frijoles de seda
Frijoles de seda from El Salvador

If you didn’t grow up cooking your own frijoles, (or eating them for that matter), the process can seem intimidating. The closest I came to frijoles growing up was baked beans with hot dogs, or beans from a can for bean salad – an experience far different from Carlos’s, which was eating home-simmered frijoles in some form almost daily.

Beans are a big part of most Latin American culture and cuisine – so much so that there are many Spanish “dichos” (proverbs) that mention them.

Dichos about Frijoles (Beans)

• “Estás como los frijoles: al primer hervor se arrugan”. (“You’re like beans: From the first boil, wrinkled.” Said of those who are easily intimidated.)

• “Comes frijoles y eructas jamón”. (“You eat beans and burp ham.” Refers to people who are of humble origin, but presumed to be rich by others.)

• “Prefiero frijoles con amor que gallina con dolor.” (“I prefer beans with love than chicken with sorrow.”)

• “En política hay que ser como frijoles de olla, a veces abajo, a veces arriba…pero siempre dentro.” (“In politics you have to be like a pot of beans, sometimes down, sometimes up … but always inside.”)

• “A la mejor cocinera se le queman los frijoles.” (“Even the best cook burns the beans” – meaning we all make mistakes.)

• “Con esa carne ni frijoles pido.” (“With this meat, I don’t even ask for beans.” – This is a “piropo” or flirtatious saying a man might say to a woman.)

Learning to Cook Beans

All those beans may have put Carlos off because he isn’t crazy about them – and so, for the first few years of our marriage, I got away with canned beans. Eventually, with Suegra always telling me the canned beans were a “pecado” (sin), I knew I had to learn to cook them.

It took awhile for me to get the hang of it. There were pots of beans that burned, pots of beans that never softened, pots of beans that were tasteless, and even one I forgot I had left soaking that ended up fermenting. While this doesn’t sound encouraging to bean amateurs, it really isn’t that difficult if you know what you’re doing.

While I still keep the “sinful” latas de frijoles in my pantry, I make a pot of beans about once a month and they last as a compliment to several meals. We usually eat them as frijoles molidos or mixed with rice in a Salvadoran dish called “casamiento” (“marriage” in English. Cute name, right?) Sometimes I make black beans but more commonly it’s frijoles de seda – the small red beans loved by Salvadorans. Here are a few Salvadoran dishes that require beans:

little boy eating beans
"Gallo Pinto" is a Central American bean and rice dish similar to "Casamiento."
Image source: Lee Cohen
women making pupusas
There are many varieties of pupusas - Pupusas de frijoles is one of them.
Image source: Andrew Griffith

Other Salvadoran dishes that use frijoles:

• Frijoles Molidos
• Sopa de Frijoles
• Platanos con Frijoles y Crema

Ready to make your own pot of beans? Here’s my method.

RECIPE: Frijoles Salvadoreños (Salvadoran Beans)

You need:

• 1 lb. frijoles de seda (it will say on the packaging. These can be found at Latino markets and look like small kidney beans.)
• 2 green onions, (roots chopped off)
• a few cloves of garlic


1. Pour beans into a large heavy bottomed pot. Sift through and remove any tiny pebbles or shriveled looking beans. Heat beans on stove with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, remove from heat. This is known as a “quick soak.” Leave the beans in the hot water for 1 hour. After the beans have finished soaking, drain the water.

2. Add fresh water that comes an inch above the beans. Return pot to medium heat. Add the green onion ripped into large piece and garlic cloves, (these give the beans flavor.) DO NOT ADD SALT. Adding salt before beans have cooked will keep them hard.

3. Bring to a boil then cover and lower heat so beans simmer. It may take 3-4 hours before beans become sufficiently tender and you must make sure to add water when needed so pot doesn’t cook dry. Remembering to check on the beans is the hardest part for me. If you’re afraid you’ll forget, (and believe me, you don’t want your house to smell like burnt beans), consider setting a kitchen timer for 30 minutes each time you check them. When they’re tender you can add salt to your taste.

Image source: Lee Shaver

If you want to try some variations, know that every family cooks beans differently. People add all kinds of things to the water while the beans simmer: green pepper, chiles, onions, ham, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, garlic, and cilantro seem to be the most popular ingredients in various combinations. Here are a few of the variations my friends use:

“My grandpa used to add patitas de puerco and lots and lots of garlic!”
– Leslie / Cocina de Leslie

“After they are done, I re-fry them with chorizo. Well soyrizo now but the flavor is still there.”
– Ericka / Nibbles and Feasts

“We usually just throw in garlic and maybe a piece of pork.”
– Monique / Blogs By Latinas

Once the beans are cooked you can eat them as is or you can make a lot of other dishes. Here is my recipe for Frijoles Molidos and in time, I’ll be adding more!

How do you make beans?


  1. I am a bean fanatic. I <3 beans and legumes. Lovely recipe.

    Just curious, is using a pressure cooker at all common in Salvadoran cooking?

    • I’ve never met a Salvadoran who uses a pressure cooker, Fatima. (Doesn’t mean there aren’t Salvadorans who use it, but I would assume that means it isn’t common practice.)

      • My Salvadorian boyfriend encourages the pressure cooker…. Only because it means the beans get in his mouth faster. lol

  2. I make them the same way, except when they are done I like to take some out and puree them to thicken the soup and put it over rice.

  3. Hi Tracy. This is Ulysses. I grow up eating beans at home. Well in every hause in El Salvador but You can find them in the rest of Central America, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Cuba. About Suth america they dont eat them too much.

    • I agree that those countries tend to eat more beans than South America – but you can find beans are still popular in some South American countries. Here are some tasty things to look up: A very popular dish in Venezuela is Pabellón Criollo which has black beans. Peruvians eat Shambar (a beans soup), and Brazilians eat Feijoada… Now I’m hungry! :)

  4. I was just like you when I first got married! I had no idea how to make them and my husband needed to eat them at every meal. I grew up thinking beans came from a can…they do, right!? Anyway, after 8 years of marriage, I’m a bean expert and make a pot at least once a week, sometimes twice. I’m proud to say that both of my kids’ first foods were my fried beans :).

    • Wow – twice a week! You’ve got me beat, Heather.

      My boys’ first food was rice cereal but they both love beans so I’m happy :)

  5. I love your blog!! It’s great how you make a post about beans so interesting.

    I was never a bean lover growing up…similar experience to you…baked beans from a can was about it. I remember gagging at some three bean salad once…and slowly finishing a plate of rice and beans I ate at a Puerto Rican friend’s house once…I was the last one done and so embarrassed. Now I like beans. I use them a lot in different dishes, but always from a can. I tried once to cook the bagged ones and they never got soft. I’ll have to try your way and see what happens. (I have lots of bags of beans in my cupboard that I never use because I always think I’m going to cook them from scratch one day….they usually end up in my little boy’s sensory bins!)

    My husband and I have a similar story about soup. I always ate soup from a can growing up (Chicken and Stars)…I don’t remember my parents EVER cooking a soup from scratch….and my husband said they ALWAYS had a soup from scratch every day in Bolivia. Now, I’m a pretty good soup cooker and wonder why we never did it before?

    • Thanks, Susan! I couldn’t believe I had so much to say about BEANS – lol! … If you try to make some from scratch, let me know how they turn out.

      As for soup – similar experience here. (Yum! Chicken and stars! Haven’t had that forever.) … My mother did make soups and stews from scratch sometimes so it wasn’t a totally foreign concept, but Americans definitely love their canned soups, too.

      I bet you have some really delicious Bolivian soups! Have you ever shared any of the recipes on your blog?

  6. do you put baking powder in your beans when you soak them? I can make both beans and rice about twenty different ways. Which is good b/c I eat them everyday at least once. My fave is red rice, made with morrones, not jitomates, with pintos cooked with a chunk of bacon and cebolla, cilantro, ajo, y chiles anchos, guajillo, nuevo mexicos, whatever red chiles I have at the moment.

    I am making some salvadoreño style today, from your post! Thanks!

    • No baking powder – I’ve never heard of that!

      Oh wow – your recipe sounds really flavorful. Hope the Salvadoran-style beans come out for you :)

  7. Hi Tracy,

    I am a long time reader, (first time commenting). This is off topic, but whatever happened with your mother in law?

  8. Thank you for responding.

    And to answer your questions, yes, I read that entry. In fact that was the last time that you mentioned her until now. You should write another entry about your suegra for all of us who are interested in everything you write.

    I love your blog,

  9. Thank you, this was very helpful. My husband grew up eating frijoles in El Salvador and loves when his mom cooked them. My family is from Guam and I grew up in the Bay Area, so I never made beans. I decided I would try and make them for him, and they turned out great thanks to your article. I look forward to seeing more of your recipes.

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