Cowboy Beans, Quick and Slow

Y’know what’s really cheap? Beans. Oh beans. They have such a bad rap with many Americans. But y’know what? They are pretty delicious. And I’ll let you in on the secret of delicious beans in our house – make them into tacos. You’ll see.

Beautiful dried black turtle and red kidney beans - the foundation of Cowboy Beans.

When I was growing up, my mom once made cowboy beans by combining one can each of baked beans, black beans, and kidney beans. If I remember correctly, she served them with kielbasa and definitely with cornbread. We liked it and we definitely would not have liked the addition of onions or anything else. Nowadays baked beans are a little sweet for me and I love onions, so I made my own version of cowboy beans. And the combination of red kidney and black beans still say “cowboy” to me. Just imagine yourself eating these from a tin plate next to a campfire in the middle of the prairie/desert and you’ll understand the cowboy moniker. Here’s the quick version:

Quick Cowboy Beans

When you buy bacon, divide it up into those little snack-sized ziplock baggies and stick them in the freezer. Not convenient for making fried bacon, but super-convenient for cooking. This really is a super-quick dinner and takes less than a half hour if you’re a fast onion chopper.

2 slices bacon, finely chopped or julienned (optional, but replace with oil for onions)
1 large onion, chopped or sliced
smoked Spanish paprika (at least a teaspoon)
cayenne pepper (a few shakes, or however much your palate likes)
1 can black beans, drained
1 can kidney beans, drained

In a large skillet, cook the bacon and onion together over medium heat until the bacon is cooked through and the onions are translucent. If there is excess oil, drain it off, then add the spices and stir to coat the onions. Then add the drained beans and cook until well heated.

Even prettier dried beans soaking.

Slow Cowboy Beans

These are perfect for when you are spending the whole day at home. It also makes a lot more beans, so feel free to cut the recipe in half if you want, but you can always freeze the extras. Or have a cowboy bean party. Note the addition of salt here. Canned beans are generally pre-salted, so dried beans need a lot of salt to taste good to most people. (Hint: if you want to be sneakily healthy, add chopped collard greens or kale – frozen works fine. Add them when you first start cooking the beans for super-soft, invisible greens. When you add the onions for more prominent greens.)

1 cup dried black turtle beans (freshest possible)
1 cup dried red kidney beans (freshest possible)
1 large onion, coarsely chopped or sliced
smoked Spanish paprika
cayenne pepper
ground black pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
sliced kielbasa (optional)

Rinse and sort through beans for any broken or discolored ones. Discard rejects. Put beans in cooking pot and cover with water. Soak until skins are wrinkled all the way through, or 5-6 hours (or overnight). Drain beans and add water to cover by an inch. Add spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer very gently for an hour, stirring occasionally to make sure they’re not sticking to the bottom. If they seem dry, add a little more water as they cook. Then add chopped onion, tomato paste, and salt to taste. Continue cooking until beans are of desired doneness/thickness. Add sliced kielbasa at the very end (if using) and cook until kielbasa is heated through.

Even prettier drained. I think this is why I like Cowboy Beans so much - they are gorgeous!

Cowboy Bean Tacos

In Mexico, tacos are generally not covered in cheese, lettuce, tomato, and gobs of sour cream. Instead they are usually small tortillas filled with cooked meat and topped with a little chopped raw onion, fresh lime, and chile sauce. We like them both ways, but compromised for this style of delicious taco. The key is in the fresh “salsa,” which I call Quick Pickled Tomato and Onion Salsa.

flour or corn tortillas, any size
cowboy beans to fill
quick pickled tomato and onion salsa
sour cream

Fill each tortilla with beans, then top with salsa and sour cream to taste. Devour.

Quick Pickled Tomato and Onion Salsa

I normally use all yellow storage onions for this, but you can substitute white onions or red. The lemon juice removes some of the “spicy” flavors of raw onion. You could use lime juice if you wanted. This recipe makes a quart, which will keep well in the fridge. Feel free to halve it.

2 large, perfectly ripe garden tomatoes (or any kind of delicious garden tomato)
1 medium yellow onion (appx. 1 cup chopped)
1 medium red onion (appx. 1 cup chopped)
fresh or bottled lemon juice

Slice tomatoes into bite-sized chunks and add to a medium-sized bowl. Finely mince or chop onions and add to bowl. Pour lemon juice over salsa, filling bowl about halfway up the mound of veggies (about a cup and a half). Toss to coat, then put in quart jar and screw on lid. Let marinate, shaking occasionally, for at least an hour before serving. Use to top tacos for a crunchy, citrusy salsa.

This is one of our favorite ways to eat tacos. The only thing better is using leftover roasted chicken sauteed in bacon grease with black beans and onion instead of the cowboy beans.

You can also eat Cowboy Beans as they are (especially when served with homemade corn bread), serve them over white or brown rice, or add some water or chicken stock (or ham stock) to turn them into soup. They would probably also make really good chip dip if you mashed them up a little. Baked sweet potatoes, fried white potatoes, baked squash, collard greens, corn on the cob, and/or salted sliced tomatoes would also be delicious side dishes to serve with cowboy beans.

Some of you may be wondering why I don’t have pictures of the finished products? Well, there is one very good reason for this – Cowboy Beans make us so hungry, we eat them all before we can sneak pictures. 😉

How do you like to eat tacos, dear readers?

3 Responses to “Cowboy Beans, Quick and Slow”
  1. Yummm. And those do look so pretty together.
    I dusted off the slow cooker this week and am using it to cook dishes with dried beans. Made black-eyed peas with bacon, red peppers, and jalapenos tonight. The bacon was expensive (organic, uncured), but the peas were so cheap. I think the pot probably cost about $9, yielding 6 or 7 generous servings. Put over brown rice. Happy day!

  2. Hey there, You’ve done an incredible job. I’ll certainly
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