Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cooking Fresh Pinto or Cranberry Beans

Fresh Cranberry (or Pinto?) Beans

Recipe by Robin

Back in September, I found some beautifully patterned beans at the Farmer’s Market in Watsonville, CA. I asked some Mexican-American shoppers about them and they told me that that these were fresh pinto beans. "Pinto" means "painted" in Spanish, referring to the spots on the beans. These painted beans could in fact be the larger cranberry bean, as my rudimentary Spanish skills prevented me from understanding the entire explanation. Both varieties are spotted, and can be cooked the same way, though pintos require a bit less time. Fresh pinto/cranberry beans aren’t widely available, and the season is short, so do try them if you’re lucky enough to find them.

Beans, Peppers, Chili Powder, Garlic, Onion, Cumin Seeds
South of the Border Ingredients
Fresh beans are much more flavorful fresh than dried—and take much less time and preparation to cook. It’s the end of the season now. Bean husks are papery and yellow rather than supple purple, cream, and green of the early season. If you find them, go ahead and buy extras, as my fellow shoppers advised me to do. You can remove the outer husks and freeze them if you’re not quite ready to prepare them.

I had a few Armenian bell peppers on hand--a flavorful sweet pepper, and some hotter chilis as well, so added both, along with onion and garlic. Because I was making Mexican-style beans to go with tortillas and pico de gallo salsa, I added cumin and chili powder. I’ve also cooked the beans in plain salted water for 45 minutes or or less, then added them to vegetable soups and stews. Feel free to adapt this recipe to your ingredients on hand and your intended use of the beans after cooking.

You might also like to try cooking fresh beans in a Classic Minestrone.

Plate of Cooked Pinto Beans
Fresh Pintos Ready to Eat
Fresh Pinto Beans
makes about 5 cups

3 cups fresh shelled pinto beans
1 tbsp. olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 small sweet peppers
2 small hot chili peppers
3 ½ cups water
2 tsp. instant veggie broth powder
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cumin seeds

Cut sweet peppers into julienne strips. You should have about 2 cups. Mince hot chili peppers. Grind cumin seeds with a mortar and pestle.

In 2 quart saucepan, sauté onion in olive oil till golden over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté till fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add sweet and hot peppers and stir to coat with oil. Sauté pepper about 2 minutes and add beans. Stir to coat with oil.

Add water, powdered veggie broth, black pepper, chili powder, and cumin. Stir and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered till beans are tender to your liking, stirring every 10 minutes or so and checking to be sure liquid still covers beans. Cooking time will be about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the beans and how soft you want them. If you want them to get soft and mushy (for refried beans, etc.), continue cooking for up to 1½ hours.


  1. These were quite good.

    Very different from dried pinto beans. And I really like the recipe.

  2. Add the spices to the oil after the peppers to bloom them then add liquids and they will taste more complex and richer. Those spices are just better bloomed.

  3. What do you do with the water in which you cooked the fresh pinto beans. Do you discard the water, or just incorporate it in whatever recipe you're making?

    1. Depending on what you're making, you could do either. I'd use the liquid in soups, stews, or if mashing up the beans for refried. Liquid would also be good in most beans and rice dishes. I'd drain them only if I wanted whole beans on top of something crisp where I'm using other liquids, like tacos or a lettuce salad with salsa and/or salad dressing.

  4. Use bacon cut into small pieces in place of the olive oil to saute/grill veggies and seasonings. Yum!