A traditional method for preparing Mexican black beans…the beans are soaked overnight, then cooked with onion and epazote in a clay pot for authentic central Mexican flavor. These frijoles de la olla are so creamy and flavorful, you won’t want to make Mexican black beans any other way!
A traditional method for Mexican black beans
I know that beans can be a bit contentious…to soak or not to soak, to salt early or when fully cooked…Many of you may say that I don’t know beans about beans, and maybe I don’t. But here, I am sharing with you the old-school central Mexican method of making beans. It’s the way I finally learned how to make beans from scratch.
I am talking overnight soak and slow simmered for several hours in a clay pot until the beans are soft and creamy.
This is my mother-in-law’s method, mashed up with Mexican cooking expert Diana Kennedy’s tips, and straight-up pueblo-style home cooking that most Mexican señoras have learned from their mothers and their mother’s mothers. This is a technique that I have witnessed, having lived in Mexico for several years and being able to watch Mexican home cooks in action.
This recipe is simple and a staple at my house for an everyday side dish or to make delicious enfrijoladas, or black bean tamales. We make these beans almost every week, because, well, when you live in Mexico, you eat a lot of beans.
What’s in Mexican frijoles negros?
- dried black beans
- white onion
- epazote (find this in Mexican markets or order online)
Be sure to check the recipe card for the full ingredient quantities!
Substitutions or variations
Add other seasonings for flavor
These beans are deliciously simple just the way they are. But if you are looking for more flavor, try adding in other seasonings like garlic cloves, black pepper, or cumin. Sometimes beans in Mexico are cooked with chiles to give extra flavor and spice. You could use canned chipotles, or fresh jalapeño or serrano peppers. Dried chiles like árbol or ancho are also used in some regions.
Oils and fats
We are used to making our beans with a drizzle of oil added to the water. I usually use vegetable oil, but you could use olive oil or another type of oil if you wish.
A more traditional preparation would be to use lard instead of the oil. But if you are looking to make your beans vegan, then oil is the way to go.
The oil helps to keep the beans from foaming up while they are cooking. Plus it makes the beans creamier, in my experience.
If you are trying to reduce fat in your diet, you could cook these without any oil or lard at all.
Epazote is an herb often used with black beans in central Mexico. We use this herb fresh in our black beans, but you could also use a dried version if that is what you have available to you. If you can’t find epazote or prefer to use something else, you could use a bay leaf, thyme, marjoram, or fresh cilantro instead.
How to Make Mexican Black Beans from Scratch (Frijoles de la Olla)
With just a few tips, beans are surprisingly easy to master. This is the way I make beans in Mexico.
Clean and soak
First, sort the dry beans to remove any small stones, dirt clumps, or debris. Next, rinse well, place beans in a large bowl, and let them soak overnight in water that is at least double their volume (i.e. if you are making 3 cups of dried beans, soak in at least 6 cups of water). I usually just eyeball the water level and don’t worry about measuring this out exactly. You want the beans to be covered by at least a few inches of water so they have room to expand.
The age of the bean is going to affect how hard the bean is and therefore, the cooking time. I buy my beans at the market and don’t have a handy “harvested on” or “good by” date on a bag, so I err on the side of caution and soak.
I have successfully made beans with and without soaking, but I have found that soaked beans seem to cook faster and result in a creamier, more pleasant texture when finished…just my personal preference.
To cook the beans, add the black beans and the soaking water to a clay (or metal) pot and heat on the stove. Add a few chunks of onion and a drizzle of oil (or lard). Check that the water in your pot covers the beans by about 4 inches. Add warm water as needed to achieve this amount.
I like to set a bowl filled with water over the opening of my clay pot for 2 reasons: the bowl keeps the water from evaporating too quickly, serving as a type of lid, and the water in the bowl is heated by the steam and can easily be added to the beans, as needed.
You will need to check the black beans occasionally, scraping any foam from the top of the water, adjusting the heat to maintain a simmer, and/or adding warm water as necessary. Mexican señoras will tell you to never add cold water to beans while they are cooking, as the beans will seize up. So, keep warm water handy while your beans are cooking to add as needed.
Stir every once in a while to make sure that nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Test for doneness and add salt and epazote
Let the beans simmer until they are soft. I like to pull a few out of the pot, let them cool, feel them with my fingers, and then taste for doneness. I would like to be able to tell you that this process will take you an exact amount of time so that you can plan your day and get on with it. However, I would be lying if I said I could. As mentioned previously, the older the bean, the longer it will take to cook. I cook these for about 3 hours typically, sometimes even longer, if I have particularly stubborn old beans.
Once the beans are soft, I add salt to taste and throw in a few stalks of epazote, in the central Mexican style. Epazote has been used since prehispanic times for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Epazote is used medicinally in Mexico to treat intestinal parasites and when added to black beans in this traditional preparation, the herb is said to help aid in digestion.
Use a clay pot, you won’t regret it
Now, here is the part where I tell you to go out and get a clay pot to cook your beans. You won’t regret it. I would say, cooking in clay is probably not mainstream in the US. I certainly can say that I never owned a clay pot in the US and it wasn’t something that I ever saw my mom use to cook growing up. And even here in Mexico, many home cooks use metal pots or pressure cookers to cook their beans.
Using a clay pot is not absolutely essential, so don’t let not having a clay pot stop you from making these beans. But there is something lovely and earthy about cooking in clay. Clay heats more slowly than metal, but cooks more evenly and retains heat longer. Clay also imparts a different flavor to the food than metal. If you don’t believe me, check out this article by Mary-Frances Heck at Food & Wine. During a taste test done by Food & Wine, they found that “everything cooked in clay tasted better than the same recipes cooked in metal pans.” If that isn’t an endorsement for clay pots, I don’t know what is.
Are black beans healthy?
Black beans have a range of health benefits according to Eating Well. They are an excellent source of plant-based proteins, fiber, and vitamins and minerals like iron and calcium. Beans make you feel full for longer, which is helpful if you are trying to lose weight. Additionally, black beans are good for your gut health, can help to lower cholesterol, and can help keep blood sugar levels in check!
Are black beans gluten-free?
Yes! Beans are naturally gluten-free! If you aren’t preparing beans at home though, make sure that you ask to ensure that the beans aren’t seasoned with anything that contains gluten.
How do I store cooked beans?
Once I have my beans cooked, I let them come to room temperature, then I put them in an airtight container and refrigerate. I may drain off some of the cooking liquid, but I like to leave a decent amount of the liquid in the container to ensure that the beans don’t dry out when reheated. You can always get rid of the excess liquid later. These will keep in the fridge for about 5 days.
Can black beans be frozen?
Our beans never last long enough to freeze for leftovers. But I have read that you can freeze beans to reheat later if needed. Here’s a great article from Bush’s beans that covers how to freeze beans.
Place the beans in an airtight, freezer safe container. Keep enough space between the top of the beans and the lid of the container to allow for expansion. You will want to let the beans come to room temperature before freezing and leave a bit of liquid in the container (enough to cover the beans). Cooked beans should last between 2-3 months in the freezer.
Where do black beans come from?
Black beans, like other beans, are native to the Americas. So it isn’t surprising that in Mexico beans are eaten with nearly every meal.
According to Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, author of Larousse Diccionario Enciclopédico de la Gastronomía Mexicana there are close to 470 varieties of beans found throughout Mexico. Beans have been cultivated in Mexico for 7,000 years and were even used by certain tribes to pay tribute to their Mexica conquerors.
Black beans are grown throughout certain regions in Mexico, although Brazil is the world’s largest producer according to Tasting Table.
Where are black beans eaten in Mexico?
The type of bean used in Mexican cooking will vary depending on the region. We often use black beans in our cooking in Cuernavaca. This type of bean is also popular in Veracruz, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán, and Oaxaca, although you will not likely find dishes made with these beans in the northern parts of Mexico.
Frijol bayo, known in English as a common or French bean (phaseolus vulgaris), is often consumed in the central states of Mexico. Pinto beans (a variety of the common bean) is popular in the northern parts of Mexico.
As a staple of Mexican cuisine, it isn’t surprising that there are lots of bean varieties that show up on a Mexican dinner plate!
What can I use black beans for?
Black beans make a great side dish for any of your favorite Mexican meals. For an easy main dish, I love a bowl of black beans mixed with white rice (sometimes called crisitanos y moros), a bit of sour cream, cotija cheese or queso fresco, and salsa! What about topping some tortilla chips with these black beans and cheese for a delicious plate of nachos? Or you could use these beans to make homemade refried beans, black bean tamales, or enfrijoladas. This Mexican black beans recipe is so versatile and because the original recipe is simple, you can use these beans for so many things!
What is epazote?
Epazote (dysphania ambrosioides) is an aromatic herb native to Mesoamerica and used since prehispanic times in Mexican cooking and as an herbal remedy. In English, this herb goes by the names epazote, Mexican tea, or Jesuit’s tea.
This herb is pungent, with an aroma like turpentine or creosote. Its flavor has been compared to anise, oregano, fennel, or tarragon, but is generally stronger. It is commonly cooked with beans in central and southern Mexico for flavor and to help reduce flatulence.
Do I have to use a clay pot to make these beans?
Not at all! I love the flavor imparted by cooking in clay. It gives the beans a bit of an earthy flavor that you won’t get with cooking in metal. But many Mexican home cooks make their beans in a metal pot or stove top pressure cooker. Use whatever large pot that you have available to you.
Another alternative is to cook these in your slow cooker while you are away at work so that your homemade beans are ready for dinner when you get home.
Do I have to soak the beans before cooking?
No. It is not necessary to soak the beans before cooking. Mexican food guru Diana Kennedy in her book Arte de la Cocina Mexicana suggests not to soak the beans prior to cooking to prevent the skins of the beans from releasing an unpleasant flavor. When I have the foresight to soak my beans though, I usually do. And I haven’t noticed any unpleasant flavor with my soaked beans. In my experience, soaked beans cook a bit faster and the cooked texture is creamier. So, try them both ways and decide what’s best for you!
Here are some other great Mexican recipes that you can make using black beans!
Now, are you ready to make your own Mexican black beans? I hope you enjoy these as much as our family does! I would love to hear how they turned out in the comments!
- Graciela Martinez, Morelos Mexico
- Diana Kennedy, Arte de la Cocina Mexicana
Mexican Frijoles Negros (Frijoles de la Olla)
- 1 lb dried black beans
- 1/2 medium white onion, cut into large chunks
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil or lard I use safflower oil
- 5-7 large epazote leaves with stalks
- salt to taste
- Sort beans to remove any stones or debris and rinse thoroughly
- Place the beans in a large container and cover with about 2 times their volume with water (i.e. if I am cooking 3 cups of beans, I add at least 6 cups water for soaking). Allow to soak overnight (~8 hours)
- Place beans with soaking water in a clay pot and heat over medium heat. Add warm water so that there is at least 4 inches of water above the beans. Add onion and oil and bring to a simmer.
- Cover the top of the pot with a bowl filled with water (if possible). Reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Remove any foam from the top of the beans and stir occasionally. Add warm water from the bowl (or heated separately) as necessary to maintain 4 inches of water above the beans.
- Allow beans to cook, simmering until beans have softened. Add salt to taste and epazote stalks. Stir to incorporate flavors. Allow to simmer about 15 minutes more so flavors can blend. Serve warm.
- These beans are possible to make in a metal pot, but you will miss out on the flavor and texture imparted by the clay. The method described above should work for cooking beans in a metal pot, but you will need to watch the beans, adjusting heat and water as necessary.
- I like to cook my beans in a clay pot covered with a bowl filled with water because it reduces evaporation and the water in the bowl heats up, allowing me to add this warmed water to the pot without separately heating water on the stove. If necessary, heat water separately on the stove to add to the beans.
(The below nutrition label is included as a courtesy. Our terms and conditions explain our nutrition policy.)