Dinner: March 15, 2010

It’s funny how a humble dish you grew up with can make a big splash when you share it with friends. I first posted about these “drunken” beans years ago on a group food blog I contributed to, and I recently revisited the recipe for food52’s “Your Best Recipe for Beans” challenge. Since then, and to my delight, these soupy, homey beans have gained some new fans. These really are a go-to dish for me – they’re a breeze to prepare, they’re inexpensive, and they are a great option when you need to serve a crowd. They can be made in advance (in fact I think they taste even better after a day or two), and they hold beautifully in a slow cooker or a heavy pot in a low oven. They’re as good with summer barbecue or burgers as they are alongside heartier winter fare like enchiladas or roast chicken, and they stand alone quite nicely with a stack of warmed tortillas alongside.

True Vermont Cranberry Beans

We are lucky to have had great dried heirloom beans from Freedom Bean Farm in Maine available at our farmers’ market earlier in the season, and I stocked up to get us through the winter months. My favorite beans for this dish are a variety called True Vermont Cranberry Beans, a smallish, red-mottled bean with a tender bite, but you can certainly use whatever variety of dried beans you have available. Pinto beans, borlotti beans, and the like all work extremely well. (Rancho Gordo is a great online source of heirloom beans.)

For this latest version, I decided to skip the pork entirely, omitting the bacon and its rendered fat, instead adding some of my favorite spices – ground chipotle powder and smoked Spanish paprika – to mimic the smoky depth the bacon would impart. I used olive oil here to soften the onion, but any vegetable oil will do. I asked my pork-loving husband to taste them before even telling him what I had done differently, and he had no clue they were meat-free.

I use my own home-pickled Serrano chiles in this dish, but if you don’t make your own, feel free to use canned green chiles from your local grocery. I like my borrachos with a little zip, but if you’re sensitive to heat, you can of course dial back on the amount of chipotle and chile peppers (or serve the pickled chiles alongside so guests can add them to taste).

Borrachos, Vegan Variation

1 pound dried Pinto or other small pink/red beans
6 cups water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
½ to 1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano or dried marjoram
2-3 canned pickled whole Jalapeño or Serrano chiles, plus 2-3 tablespoons of the spicy brine
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
1 bottle amber or dark beer
Kosher salt
Juice of one lime, about 1 oz.

Pick over the beans to remove any stones or debris, and place them in a large pot. Add 6 cups of cold tap water, cover the pot, and bring it to a boil. Let boil for 2 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the beans stand, undrained, for an hour. (Note: the beans should be fairly tender at this point, though older beans may need more soaking time.)

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering.
Add the onion to the pot with a pinch of salt and cook until softened. Add the garlic cloves, chipotle powder, smoked paprika, and the oregano or marjoram, rubbing the dried herb between your palms to crumble it a bit, and cook until fragrant. Add the beans with their cooking liquid, then add the tomatoes, the beer, the chile(s) and the chile brine.

Bring the beans up to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook, partially covered, for 1 to 1½ hours, stirring occasionally and tasting to adjust salt as needed. Stir in the lime juice just before serving, then ladle into bowls.

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