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Vegan Charro Beans Recipe (aka Vegan Cowboy Beans): The Best Food You’ve Never Tasted!
If you’ve never heard of charro beans, welcome to the best thing you’ve never tasted. I’m being serious. This vegan charro beans recipe needs to be on your vegan recipe shortlist. They’re creamy and spicy and richly flavorful. And, because this is a vegan charro beans recipe, they’re also good for you!
What Makes Charro Beans So Special?
Honestly, it’s the pinto beans. Nothing beats a slow-cooked pinto bean. The bacon flavoring (which I veganized for you) doesn’t hurt either.
I’ll admit it though. I’m a bit of a pinto bean newbie. Until recently, I always viewed pinto beans as an outlier. As in – Sigh. Sure, I’ll have pinto beans since that’s all you’ve got — when Chipotle was sold out of black beans. Rest assured though, I have since been awakened to the delicacy that is pinto beans.
My discovery of pinto beans was a product of Covid-19. That day when (I’m a little ashamed to admit) I bought several bags of dried beans whether I recognized the variety or not. Naturally, the shelves were cleaned of black beans and lentils. Adzuki, pinto beans and black-eyed peas could still be obtained, however. And really, what better time to learn how to cook something new?
What Are Pinto Beans?
Pinto beans – or frijole pinto in Spanish – translates to speckled bean. Pinto beans are reddish, light brown in color and they are, indeed, speckled.
If you’ve had refried beans you’ve most likely had pinto beans. Refried beans, despite their misleading moniker, are not refried pinto beans. Rather, refried beans are slow-cooked pinto beans that are then mashed into a thick paste. Pinto beans are also included in many chili recipes, alongside black beans and kidney beans. If you find yourself on a pinto bean kick after trying this vegan charro bean recipe, be sure to check out my Vegan Refried Beans!
What makes pinto beans so special is the soft, buttery texture that they take on when they’re cooked. And the aroma! Oh wow! If you’re home while you’re slowing cooking pinto beans, watch out! You will be hungry all day long.
Are Vegan Charro Beans Good for You?
They are! These vegan charro beans are good for you because pinto beans are good for you. And, aside from pinto beans, this recipe has little else. Yes, there is some oil and a little salt and sugar for flavoring. But, beans rule the day here.
Pinto beans are loaded with fiber and are a good source of vegan protein. They contain a high amount of thiamine, iron and magnesium as well. Pinto beans are low in fat and, because of all of that fiber, they’re a great nutrient-dense way to fill up. Not to mention how good fiber is for your digestive health.
Charro Beans vs Refried Beans
Cowboy beans and charro beans are actually the same thing. Charro is the Spanish word for cowboy.
Legend has it that beans — because of their light weight, filling properties and low cost – were a staple in the Southwest American cowboy’s diet. Of course, upon reading that, my imagination conjured up images of cowboys gathered round the fire at night eating bowls of beans after a hard day on the trail. What can I say? Lonesome Dove is one of my favorite books.
Further research tells me that this romantic notion may or may not be true. Whether cowboy beans were ever a turn of the century staple isn’t quite clear. I have to wish though, that the cowboys of yesterday really were consuming copious amounts of charro beans each night. I want that for them. They really are that good.
Coming Up with a Vegan Charro Bean Recipe
The only real stumbling block to making vegan charro beans (or vegetarian charro beans for that matter) is to replace the bacon that flavors the pinto beans as they cook. Luckily, a vegan substitution for bacon is something that I’ve perfected (my words). Even I can admit that bacon adds something to a dish that shouldn’t be omitted altogether.
The solution is really quite simple. Bacon — at least in my memory — is salt and fat with just a hint of smoke and a little bit of maple. So, to recreate those flavors, I have developed a “vegan bacon sauce” which consists of tamari, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and smoked paprika. The fat comes from olive oil, which is added earlier in the recipe.
How to Make My Vegan Charro Bean Recipe
These vegan charro beans start with one pound of dried pinto beans. The beans are soaked overnight to reduce the cooking time and then adding to my multi-cooker (a fancier version of a crockpot) to slow cook all day.
Before I add the beans though, I first slow-cook a diced yellow onion on low heat in some olive oil. Then I add garlic, jalapeno, cumin & chili powder and toast them until they are fragrant. The vegan bacon sauce gets added next, followed by 6 cups of water and to bay leaves. Then I let them go, checking them periodically to add more water if necessary.
Making Vegan Cowboy Beans with Canned Beans (& a Quick-Start Method for Dried Pinto Beans JIC)
It’s not always easy to remember to soak dried beans the night before. If you forget, you can quick-start the beans. To do this, add 8 cups of water + 2 tsp of baking soda and the dried pinto beans to a large pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a low simmer. Allow the beans to simmer for 1 hour, then drain and rinse the beans before adding them to the crockpot in accordance with the recipe below.
Want to make this recipe with canned beans? To do that, forego the crock pot and make the entire recipe in a large stockpot instead. Drain and rinse 2, 15 oz cans of pinto beans and add them in accordance with the recipe below. Instead of 8 cups of water, add just enough water to barely cover the beans. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce it to a low simmer. Allow the beans to simmer for at least 30 minutes until they are soft.
How to Serve Vegan Cowboy Beans
I’m not sure that there’s a wrong way to serve vegan cowboy beans. I’ve added them to my vegan nachos and used them as a topping for vegan tostadas. I’ve also eaten them plain (note: plain describes only that they lacked an accompanying dish. There is nothing plain about charro beans).
Do You Love This Vegan Charro Beans Recipe?
Do you love this vegan cowboy beans recipe? Then be sure to check out other Southwestern-inspired vegan recipes! If you’re into savory, spicy fare, then my Black Bean & Sweet Potato Enchiladas are for you! Soup more your speed? Then you’ll love my Southwest Black Bean Soup!
These easy, healthy vegan enchiladas feature a black bean and sweet potato filling wrapped in soft corn tortillas and smothered in a creamy cashew cream sauce for the ultimate vegan-friendly casserole dish. Topped with chopped fresh tomatoes, avocado slices and pickled red onions, this vegan enchilada recipe will add a spicy new addition to your vegan recipe collection!
If you’re in need of an easy and healthy vegan dinner, you need to add this Southwest Black Bean Soup to your repertoire! This soup takes just 20 minutes to put together and then 30 minutes to sit undisturbed to simmer on the stove. It’s simple, using mostly pantry-friendly ingredients, but still packs a huge punch in terms of flavor and nutrition.
What’s in My Kitchen to Make This Vegan Charro Beans Recipe Easier?
Want to know what tools and resources I keep on hand to make my vegan cooking even easier? Here’s a short list of what helped me create this blog post and recipe. For the complete list, visit my Shop where you can find the kitchen gadgets I like as well as a list of books that I recommend.
This garlic peeler is a simple silicon tube. Despite its simple design, it skillfully removes even the toughest of garlic skins. I’m so much happier not peeling garlic cloves with my fingernails. I’m pretty sure I’ll collectively get at least a day of my life back because of this device.
I’ve read a dozen posts about why you shouldn’t use a garlic press. One of them actually suggested that they take up valuable kitchen space. I mean, I guess if you have a tiny kitchen you might have to make those choices. They’re smaller than a can opener. I love mine. I hate, hate, hate mincing garlic.
No, that’s not the brand. It’s just the idea! But, I own this set of Global™ knives and They’re some of my most prized possessions in the kitchen. This set is universally well-rated for the at-home chef and will get you a good, solid set of knives without totally breaking the bank.
A couple of years ago, I replaced my traditional crockpot with this multi cooker. I love this thing. It has settings for sautéing, simmering, braising, boiling and warming (among others). It’s one-pot, slow cooking at its finest. I sauté my onions and garlic, then bring my broth to a boil, reduce it to a simmer and low, slow cook it all afternoon. All in one device.
Vegan Charro Beans Recipe
If you’ve never heard of charro beans, welcome to the best thing you’ve never tasted! Seriously! This vegan charro beans recipe needs to be on your vegan recipe shortlist. Charro beans, aka cowboy beans, are pinto beans slow-cooked with some heavenly seasonings. My recipe calls for dried beans in a crockpot, but you can also adapt it to canned beans on the stovetop.
- 2 cups dried pinto beans see Recipe Notes for canned beans adaptation
- 1/4 cup tamari
- 1 tbsp pure maple syrup
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion diced
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 cloves garlic minced or pressed
- 1 jalapeno washed, deseeded and diced
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1/2 tbsp chili powder
- 6 cups water + additional water, as necessary
- 2 bay leaves
- cilantro washed and torn, as optional garnishment
- jalapeno washed and sliced, as optional garnishment
- fresh ground pepper to taste
Soak the dried beans overnight in a large bowl. Cover the beans with at least 4 inches of fresh water, as they will expand considerably. See Recipe Notes for instructions on quick-starting dried beans or making this recipe with canned beans.
The next morning, drain and rinse the beans.
Combine the tamari, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and smoked paprika in a small bowl. Set aside.
Add the olive oil to a medium-sized skillet and heat until shimmering. Add the diced onion and salt and reduce the heat to medium-low. Allow the onions to cook slowly until they start to brown. About 12-15 minutes.
Add the garlic, jalapeno,cumin and chili powder. Increase the heat to medium and sauté with the onions for 1-2 minutes. Be careful not to burn the garlic.
Add the tamari mixture. Cook the combined ingredients, stirring periodically, to allow the tamari mixture to reduce slightly. 2-3 minutes.
Add the tamari mixture, pinto beans, water and bay leaves to the crockpot. Set the crockpot on Slow Cook Highand allow the beans to cook until they are soft. Check the crockpot periodically to add more water if necessary.
Remove the bay leaves and serve the beans topped with fresh cilantro, jalapeno slices and fresh ground pepper, if desired.
- It’s not always easy to remember to soak dried beans the night before. If you forget, you can quick-start the beans. To do this, add 8 cups of water + 2 tsp of baking soda and the dried pinto beans to a large pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a low simmer. Allow the beans to simmer for 1 hour, then drain and rinse the beans before adding them to the crockpot in accordance with the recipe.
- Want to make this recipe with canned beans? To do that, forego the crockpot and make the entire recipe in a large stockpot instead. Drain and rinse 2 15 oz cans of pinto beans and add them in accordance with the instructions above. Instead of 8 cups of water, add just enough water to barely cover the beans. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce it to a low simmer. Allow the beans to simmer for at least 30 minutes until they are soft.
About Herbivore’s Kitchen
Herbivore’s Kitchen is a plant-based food blog started by me, a vegan home chef, aspiring food photographer and how-to-be-a-better-food-blogger junkie. You’ll mostly find creative and tasty vegan recipes and detailed deep dives into vegan ingredients (check out my Vegucation section) on my blog. I love knowing as much as I can about the food that I make. I’m also really into running a food blog as a business, so I’ve also got a section of my blog titled: Confessions of a Food Blogger where I get into the nitty gritty on how to build, manage, market and monetize a food blog.