Mexican cuisine is renowned for its flavorful dishes that use a variety of beans. But with so many bean varieties to choose from, which are the best to use in Mexican recipes? Some quick answers: Pinto, black, and Anasazi beans are common choices. Refried beans are often made with pinto or black beans. Black beans work well in burritos and tacos. Anasazi beans have an earthy flavor that complements Mexican dishes. Ultimately the “best” bean depends on the specific recipe, your taste preferences, and bean availability. Read on for more details.
Pinto beans are one of the most popular beans used in Mexican cooking. These speckled pinkish-brown beans have a mild flavor that adapts well to many different recipes. Here are some key advantages of using pinto beans:
- Widely available – Pintos are one of the most common dried bean varieties found in grocery stores.
- Versatile – Their mild taste complements both savory and sweet dishes. They work well in soups, dips, tacos, burritos, rice dishes, etc.
- Smooth texture – When cooked, pinto beans become soft and creamy. This makes them perfect for refrying and mashing into spreads.
- Budget friendly – Dried pinto beans are an affordable ingredient. With just a little preparation, they deliver plenty of nutrients and fiber.
- Traditional – Pintos are used in many iconic Mexican dishes like frijoles refritos (refried beans).
Some popular ways to use pinto beans in Mexican cooking:
- Frijoles Refritos – The “refried” beans that often accompany dishes like burritos and tacos. Cooked and mashed pinto beans are fried in oil or lard to create a thick, creamy spread or dip.
- Frijoles Charros – Pinto beans cooked with bacon, tomatoes, chilies and spices create this classic savory stew.
- Arroz con Frijoles – Rice and beans is a simple, protein-packed staple dish. Pintos perfectly balance the rice’s texture.
- Sopes – These thick corn tortillas are often topped with refried beans, shredded meat and condiments.
- Tostadas – Flat crispy corn tortillas stacked with refried beans, lettuce, cheese, and other toppings.
With their versatility, mild flavor, and smooth creamy texture when cooked, it’s easy to see why pinto beans are a staple in Mexican cooking. Keep a bag of pintos on hand and you’ll always be ready to whip up some frijoles refritos or another Mexican classic.
Like pinto beans, black beans also have a prominent place in Mexican cuisine. Their rich, earthy taste and soft texture when cooked make them ideal for burritos, tacos, soups, salads and much more. Here are some of the benefits of cooking with black beans:
- Hearty, bold flavor – Compared to pintos, black beans have a more robust taste. Their richness enhances sauces, fillings and toppings.
- Nutrient density – High amounts of fiber, folate, magnesium and plant-based protein make black beans a nutritious choice.
- Budget friendly – Dried black beans are affordable. Just soak, simmer and add to your dish of choice.
- Versatile – In addition to Mexican food, black beans work well in Caribbean, Latin American and Southwestern U.S. cuisine.
- Smooth purees – Cooked black beans easily puree into dips and spreads. Avocado, lime juice or tahini are delicious additions.
Some classic ways to enjoy black beans in Mexican dishes:
- Burritos and tacos – Beans mixed with rice are the perfect burrito or taco filling. Top with salsa, cheese, avocado, etc.
- Quesadillas – Beans and cheese nestled between crisped tortillas can’t be beat.
- Enfrijoladas – Cooked black bean puree is spread over fried tortillas. Topped with shredded chicken, sour cream, queso fresco and avocado.
- Sopa de frijoles negros – Warming black bean soup, often with epazote, cilantro, lime and Mexican cheeses.
- Salads – Toss black beans with corn, tomatoes, lime, cilantro and cotija cheese for a tasty Mexican salad.
So if you’re looking to add bold, earthy flavor and healthy plant-based protein to a Mexican dish, you can’t go wrong with nutritious and versatile black beans.
Anasazi beans may have a strange name, but these naturally purple-and-white speckled beans have an amazing earthy, rich taste that enhances many southwestern and Mexican recipes. Here’s what you should know about Anasazi beans:
- Sweet, nutty flavor – Compared to other beans, Anasazis have a distinctive sweet, nutty taste reminiscent of chestnuts.
- Hold shape when cooked – Perfect for salads, salsas, stews. They won’t turn to mush.
- Native to the Southwest U.S. – Cultivated by ancestors of Hopi, Zuni and other tribes. Complements flavors used in the region.
- Dense texture – Sturdy bean has more complex carbohydrates than other varieties. Keeps you full and energized longer.
- Slow cooker friendly – Tenderizes beautifully and doesn’t fall apart. Just a quick soak before cooking.
Delicious ways to use Anasazi beans:
- Southwestern salad – Toss with corn, peppers, avocado, cilantro and cotija cheese. Drizzle with lime.
- Vegetarian chili – Use in place of kidney beans for rich, earthy flavor.
- Taco filling – Spiced Anasazi beans, peppers, shredded lettuce and cheese in warm corn tortillas.
- Cold bean salad – With jalapeno, red onion, tomato and cilantro. Toss in citrus vinaigrette.
- Soup – Puree with roasted green chiles and top with crumbled queso fresco.
Anasazi beans may not be as common as pintos and black beans, but their marvelous earthy taste and sturdy texture make them worth seeking out. Try them in your next Mexican or Southwestern-style dish.
Other Notable Beans for Mexican Cuisine
While pinto, black and Anasazi beans may be the heavy hitters, there are a few other bean varieties that pop up in Mexican cooking:
Bayo Beans – These large creamy white beans have a dense texture similar to potatoes. They hold their shape well when cooked. Great for soups and stews.
Flageolet Beans – Tiny green kidney-shaped beans with a fresh grassy taste. Often used in salads, stews and side dishes in upscale Mexican restaurants.
Peruano Beans – Medium-sized cream colored beans with an earthy flavor. A common ingredient in Latin American cuisine. Work well in tacos, salads, soups.
Black-Eyed Peas – Popular in the Yucatan peninsula and Brazilian/Caribbean influenced Mexican dishes. Their mild, nutty taste pairs nicely with tropical fruit and peppers.
Garbanzo Beans (Chickpeas) – Not as common as other beans but can provide a nutty flavor and creamy texture to certain Mexican dishes like salads and soups.
Lima Beans – Buttery, starchy limas show up in some Mexican bean stews, soups and sides, though they aren’t as popular as other varieties. Provide a silky texture.
The beauty of beans is you can experiment with different varieties in Mexican recipes to see which you like best. Though pinto, black and Anasazi beans form the core “holy trinity” of beans for most dishes.
How to Choose the Best Beans for Your Dish
When it comes to selecting beans for a Mexican recipe, here are some tips:
- Consider flavor – Pick beans with a taste that will enhance other ingredients. (Ex: Earthy Anasazis for bold chili.)
- Factor in texture – Refried beans need a creamier bean like pintos. Salads use beans that hold their shape. Soups can use creamy, brothy beans.
- Complement spices and seasonings – Choose beans that will work with the recipe’s other Latin flavors.
- Watch your cooking time – Beans like Anasazis cook faster. Leave extra time for harder beans.
- Read variety descriptions – Bean packages often suggest ideal pairings and uses based on taste, texture, etc.
You can also mix and match beans within a dish – like stirring Anasazi beans into a pot of pinto-based chili for extra texture. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different bean combinations in your recipes.
Tips for Cooking Beans
To fully enjoy beans’ natural flavor and hearty texture, they need to be prepared properly. Here are some bean cooking tips:
Soak before cooking – Most dried beans require soaking 4-8 hours or overnight before cooking. This decreases cooking times and can improve digestibility. Quick-soak beans also work.
Discard soaking liquid – Drain off the water beans soaked in to get rid of indigestible compounds that cause gas. Rinse beans.
Cook thoroughly – Boiling, simmering or using a pressure cooker ensures beans fully hydrate and become tender. Undercooked beans won’t rehydrate correctly.
Don’t add salt early – Salt can prevent beans from softening. Only add salt late in cooking process once beans start softening.
Use aromatics – Cooking beans with onion, garlic, bay leaves or other aromatics adds extra flavor. Discard aromatics after cooking.
Check texture frequently – Beans can go from crunchy to mushy quickly. Test often for desired tenderness while cooking.
Puree for creaminess – For extra creamy dips or thicker bean soup, partially puree cooked beans with some of the cooking liquid.
Season generously – Plain cooked beans can be bland. Spice them up with plenty of salt, garlic, onions, chili powder, lime juice, etc.
With the proper preparation, beans can be flavorful, creamy and tender enough to do Mexican cuisine justice.
Choosing Canned vs. Dried Beans
Both canned and dried beans have a place in Mexican cooking:
- Convenient, ready to use from the can
- More tender texture
- Works well when beans are an accent ingredient, not the star of the dish
- Less control over flavor since beans are pre-seasoned in can
- Require time for soaking and cooking
- Cheaper than canned
- Full control over bean flavor profile and texture
- Better for recipes where beans take center stage
- More storage space required
In most Mexican dishes, dried beans are preferred for their from-scratch flavor and perfect texture. But canned beans can shine when used in moderation in recipes where you need convenience.
To keep beans fresh and usable as long as possible:
- Keep dried beans in airtight container in cool, dry place. Uncooked beans last 1-2 years stored properly.
- Cooked beans last 3-5 days refrigerated. Freeze cooked bean dishes for longer storage.
- If beans smell musty or odd, they may be old and spoiled. Safest to throw them out.
- Don’t store beans near strongly scented ingredients like onions. They’ll absorb other smells.
- Place beans in clear containers so you can easily see them and remember to use.
Properly stored dried or cooked beans will retain optimum flavor, color and texture. Follow these tips to reduce waste and have beans handy when needed.
Still have questions about selecting the best beans for Mexican cuisine? Here are some frequent queries:
Are canned beans okay in authentic Mexican recipes?
Canned beans work in a pinch but may have a less ideal texture. Dried beans are preferred for authentic Mexican dishes. But canned beans can be rinsed and further cooked to improve flavor and texture.
Which beans go best with which meats?
Pinto beans pair well with pork. Black beans complement chicken’s flavor. Anasazi beans’ earthiness stands up to red meats like beef and lamb. Feel free to mix and match too.
Can I swap pinto beans for black beans?
Absolutely. Black beans can be substituted 1:1 for pinto beans in most recipes. The flavor will be a bit bolder and earthier with black beans. Adjust any seasonings accordingly.
What’s the healthiest bean for Mexican dishes?
It’s a tie between black beans and Anasazi beans. Both are packed with protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Plus they have a lower glycemic index than many other bean varieties.
Should beans be soaked if cooking in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot?
Pre-soaking isn’t mandatory since pressure cookers cook beans rapidly. But soaking 8-12 hours beforehand improves texture and digestibility.
– Pinto, black, and Anasazi beans are all excellent choices for Mexican cuisine. Pick beans based on the flavors you want and how they’ll be used.
– Soaking, proper cooking, and bold spicing are key for coaxing the most flavor out of beans. Don’t rush the process.
– While canned beans work in a pinch, dried beans are preferred for authentic Mexican recipes so you can control bean texture and flavor.
– Store dried or cooked beans properly to maximize freshness and shelf life. An airtight container in a cool, dry place is ideal.
– Experiment with different bean varieties in Mexican recipes to discover your ultimate favorites. The options are deliciously endless!