Mexican-Style Layered Tortillas and Pinto Beans

In many cultures, especially among the poorer people, meat is often used as a seasoning rather than as the main ingredient in a dish. In this recipe, adapted from Williams-Sonoma Vegetarian (Oxmoor House, Menlo Park, CA 2005), I use a bit of bacon to add smoky flavor to an otherwise vegetarian dish (you could, of course, just leave out the bacon) that resembles nachos but without the fried tortillas. You could use canned beans for this recipe but freshly cooked just taste better.


8 ounces dried pinto beans

1 slice thick-cut bacon, about 1 ounce

1 pound fresh tomatoes or a 28 ounce can diced tomatoes

1 Anaheim or bell pepper

1 cayenne or other medium hot pepper, optional

2 onions, chopped

3 or 4 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

1 Tbsp. salt-free chile powder

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 Tbsp. dried oregano, preferably Mexican

Salt and pepper

6 to 8 corn tortillas

8 ounces grated Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese (I use extra-sharp Cheddar)

2 pickled Jjalapeños, sliced


Rinse the beans and pick over carefully to remove any stone or other debris. Put into a 4-quart pressure cooker and cover with water by 1 inch. Cook at 15 psi for 20 minutes after weight begins to jiggle. Cool according to manufacture’s instructions. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid. Alternatively, you can cook the beans conventionally for about an hour or so.

Bring a small pan of water to a boil. Drop in the tomatoes, a few at a time, and boil for about 30 seconds. Allow to cool and then peel. Halve and scrape out the seeds. Dice and set aside.

Char the peppers under a hot broiler, over a gas burner, or, as I do, with a plumber’s torch. Wrap loosely in a kitchen towel and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Rub off the charred skin, cut in half lengthwise, and remove the seed and ribs. Dice and set aside.

Coarsely chop the bacon and cook in a large, 12 inch, non-stick fry pan until the fat is rendered out and it begins to brown. Add the onions, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and a large pinch of salt, about 1 tsp. Cook, stirring, until the onions begin to soften and the tomatoes begin to give off their liquid. Add the chile powder, cumin, oregano, and a good grind of black pepper. Stir to combine. Add the beans and two cups of their cooking liquid. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for about 20 minutes.

Put one third of the bean mixture in an 8 by 13 inch baking dish. Cover with tortillas, overlapping. Put another third of the beans on top of the tortillas along with about a quarter of the cheese.  Add another layer of tortillas, the rest of the beans, and the rest of the cheese. Top with the sliced jalapeños. Bake in a 350° oven (325° for convection) for about 20 minutes or until warmed though and bubbly. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, guacamole, or both.

Serves 4 to 6


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