Comfort food. That's what comes to mind when I think of my Mother's Ham and Pinto Beans. I guess I was a strange kid, but I loved Ham and Beans and everything else Mom made, even Liver and Onions (gasp). Mom almost always fried potatoes to go with the beans, along with some biscuits or corn bread. It was a feast to me!
I still love a meal like this, so for New Years my husband I had Ham and Beans, accompanied by the Cheese and Jalapeno Corn Bread of my last post. This was great meal and it's not hard to do.
If you have not cooked dried pinto beans before, you have to soak them in water overnight, or give them a quick soak the day of cooking. The beans cooked in less than 2 hours. However, if you live in a high altitude, it will take longer for dried beans to get done. My mother used a pressure cooker for beans when we lived in Colorado, as they cooked much quicker. I used 1 pound of dried Pinto Beans this time and that made 2 meals for my husband and I. When my kids were still all home, I cooked 2 pounds of beans.
I saved the ham bone from our Christmas dinner to use in our beans. It still had a good amount of meat on it, so that made for some really tasty beans. When cooking a ham bone with beans, I don't add salt until after the beans are done, because the ham bone will add some salt flavor as it cooks. So it's better to add salt after the beans are done. I remove the bone from the pot and separate the meat from the bone and add it back to the soup. Then I season it. Here's my method.
HAM and PINTO BEANS
1. You must go through the beans by hand first. To do this, pour a small amount of beans on your counter and go through them looking for any tiny pebbles, dirt or bad beans. Throw those away and scoop the good beans into a colander. Rinse beans with water. Pour beans into a soup pot, and pour water over them to cover a couple of inches. Place lid on pot and let soak overnight.
2. When ready to cook, drain off all the water from the beans. Place the ham bone in the soup pot. Pour the drained beans into the pot. Then refill the pan with enough water to cover the beans at least an inch. At this time, add a small chopped onion. Bring soup to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer, covered until beans are tender. Check the beans fairly often as they really can use up the water, so you may need to add more water during cooking. So make sure the pan does not get dry and cause the beans to burn. Burned beans do not taste good! (I learned this from experience too!) Beans are done when you can easily smash them with a fork, or taste them to check tenderness. In my altitude, the beans are done in less than 2 hours.
3. Carefully remove the ham bone from the soup. When cool enough to handle, remove the ham from the bone and take off any fat that may be still attached. Add the ham pieces back to the soup. I then taste them to see how much salt and pepper to add.
4. As you can see, this is a very basic method. If you like beans with a kick, add some seeded hot peppers while cooking. My Mother sometime added a dried Bay leaf to the pot. It just depends on what you like. My husband and I love to eat our Ham and Pinto Beans with a spoonful of spicy salsa added. Delicious! If you haven't cooked dried beans before, I hope you'll give these a try. They are not only tasty, but healthy as well. Enjoy!
NOTE: IF the beans are almost done and there happens to be more liquid than you want in the pot, just remove the lid and let the broth cook down some.