Chicken Tacos with Mashed Pinto Beans

Andrew and I have a joke that we're always in the mood for Mexican food. If we can't decide what we feel like for dinner, one of us inevitably suggests burritos or chile rellanos, and then we consider the tortilla chips and salsa alongside, maybe a margarita, and suddenly we're salivating and heading to our nearest taco stand.

Beans aren't fancy or complicated, but lately they've excited me to the point that I'm frequently planning dishes around them. Over the summer is was my patio salad with white beans and basil croutons, refreshing and light for the warm weather. During the winter, black bean soup is a favorite, and now, I've added pinto beans to the pantry.

I love a great picture of beans, especially when the picture spurs a daydream of me spooning them between a tortilla.  This happened recently when I read through the October issue of Saveur and sat transfixed at a photograph of refried beans sprinkled with melted cheese with some red rice on the side. I was convinced I had to make them, and then I turned to the recipe and read the short ingredient list: lard.

I'm not one to turn down dessert now and again or say no to macaroni and cheese, but I also make my choices. If I could have a similar experience without the lard, then that's what I was going to do. I saw no reason why I couldn't make a pot of pinto beans and mash them to the proper texture. To the healthier beans, I added shredded chicken from roasted chicken thighs, a bit of cheese, and spooned everything into a warm corn tortilla. I actually miss this meal just writing to you about it.


Serves 4-6

For the tacos, gather the following ingredients:

Corn tortillas (at least 2 per person)
Pinto bean puree (recipe follows)
Shredded chicken (recipe follows)
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
Cilantro (for garnish)
Queso fresco
Limes, quartered

To serve: Warm tortillas in the oven or over a gas flame. Spread a spoonful of bean puree and top with the shredded chicken. Garnish with fresh cilantro, white onions, tomatoes, avocado, and quasi fresco. Squeeze lime juice over the tacos, if desired.


To keep the beans healthier, I omitted the lard, an ingredient often found in refried beans. The beans are still mashed to keep a similar texture, but you can feel better about eating them.

1 pound dry pinto beans
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

Soak beans overnight in a large bowl covered with two inches of water. Drain the beans and add them to a large Dutch oven. Cover beans with fresh, cold water, by at least two inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the beans are tender. Add 1 teaspoon of salt 15 minutes before they're finished.

Drain the beans and reserve about one cup of the cooking liquid. Return beans to the pot and mash with a potato masher until desired consistency is reached. Season with more salt, as needed, and add reserved cooking liquid to thin the puree.


I used chicken thighs, but you can use breast meat as well. It's very easy to roast your own chicken, but if you're pressed for time, use store bought rotisserie chicken and shred it when you get home.

4 chicken thighs
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. Mexican chile powder
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
Freshly cracked pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In small bowl, combine cayenne pepper, chile powder, paprika, salt and pepper. Place chicken in a glass baking dish or on a sheet pan covered with aluminum foil. Sprinkle the spices evenly over the chicken, then drizzle some extra-virgin olive oil over the skin. Using your hands, massage the chicken so that the skin is evenly coated. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through. Let cool slightly, then shred using two forks.