On the Prolognacion de Montejo, a street streaking through a busy commercial district in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, you’ll find a restaurant called “Los Taquitos de PM.” I lived nearby for several years before trying it, because it never seemed like it was in business, with no windows, and doorways covered by big, heavy pull-down metal curtains; that is, of course, until I happened by with a close Mexican friend, Victor, after 7:00 o’clock at night. Between seven and midnight, Los Taquitos de PM positively explodes with people: entire families, smiling and celebrating the birthday of an abuela, tables of young men on the prowl, and occasionally, people like Jillian and I, wide-eyed, sweaty, and exhausted both physically (from the heat) and mentally (from the difficulties inherent in living each day in a culture you’ll never really understand, speaking a language not your own).
In addition to the ubiquitous taco, any taqueria worth its margarita salt in Mexico also has a big, simmering pot of frijoles charros, or “cowboy beans,” ready to be served alongside the nightly selection of grilled meats and guacamole. In their most basic form, frijoles charros most closely resemble a kind of loose bean soup, with whole pinto beans slow cooked in a broth with tons of onion, garlic, and often, bacon. Many restaurants put their own signature spins on this dish, including chilies, tomatoes, or handfuls of cilantro. With this basic bowl of frijoles charros as a starting place, many restaurants will go even further, handing handfuls of cheese, chorizo, or any other pork product you can imagine.
A full bowl of these tricked-out frijoles charros make for a meal all unto themselves. Our recipe is modeled after the version served at Taquitos de PM, which Victor to this day can’t refer to, even in passing, without also mentioning their uniquely thick, creamy properties, which Taquitos de PM achieves by first making the complete soup, then pureeing part of it in batches, before adding the puree back to the pot. The result is a thick, hearty bowl of Mexican beans that bear little resemblance to anything we’ve seen North of the border.
Frijoles Charros (Cowboy Beans)
- 1 pound dried pinto beans
- 14 cups water, or more as needed
- 1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt, plus more as needed
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 2 medium Roma tomatoes, chopped
- 2 small tomatillos, chopped
- 6 slices thick cut uncooked bacon, chopped
- 8 ounces fresh, uncooked Mexican chorizo, chopped
- 6 ounces ham, cut into small cubes
- 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
- 2 jalapeño peppers, sliced nacho-style
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 shot of good tequila, about 1 1/2 ounces
Place dry, unsoaked beans in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, and cover with water. Water should cover beans by at least four inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, then partially cover and reduce heat to medium. Cook for about two hours, until beans are completely soft and cooked through. During cooking, check and stir beans often, adding more water as needed so that there are always two inches of water covering the beans. Add salt, cumin, tomatoes, and tomatillos, and reduce heat to a simmer.
In a large, deep skillet, cook bacon over high heat for 3-4 minutes, until lightly browned and starting to crisp. Add the chopped chorizo and diced ham, and cook for 4 or five more minutes, breaking up chorizo with a spoon as it cooks and crisps.
Add the chopped onion, jalapeño pepper, and garlic; mix well and cook for one minute, letting vegetables soften. Do not drain; pour contents of frying pan into bean pot and stir well.
Simmer beans for about ten minutes more, checking seasoning and adding more salt as needed. Remove from heat and allow beans to cool slightly, about ten minutes. Using a measuring cup, remove about three cups of the soup from the pot, and puree in food processor until smooth, about 30 seconds. Don’t try and separate out the beans; if some ham, bacon, or chorizo ends up in the puree, all the better. Pour puree back into bean pot, add a shot of tequila, and stir well to combine. Reheat as needed, and serve hot with sour cream and chopped cilantro.