Pinto Bean Soup with Red Chile and Cheese

This pinto bean soup with red chile and cheese is flavored with Mexican chiles and spices and thickened with masa harina.

Pinto Bean Soup, Red Chile, Cheese

A little masa harina—lime-treated corn flour—stirred into the soup once the beans are cooked adds the earthy flavor of corn tortillas and thickens the liquid a tad, giving the soup a subtle body. Pour the soup over rice, add grated cheese along with other sundry garnishes, and these beans become a homey meal.–Deborah Madison


Author Deborah Madison explains, “I always cook these beans in a pressure cooker, because they come out perfectly soft and soupy—and in only 30 minutes.” Although we fully support this, we are well aware that not all households have a pressure cooker. [Editor’s Note: My kitchen does not.] So we tweaked the instructions below per Madison’s instructions for standard stovetop cooking. If you have a pressure cooker and want to put it to swell use, grab it from the shelf, dust it off, and follow the instructions in the variation below.

Pinto Bean Soup with Red Chile and Cheese

Pinto Bean Soup, Red Chile, Cheese
Pour the soup over rice, add grated cheese along with other sundry garnishes, and these beans become a homey meal.
Deborah Madison

Prep 45 mins
Cook 1 hr 45 mins
Total 14 hrs 30 mins
Tex Mex
10 cups
185 kcal
5 from 1 vote
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  • 2 cups pinto beans
  • 2 onions finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons mild olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 3 epazote sprigs if available, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano preferably Mexican
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 3 New Mexican dried red chile pods stems, seeds, and veins removed
  • Sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons masa harina
  • Ground red chile
  • 2 cups cooked white or brown rice
  • 1 cup grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 tablespoons slivered scallion
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • Sour cream


  • Sort through the beans, give them a rinse, and place them in a large bowl or other container. Add enough cold water to cover and let soak overnight.
  • Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat and add the onions, garlic, epazote, oregano, cumin, coriander, and dried chiles. Give a stir, and then add the beans along with 2 quarts water and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, until the beans are tender, 1 1/2 hours.
  • Purée 2 cups beans and any large pieces of chile in a blender or food processor until smooth and then return them to the pot. Whisk in the masa harina and simmer for another 10 minutes. The texture should be soupy yet punctuated with beans. Taste for salt and heat, adding more salt or ground chile as needed.
  • Ladle the beans and their liquid over rice and then sprinkle with the cheese, scallion, and cilantro, ending with a dollop of sour cream.
Print RecipeBuy the Vegetable Soups cookbook

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Pressure Cooker Variation

To make this pinto bean soup in the pressure cooker, do not soak the beans overnight. Instead, simply rinse and sort them. Heat the oil in the pressure cooker and add the onions, garlic, epazote, oregano, cumin, coriander, and dried chiles. Give a stir, and then add the beans, 3 quarts water (note that this is more water than for the traditional stovetop method), and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Fasten the lid. Bring the pressure to high and then cook, maintaining the pressure, for 30 minutes. Release the pressure quickly.

Show Nutrition

Serving: 1cupCalories: 185kcal (9%)Carbohydrates: 23g (8%)Protein: 7g (14%)Fat: 7g (11%)Saturated Fat: 3g (19%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 12mg (4%)Sodium: 74mg (3%)Potassium: 235mg (7%)Fiber: 4g (17%)Sugar: 1g (1%)Vitamin A: 161IU (3%)Vitamin C: 3mg (4%)Calcium: 124mg (12%)Iron: 2mg (11%)

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This Pinto Bean Soup is so simple and so good. It was Cinco de Mayo, and I was looking for something Mexican-themed. This fit the bill perfectly. This is the pot of beans that will have everyone going back for seconds and thirds.

Because I do not have a pressure cooker, I soaked my beans before simmering them. At the 1 1/2 hour mark, the beans were indeed very soft. I didn’t salt the beans until they were soft. (It may be an old wives tale, but I never salt my beans until they’re fully cooked. I’ve been told that beans will never soften if they’re salted before cooking.) I salted after they were cooked. I removed 2 cups cooked beans and I used a potato masher to easily createe a purée, albeit a bit of a lumpy purée.

The large pieces of chile were also easily pureed with this simple method. Additionally, because this meal included a guest with a corn allergy, I did not use any masa harina. The beans were full in flavor and full-bodied nonetheless.

The texture was just as described: soupy, yet punctuated with beans. I needed no ground chile either. The heat was just right. We served this over brown rice. I mixed Cheddar and Monterey Jack to create the additional color of orange plus white. I mixed the scallion and cilantro together, because I was confident there were no cilantro-haters in my dinner crowd. I skipped the sour cream and no one missed it.

Maybe because it was Cinco de Mayo, maybe because of all of the garnishes, maybe because of all of the wonderful components, maybe because it’s Deborah Madison, this was more than a homey meal. It felt festive and special, which is a gift Deborah Madison has always had in creating recipes and cookbooks full of wonderful recipes. Full disclosure: Some years ago, I took a writing workshop with her, on a farm in Wisconsin. She’s as wonderful in person as her voice is in her cookbooks, and part of the reason I went with a simple pot of beans for Cinco de Mayo was because I felt certain I could trust her, and I was right. This is one terrific pot of beans.

This Pinto Bean Soup is in my husband’s wheelhouse, to be sure. It has his name written all over it! But it was not only he who adored this soup. So did his wife.

The recipe gives directions for making this with a pressure cooker, but as I do not have one, I just made it the traditional soup way by sautéeing the onions and garlic and then adding the epazote, cumin, and coriander.

Epazote, by the way, is key in this soup. How often do you get to use epazote? Love the stuff. We cannot get it here but I order it online. The soup would still be good without the epazote, but it would not have the same authentic Mexican flavor.

Then the beans were added to the aromatics along with the water and dried chiles. Most of the soup was puréed, but some was left as-is, which was really great because the whole beans and chunks of vegetables added a really nice texture. I also made sure to purée all the chiles. Then the masa harina was whisked in along with some ground chile and salt. We served it over hot rice and topped it with aged Cheddar, scallion, and cilantro. A squeeze of lime over all added a fresh punch.

Salsa fresca would be good here, too, and that is what we are doing this evening. We loved the texture and taste of the soup and it was so comforting and cozy on a chilly day.

Next time I will add another dried chile just because we like the heat. This soup takes a touch of planning as the beans are soaked overnight, but it is so easy and extremely worth it. As the soup is served over rice with all the fix ins, nothing else is needed. It is a complete meal and a very, very satisfying one. Guests would also be impressed with the great flavors. Not only that, but it looks very pretty in a bowl with the colorful toppings. It is just plain YUM.

Originally published April 19, 2006


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