Pinto beans are a ubiquitous ingredient in Mexican and South American recipes, often simply prepared and served with rice or added to dishes such as burritos. These pinto beans, however, take it up a notch with the addition of bacon, onion, and salsa; they are packed with flavor, making for a rich side dish or even a meal when served with a salad or vegetable.
The key to making this dish so appealing (besides the bacon, of course) is that the recipe calls for dried beans that are soaked overnight and then slow cooked for several hours. This results in tender beans with a creamy texture—the perfect counterpoint to the crispy bacon.
Sort through and rinse the beans; place in a large container, cover with water, and soak overnight.
Put the beans in the crockpot; cover with the water.
Cover and cook on LOW heat 5 to 7 hours, or until the beans are tender.
Place the bacon and the chopped onion in a skillet and fry until the bacon is cooked through and the onion is translucent; place on paper towel to drain well, reserving the drippings in the skillet.
Add the drained bacon and onions to the beans along with a tablespoon or more of the bacon drippings. Add the salsa to taste and chopped cilantro if using.
Cover and cook on LOW for 1 to 2 more hours. Serve hot as a side dish, main dish, or use in other recipes.
Beans have been a mainstay in Mexican and Latin cuisine for centuries, and part of the cooking process is sorting through the beans—or "cleaning" the beans—before soaking them. Although commercially packaged beans contain fewer foreign objects than beans of yesteryear, there still is a chance you will come across a stone or two. Empty the bag onto a tray or cutting board and remove any stones or debris, as well as any broken beans or those that contain holes.
You may be tempted to use the soaking water for cooking the beans, but that water actually contains the carbohydrates that can cause gassiness when eating beans; if you are sensitive to the effects beans can have on our digestive systems, it is best to discard and add fresh water to the crockpot. However, keep in mind you will be tossing out some of the beans' flavor.
You can soak beans a few different ways, including using cold water or soaking in hot water. A cold water soak is just that—covering the beans with a generous amount of cold water (4 cups of water per cup of beans) and allowing to soak about 8 hours. For a hot water soak, cover the beans with water and place the pot on the stove; boil for 3 to 4 minutes, then turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let sit for about 5 hours. Whether you cold or hot soak, you can either drain and rinse the beans afterward or simply cook the beans in the soaking water.