With a more earthy flavor than white beans and more sweetness than lima beans, pinto beans appear frequently in Mexican and Latin American cuisines, owing to their origin in ancient Mexican and Peruvian cultures. But the mild flavor of pinto beans gives you other options for seasoning too.
Canned, dried or frozen pinto beans all pair with the same herbs and spices. Give canned beans the long-simmered flavor of dry beans by using a homemade or store-bought broth in recipes that call for water. Whether you plan to use pinto beans in Mexican cuisine, a simple bean soup or a dish of beans and rice, a base of flavorful vegetables gives the beans depths of flavor. Cook any or all of these ingredients in a mild-flavored vegetable oil, and then add the beans and liquid:
- Chopped white onions. Cook these over medium heat until they are lightly browned, about 8 minutes. White onions have a more distinctive oniony flavor, according to Rick Bayless, author of Authentic Mexican.
- Finely chopped or minced garlic. Cook garlic for only 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Chile peppers of all kinds. Use either fresh or jarred peppers. Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, authors of The Flavor Bible, recommend chipotle, jalapeno, poblano and serrano chiles.
Instead of cooking pinto beans with aromatic vegetables yourself,
add a prepared red or green salsa
to the beans, with some spices and herbs, and serve your own version of beans and rice. Fresh herbs work best when you add them at the very end of cooking or use them as a garnish over the top of a bowlful of pinto beans. Dried herbs work best when you cook them along with the beans.
- Add a bay leaf and Mexican oregano to a pot of pinto beans. Mexican oregano is a different species from the Mediterranean variety, with an even more pungent flavor.
- Like other woody herbs, epazote works best when you cook it in a pinto bean stew or chili. It's similar to Mexican oregano, but with more of a tangy taste. Use it sparingly.
- Sprinkle chopped cilantro or parsley onto a bowl of refried pinto beans or a bean soup, along with a dollop of sour cream.
Add spices to pinto bean dishes during cooking so their flavors have a chance to infuse your dish.
- Use the same spices you add to Mexican enchilada sauce or Southwestern chili for pinto beans, such as cumin and chili powder.
- Follow the lead of food writer Kevin Gillespie, writing on the Saveur website, who adds crushed red pepper flakes and a monosodium glutamate, or MSG, flavor enhancer to his pinto bean soup.
- Make a Hungarian pinto bean soup with sweet paprika and black pepper.