Califonia Bountiful
Main Dish

Vegetarian cowboy beans

Here's a fun recipe for beans with a surprise ingredient that will perk up your taste buds! It's a favorite of San Francisco chef Carlo Espinas.

Chef Carlo Espinas
Comstock Saloon, San Francisco

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1 bunch spring onions or green onions
1/4 cup olive oil, divided use
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 head garlic
1 bunch oregano and 2 bay leaves, bundled with string
Pinch of chili flakes
4 cups pinquito beans or other dried beans, ideally soaked overnight or at least 4 hours (see note)
12 oz. canned tomato (roasted tomato if available)
1 cup ketchup
1 cup ground coffee, steeped in 1 cup hot water
Hot sauce or pepper vinegar, to taste


Brush onions with 1 tbsp. of the olive oil and season to taste. Roast on a grill and get some char on them. If a grill is not available, use your broiler. It's important to turn the onions frequently so they do not burn in one place. The goal is to get everything nicely roasted with some black edges.

Break garlic into individual cloves, but leave skin on. Add remaining olive oil to a large, thick-bottomed pot and set the heat to medium. As the oil is heating up, add garlic. Slowly stir to brown garlic slowly for 8 to 10 minutes or until it becomes a light caramel color. If it's cooking too quickly, lower the heat. When done, remove garlic from the pot and pop the cloves out of their skins. Return garlic cloves to the pot with herbs and chili flakes and sauté for 1 minute.

Add beans, roasted onions, tomato and ketchup. Strain coffee and add to beans. I like to reserve 1 tbsp. of the grounds and add that to the beans, too. (If you use more, it becomes too gritty.)

Top beans with water, covering by 3 to 4 inches. (Optional: Drizzle a few tbsp. olive oil in at this point.) Start beans at medium heat. Once some bubbles begin to slowly stream up from the bottom, reduce to low-medium. Cook beans in a steady simmer. If they boil too fast, the beans will split.

The beans take about 1 1/2 to 2 hours to cook. Season with salt about three-quarters of the way in to cooking. Check the heat level occasionally.

At the end of the cook time, taste the beans and the bean liquid. If the bean liquid is seasoned and the beans are not, keep them on a low simmer and then taste again. With these beans, I like adding a few dashes of hot sauce or pepper vinegar to get that sharp flavor and a bit of heat.  Remove bun of herbs before serving.

Note: As for the type of beans, you really can use your favorite kind. Lately, I've been into pinquito beans, but pinto beans also work well.

Serves 4 to 6

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