Liddie’s Traditional New Mexican Dishes: Pinto Beans With Chicos

Video on how to prepare Pinto Beans with Chicos. Video by Liddie Martinez

Española Valley

Our vegetable garden has changed over the years. Originally, it was quite varied but after years of harvesting vegetables we did not routinely eat, we began to scale back and focus on staples that were part of our everyday menus. It turned out to be a life saver! Our garden produced enough food to keep our entire family fed during the empty grocery store pandemic scarcity. I learned at my Grandmother’s side how to dry, can, freeze and package food for long-term storage and it turned out to be quite the blessing! Couple that full pantry with home grown beef in the freezer, we didn’t worry too much about keeping the family fed over the pandemic.

There is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment when you can grow and raise much of what you eat and, surprisingly, it does not take as much land as we imagine. I am preparing my chile starters for this season and am anxious to see our first crop of blue corn in the fall. Last year we had a nice crop of white corn that we made into chicos. Chicos have been cultivated in northern New Mexico for about a thousand years. Remnants of the white kernels were found at Chaco Canyon documenting its ancient use. Chicos are ears of white corn steamed in hot hornos and then dried in the hot sun. The kernels are then shucked off the cob and stored in airtight containers to reconstitute in stews and soups. Chicos are very labor intensive so they have become a specialty crop and can be quite difficult to source and expensive so, if you can, grow your own.

As a kid we did not have the land base to grow corn, but my Aunt Lia did in nearby El Rancho and as we all helped with her very large garden, we had a small stash of chicos that Grandma would use over the winter. A pot of chicos stewed with pork was our favorite treat but being frugal, we only saw that a few times a year for special occasions. But beans with chicos were more common and much beloved. Cook a pot and celebrate over a thousand years of culinary history!


1 ½ cups Pinto Beans, cleaned and rinsed

½ cup Chicos, cleaned and rinsed

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

3 bacon strips, chopped

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups water

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt to taste

In heated pressure cooker sauté bacon and onions in the oil until onions are transparent. Add garlic, beans and chicos, stir and cover with broth and water. Lock lid. Heat over high flame until pot starts to steam. Place weight on lid and wait until weight starts to dance and whistle. Lower flame to a simmer and set timer to 70 minutes. When time is up place entire pot carefully in sink and run cold water over pan.  Cool pan with water gently releasing steam in spurts at intervals until pressure/steam has released and you can safely remove the weight.  Unlock lid and transfer beans to ceramic bowl with lid. Add salt to taste.

*Note – Be careful – Do not open pot without releasing steam. Will cause burns, a huge mess and a need to repaint your kitchen!

Chicos, cleaned and rinsed. Photo by Liddie Martinez

Pinto Beans with Chicos. Photo by Liddie Martinez

Editor’s note: Liddie Martinez is the author of the popular award winning Chile Line Cookbook: Historic Recipes of Northern New Mexico, which is available online at

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