born in Mexico, raised in the US, and currently living in Southern Mexico, she has followed a meatless diet for almost 10 years. It is her passion and mission to share all she has learned about vegan Mexican cooking and vegetarian Mexican recipes. Mexican Made Meatless is a blog dedicated to preserving the authentic flavors of Mexican cuisine just without the meat. It’s a place to celebrate Mexican culture and all it’s delightfully delicious traditional foods. Read more…