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?