Bean broth is one of the underdogs of the broth world. It doesn’t get the attention it deserves, which is upsetting, because if it’s made with intention, it can be as satisfying and delicious as rich beef or chicken stock. I will go further and even say that it can taste fuller, richer, and more rounded than a straightforward vegetable broth. Pinto beans themselves are the reason: their creaminess and nutty qualities seep into the broth as it cooks.
In this pinto bean–based bean broth, cinnamon and star anise bring warming flavors. Poblano adds just a hint of green heat, and tomato adds sweetness, tinting the broth reddish and adding body.
- Tie parsley, oregano, cinnamon, and star anise in a spice sachet or a large square of cheesecloth.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium heat, add the olive oil. Once hot and shimmery, add the onion, poblano pepper, celery, and garlic, and sauté until the vegetables are softened and have some golden caramelization, about 15 minutes. Then add the beans, sachet of herbs and spices, and sauté for 3 minutes to lightly toast and warm the beans. Add the tomatoes and 12 cups of water. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until beans are tender and creamy but still have their shape.
- Once the beans are done cooking, fish out the pieces of onion, celery, and pepper and the herb sachet with tongs, then place into a fine mesh strainer over the pot of beans and press excess liquid out into the broth. Discard the vegetables. Turn the heat back up to medium and stir in 3 cups water and 4 teaspoons sea salt until dissolved. The consistency should be just thicker than water, yet thin, and opaque like tomato water, flecked with orange-tinted olive oil droplets and full of mystique. Taste, and if more salt is needed, add more.
- Serve the broth with a couple spoonfuls of beans in a bowl, with a squeeze of lime juice and cilantro.
Christian is a California based chef, writer, and freelance recipe developer. He spent the last five years cooking as sous chef at Zuni Café. He has a bi-monthly cooking column in the San Francisco Chronicle and has words in Edible Magazine, Food52, and Epicurious. When he's not at home he's traveling to Mexico, exploring its cuisine and his heritage.