Home cooking solo style: Try cowboy beans or ‘Frijoles Charros’

Nov. 30, 2020
Frijoles charros on a plate with chips.
Frijoles charros or cowboy beans are a great dish with pinto beans that solo cooks can enjoy. Photo: Getty Images.

Reader, I feel your pain; I, too, live alone and cook for one. We all think of cooking as “Makes 2-4 servings”; that’s the default. Cooking for one can become merely a trigger to loneliness.

This is — and has been, for months — especially the case during this pandemic and its days of sequestration cooking and frugal shopping or use of the pantry.

Even as a solo cook or diner in the midst of this, think of yourself as another person, someone to take care of, someone to treat, someone to cook for.

The benefits are big.

Cooking for one means that you may eat at any time you choose; you may eat anything you want. And repetition is no longer a downside; eat the same thing three meals in a row if you choose.

Indulge yourself. They’ll cut away any sized slice of an expensive cheese at the deli counter. You may purchase an exquisite chop—singular—from the butcher.

Ever notice that many of foods made “at batch” aren’t terribly healthy? Mac ‘n’ cheese, brownies, seven-layer dip. On the other hand, solo foods such as a simple salad or a vegetable stir-fry, either easily assembled from the everyday, seem to be more regularly healthy.

When you are your best company, dinner needn’t be “dinner.” Some really fine cheese and fresh fruit suffice. Good olives come in such variety (and are so long-lasting in storage) that paired with hummus and pita, or eggs and toast fingers (fall in love again with eggs!), they become the grace notes or counterpoints to food that they’ve been for a long history.

You get the idea: the cultural constraints of cooking for the multitudes are off.

Especially now.

The recipe here “serves one,” in its manner of service, but it is designed for making on Sunday, say, and for freezing in 8-to-10 packages for eating whenever you wish. That’s another key to cooking for one: your friendliest kitchen appliance is your freezer.

Frijoles Charros (Cowboy Beans)

Frijoles charros or cowboy beans are a great dish for solo cooks.
Solo cooks should treat themselves to delicious, homemade meals. Try making “frijoles charros” or cowboy beans. Enjoy the pinto beans fresh, then freeze remaining portions. Photo by Bill St. John for UCHealth.

This is a very traditional Mexican side dish, buffet dish, or fiesta standard. Using smoked pimentón (smoked paprika) gives the beans a true cowboy-y, campfire feel. Makes 10-12 servings as a side; 6-8 in bowls. Freezes exceptionally well.


1 pound (dried) pinto beans or similar

3/4 pound cut-up salt pork, bacon, pancetta, or mixture of any 2 or 3

10-12 “coins” dried spicy-hot chorizo

1 large yellow or white onion, diced

1 large or 2 small jalapeño chiles, minced (seeds and white “ribs” retained if desired for more heat)

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (“fire-charred” if possible), with juice

4 cups chicken broth

2-3 cups water

2 teaspoons sea salt

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon smoked pimentón (smoked paprika)

1/2 teaspoon powdered cumin

1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried epazote

3/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

Additional chopped cilantro leaves for garnish


Rinse the beans and put in a large bowl with 3 inches water to cover and soak for at least 8 hours or up to 12. Over medium-high heat, render the fat from the pork products and chorizo, and brown the pieces well all around, 10-15 minutes. Add the diced onions and cook 10-15 minutes until soft, adding the jalapeño and minced garlic 5 minutes in. Add the tomatoes, stirring, and cook everything 5-7 minutes more until the mixture is slightly thickened.

Drain the beans and add them to the pot, along with the broth and water, and all the spices and flavorings except for the chopped cilantros. Stir well, bring to a boil, then cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are soft and somewhat creamy, 45 minutes to an hour or more. (Add more salt to taste if the pork pieces and broth did not carry enough salt into the mix.) About 10 minutes before the beans are done, add the chopped cilantro and mix in well.

To serve: Discard the bay leaves and serve as a side, or in bowls, garnished with more chopped cilantro.

You may reach Bill St John at billstjohn@gmail.com

About the author

For more than 40 years, Bill St. John’s specialties have been as varied as they are cultured. He writes and teaches about restaurants, wine, food & wine, the history of the cuisines of several countries (France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the USA), about religion and its nexus with food, culture, history, or philosophy, and on books, travel, food writing, op-ed, and language.

Bill has lent (and lends) his subject matter expertise to such outlets as The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Chicago Tribune, 5280 Magazine, and for various entities such as food markets, wine shops, schools & hospitals, and, for its brief life, Microsoft’s sidewalk.com. In 2001 he was nominated for a James Beard Award in Journalism for his 12 years of writing for Wine & Spirits Magazine.

Bill's experience also includes teaching at Regis University and the University of Chicago and in classrooms of his own devising; working as on-air talent with Denver's KCNC-TV, where he scripted and presented a travel & lifestyle program called "Wine at 45"; a one-week stint as a Trappist monk; and offering his shoulder as a headrest for Julia Child for 20 minutes.

Bill has also visited 54 countries, 42 of the United States, and all 10 Canadian provinces.