Petrana’s Meatless Pinto Beans
(The Copper Hills variant is this recipe plus the stuff at the bottom!)
Petrana was my Dad’s mother. She came to the U.S. in 1901 — through Ellis Island. When she and her husband, Elia, landed, they were met by a man that spoke Montenegrin and he gave them tickets to go to Montana where a job was waiting for them. For the entire time on the train, they only ate ham and eggs, because that was the only thing that Elia could speak in English.
Elia worked in the mines around Helena for a few years until 1908, when he heard about a large masonry dam being built in Arizona. Elia was a trained stone mason, and he moved to Miami, Arizona to work on Roosevelt Dam. When the dam was finished, he settled in Miami and began working at the Miamii Copper Company as a Blacksmith. He built up enough money to purchase a boarding house where Petrana fed her family of four children plus boarders, and Elia worked in the mines and distilled Loza Rokeya, which is basically grappa, a family recipe that is still made on our family farm back in Spuz, Montenegro, to this day.
Mines didn’t pay that well, and having to pinch pennies and feed children and boarders, Petrana melded a bean recipe from the old country and implemented it with the local beans that were available — Pinto. Good old cowboy/Mexican Pinto beans. In what is an early form of Native American/Mediterranean fusion cuisine, here is Petrana’s “meatless” bean reciipe, which now nearly 100 years old:
Cover the beans with water overnight and soak them. Don’t skip this step.
- 1 pound of Pinto Beans
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1/3 cup of Olive Oil
- 3 Cups of water
- 1 large white onion, chopped into slivers
- 5 cloves of garlic finely chopped
- 5 tomatoes, chopped (this is a “home-style dish”, so only peel and seed if you want).
- 1 big bell pepper, chopped
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp dried oregano
This is similar to a lot of bean recipes, but this is the way it was written down for us so it’s near and dear to my heart. Melt and brown the butter in pot, adding the onions and let them simmer until about halfway to clear. Add the Olive Oil and peppers and let them cook down. Add the garlic, then the tomatoes as they all become cooked (tomatoes cook pretty fast so you need to add them last. Finally add the salt, pepper, cumin and oregano. Everything should be getting nice an cooked in the bottom of the pot — don’t let anything burn, drop the fire to warm, toss in the beans and then the three cups of water.
Bring everything to a boil, then drop it down so it is just under — cook until the beans are done. This should take the better part of 3-4 hours. If you want, put it in a Crock Pot and let it cook for 8-10 hours. This is an all-day deal. They won’t go bad, or get over-cooked as long as you keep them covered with water.
Copper Hills Style
- Throw in a big friggin’ ham hock in there. Not meatless, but really brings in some great flavor. Remove after cooking.
- Add 1 tsp of Tarragon
- That’s it.
Additions or Alternatives —
- Throw in some julienned green chiles. My faves are Big Jim’s from New Mexico. Go on, be brave and enjoy.
- Add more herbs like thyme, tarragon, chervil or whatever you like. Don’t get too crazy or you lose the bean taste in the mix.
- Beer is a good substitute for water