Forget tacos and celebrate Cinco de Mayo with some Charro Beans (Frijoles Charros) cooked in the Instant Pot and served alongside some carne asada, grilled Mexican street corn, fresh tortillas, and horchata for a delicious and culturally authentic Mexican food experience at home!
Charro Beans (Frijoles Charros)
I have had a major love of Mexican food ever since I was little and started requesting my mom’s homemade shredded beef chimichangas every year for my birthday dinner. My first job was at a Mexican restaurant, and I cook Mexican food more often than almost any other cuisine at our house.
That’s in part because both of our daughters have a fairly significant portion of their genetic make-up that is hispanic. I’ve mentioned before that our family was built through adoption. A few years ago we did dna testing on all of us to find out our genetic backgrounds and the results were so fascinating that I got inspired to start exploring some of the foods of cultures that we come from as a way of building a shared family history and embracing our past.
Along those lines I have made grilled chicken shawarma wraps from the Middle East, Dublin coddle (and many other recipes) from Ireland, sauerkraut & sausages from Germany, and many other Mexican dishes. I don’t always bring it up, but chances are, when I’m attempting something and striving for authenticity in the recipe, I’m thinking of one of our heritages in the process and using food to connect us to our past.
I just love how food can help us understand and explore the world like that! Incidentally, I highly recommend dna testing for anyone through a service like ancestry.com or 23andme.com. I’m not being sponsored or using affiliate links for those sites, it’s just something that I’m super glad we did and think everybody would enjoy learning more about themselves.
So although I would like to claim that this is an authentic Mexican charro beans recipe, I acknowledge that I’m just a mom doing her best to create connections and foster a sense of identity for her daughters by attempting to cook and use flavors from a cuisine that isn’t necessarily my own personal background. Fortunately, there are lots of resources both on and offline to help me in my quest for authenticity.
Why do Americans Celebrate Cinco de Mayo?
I promise to get to the recipe (you can always use the “jump to recipe” buttons at the top of each post to go straight there if you ever feel like it) but the nerd in me has questions that needed answering first! Like why do we celebrate Cinco de Mayo in the United States?
Most Americans think Cinco de Mayo is celebrating Mexican Independence Day, but that is actually the 16th of September, not May 5th! Cinco de Mayo is actually very much a true Mexican-American holiday!
While you can read even more detail about it here, the real reason for Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the United States goes back to the American Civil War and a concurrent conflict in 1862 in Mexico with the French! On May 5, 1862 in Puebla, Mexico a battle occurred between the outnumbered Mexican army and the reputedly superior French forces in a larger conflict that lasted for years. See, Mexico had borrowed heavily from France in previous years and France had sent troops to Mexico to reclaim it, while really seeking to expand France’s influence and give them a foothold in Mexico to support the Confederate Army in the U.S., which France knew would mean a weaker, divided U.S.A. and more opportunities for French control.
Had France won the Battle of Puebla, it would have had a chance to help the Confederacy in the American Civil War, which they seemed to be winning. Instead, Mexico’s victory became a turning point by holding off France, giving the Union forces a chance to make advances that ultimately saved the United States.
Cinco de Mayo was actually first celebrated by Latinos in California in 1863, the year following the battle, with parades, people dressed in Civil War uniforms and speeches about how the Battle of Puebla fit in with the larger narrative of the abolition of slavery. But it eventually became more of a celebration of Mexican identity and we continue to celebrate it much like we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S.A. – with the emphasis on food, culture, and traditions of the originating country but with very little historical knowledge of the significance of the date.
What are Charro Beans?
Charro beans, also known as frijoles charros or “cowboy beans”, got their name from the Mexican cowboys who ate them. They are a traditional Mexican side dish that seem to have originated in Northern Mexico and are made by cooking dried pinto beans long and slow until soft, but not mushy, with ingredients like onion, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, and meat (usually bacon, but occasionally ham, sausage, and chorizo).
There is a variation on charro beans known as borrachos beans, which is essentially the same recipe, just with Mexican beer added to the charro beans (borracho means “drunk” in Spanish).
How to Make Pressure Cooker Charro Beans
While you could absolutely make this easy charro beans recipe in a slow cooker or on the stovetop by adding a little extra water and soaking the beans overnight beforehand, I really wanted to use my Instant Pot for them so I didn’t have to plan ahead.
I got my Instant Pot a couple of months ago and have been experimenting with it here and there, with varying degrees of success. But this is the first pressure cooker recipe that I feel ready to share here on the blog since cooking pinto beans in the pressure cooker is so much faster than on the stovetop or slow cooker and they turned out amazing! It’s hugely rewarding to take a recipe that would normally take at least 8-10 hours and have them ready from start to finish in about 1 hour 15 minutes of total cooking time.
To make these charro beans in the pressure cooker, begin by cooking the bacon in the bottom of the Instant Pot on the sauté setting. When the bacon is almost crispy, add in the onions and garlic and cook for a few minutes more, until the onions begin to soften.
Then, it’s just a matter of adding all of the remaining ingredients and pushing a button! Once the Instant Pot pressurizes, the beans only take 30 minutes to cook, followed by about 30-45 minutes for the pressure to release on its own.
- 1/2 pound bacon, chopped (about 8 slices)
- 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound dried pinto beans
- 3 cups water
- 2 cups beef broth
- 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chilies
- 1 jalapeno, minced with seeds removed (optional)
- 1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
- 2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 3/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- In the Instant Pot using the sauté setting, cook the chopped bacon until crispy. Add the onions and garlic, and cook until the onions are softened. I don't drain the bacon grease because I think it adds to the flavor of the charro beans, but if there is a lot of it, you can drain most of it before adding the onions, leaving just a little to cook the onions in.
- Add all of the remaining ingredients to the bacon, onions, and garlic, then secure the lid and change the setting to high pressure (my Instant Pot has a button for "beans/chili" that I press and set to "Normal") for 30 minutes.
- When the time is up, allow the pressure cooker to do a complete natural release before removing the lid. It will take about 30-45 minutes.
If making in the slow cooker, follow the same approach by cooking the bacon, onions, and garlic first in a pan, then add the remaining ingredients plus one additional cup of water and cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5 hours. There is no need to soak the beans if using the slow cooker approach, but if you DO want to soak them overnight beforehand first, they will cook in 5-7 hours on low instead of 8-10.
Adapted from Five Heart Home.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 260 Saturated Fat: 3g Cholesterol: 14mg Sodium: 806mg Carbohydrates: 29g Fiber: 7g Sugar: 1g Protein: 13g