I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Charro Beans

I’ll be honest, I don’t actually know the history of Cinco de Mayo, I just know it’s a perfect excuse for a slap-up Mexican meal, and that is always a good thing.  And there is something so friendly and communal about a Mexican feast.  It’s a great way to gather friends and family, its interactive eating that everyone can enjoy. So for your own celebration, serve up some Smoky Beef Tacos or Green Chicken Chilaquiles, along with a side of Charro Beans.  Start your party off with some Green Chile Cheese Puffs.  And of course, don’t forget the Fresh Citrus Margaritas!

I have found some gorgeous red kidney beans at my local Latin/Asian/Caribbean/Middle Eastern supermarket from Guatemala called Frijol Pilay, but look for any dark burgundy, plump beans. Epazote is a popular dried herb in Mexican cooking, and I have been told that not only does it improve the flavors of beans, it aids in their digestion – and some of the impolite side affects. You’ll find it in the herb and spice section of Latin markets, but I pick it up at Penzey’s.  Mexican oregano has a more distinct flavor than standard (usually Turkish) oregano and is worth having around if you cook a lot of Latin dishes. My favorite restautant charro beans come with diced pieces of jalapeno floating in the broth, but I prefer a halved, cleaned pepper in to flavor the cooking liquid, instead of biting into pieces.  Do what you like, and add another pepper if you like it spicy.

Mexican chorizo is a soft, well-seasoned sausage (Spanish chorizo is hard and dry).  I buy freshly prepared at the Latin market, but it is readily available at many grocery stores.  It can range from mild to spicy, and if it’s labeled, choose mild so you can monitor your own flavor level.

Charro Beans

3 cups dried red kidney beans

1 small onion, diced

1 teaspoon epazote (optional)

1 teaspoon Mexican oregano

1 jalapeno pepper, stem, seeds and ribs removed

5 cloves garlic

Handful cilantro (stems and leaves)

1 pound fresh Mexican chorizo, casings removed if necessary

6 strips bacon, cut into small pieces

Sort through the beans and pick out any that are shriveled or imperfect.  Soak the dried beans in 6 cups of water, uncovered, overnight. The next day, drain the beans, rinse well and place in the crock of a large slow-cooker.  Add 6 cups of water, the diced onion, epazote, oregano, jalapeno pepper and garlic cloves and stir well.  Cover the crock and turn the pot to high, 6 hour setting.

When the beans are halfway cooked (3 hours), sauté the chorizo until brown, breaking it up into small pieces.  Remove to a heavy layer of paper towels on a plate to drain using a slotted spoon.  Drain off the oil, then sauté the bacon pieces until crispy.  Remove the bacon to paper towels to drain.  Pat the chorizo to remove as much grease as possible.  With a good chorizo, it will be bright red, so try not to stain your clothes.  Add the chorizo and bacon to the beans in the slow cooker, stir, replace the cover and continue cooking until the beans are tender.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can cook the soaked beans in a large Dutch oven over low-heat for 2 – 3 hours until tender.  Check the beans occasionally and stir to prevent scorching on the bottom, adding water as needed.

Serves 8- 10

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