I’m  not very creative when it comes to utilizing beans in our dinners. I can make a mean chili, chickpeas frequent our salads, black bean go into quesadillas with zucchini, and I sometimes use them to make a dip or hummus. I’ll also admit that I never quite understood dried beans. Having to soak beans overnight isn’t hard, but it does take advance planning. When I’m standing in the grocery store looking at dried beans, I can’t guarantee that I’ll always remember to soak them the night before I need to use them. Recently, I was gifted a number of vacuum-sealed packages of dried beans from my aunt and uncle’s farm in Iowa, and I was up for the challenge. I started with the easiest, black beans, and was delighted to find the quick soak method, which allowed me to use them the same day. I was even more surprised to see how robust they became… firm, plump, and much darker and richer tasting than canned beans. Next I moved on to pinto beans. I was pretty stumped with those guys… I found recipes for refried beans and baked beans, but I wanted to go a little healthier. Finally, I found something that was just whole foods and could happily cook by itself in the crockpot all day, so I gave it a go.

Slow Cooked Beans

Slow Cooked Pinto Beans

I’ll admit, the enticing picture posted with this recipe helped draw me to it. In fact, it inspired me to make skillet cornbread along with the meal (click the link, you’ll see). However, I decided to alter the recipe a little bit, adding some spices and other flavors. Here’s where we landed:

1 lb. dry pinto beans
6 c. water or broth
4 pieces of turkey bacon, thinly sliced (omit if vegetarian)
1½  sea salt (to taste)
freshly ground pepper (to taste)
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. cardamom
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1 tsp. dried onion flakes
1 tsp. italian seasoning
1 bay leaf

Soaked Beans

Soak beans overnight OR use quick soak method, as I did. Drain beans, place in crockpot with remaining ingredients. Cook for eight hours on low. Using a slotted spoon, serve beans (draining liquid), and season as desired. I never, ever salt my food, and I felt the beans needed it, but I used water when cooking them in the crockpot, not broth. Broth tends to be salty, so salting may not be necessary unless you cook them in water. To me, this screamed cornbread and a tossed salad, and it all went together nicely. My youngest daughter gobbled dinner up, which I thought was a good sign. My husband wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about it, but he ate the beans alongside leftover steak, so I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison. I plan to either freeze the leftovers to use in burritos another night, or mash, re-season, and use as a side dish.

Beans are healthy, affordable, and no fuss. Being gluten-free, they’re always a welcome addition to a meal, and they’re a great vegetarian option. Share your favorite bean dishes!  To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.