Pinto beans have a mottled skin that resembles the coat of a pinto horse, which gives them their unique name. They are similar in shape to kidney beans, but have a stronger flavor. Pinto beans originated in Peru and today are cultivated in the United States, India, Brazil, and Mexico. There are four types of pinto beans: Burke, Othello, Sierra, and Maverick.
Pinto beans are an excellent source of protein. They also contain a large quantity of molybdenum, iron, magnesium, vitamin B, potassium, and phosphorous. Since they are an inexpensive, nutritious, and widely available food item, many cultures worldwide have incorporated pinto beans into their cuisine. Dried pinto beans are sold year-round in grocery stores. When buying them, make sure there is no insect or water damage such as cracking, holes, wrinkling, or powder. Sort the beans thoroughly, removing any odd articles such as pebbles and dirt.
Pinto beans require a long presoaking as they are particularly hard in texture. Soaking them in a large pot overnight will significantly reduce the cooking time as well as enhance their color and texture. Although it is possible to cook them for extra time instead, presoaking makes for a better flavor.
One cup of pinto beans yields about two cups of cooked beans, and two cups are enough to serve about four people. With this ratio in mind, wash the desired amount of beans under running water. Then place the beans in a large pot and cover them with two cups of water for every one cup of dried beans. Leave them to soak overnight.
Pinto beans expand to about double their size when they are cooked, so use a pan that will accommodate the increased volume. After discarding the soaking water, put the beans in the cooking pot. Add water to them until there is a one-inch layer of water on top of the beans. Bring this mixture to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer and cook the beans for about two and a half hours. Check the texture after two hours. The beans should be soft, but not mushy.
Once the desired firmness has been achieved, remove the pan from the stovetop. (It is possible to use a pressure cooker instead of the stove. To do this, use the same ratio of water to beans and set the cooker to 15 lbs. of pressure. Cook the beans for about twenty minutes).
For a nice stand alone or side dish, fry up some chopped onions and peppers in oil over medium heat. Add the cooked pinto beans to the mixture and coarsely mash them with a spoon. Add a pinch of salt and, at your discretion, some cheese on top. This goes well with rice, fish, and tamales.
Dry pinto beans need to be stored in an airtight container or sealed bag in a cool, dry place free of humidity. They can be stored for about a year this way. Cooked pinto beans need to be kept refrigerated and should be eaten within two days. It is possible to freeze them for about four days before their nutritional value and taste begins to diminish.