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Pati's Mexican Table - Jinetes, Adventure in the Mountains (807)

Pinto Bean Soup with Masa and Queso Fresco Dumplings

Makes 6 servings     INGREDIENTS

  • 4 tablespoons canola or safflower oil, divided
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 pound (about 2) ripe Roma tomatoes, cored and chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, divided, or to taste
  • 3 cups cooked pinto beans, with 1 cup of their cooking broth
  • 8 cups chicken or vegetable broth, divided
  • 1 cup corn masa flour, preferably the masa harina mix for tamales, but masa harina for tortillas also works
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons crumbled queso fresco
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves
  • Mexican crema, optional, for garnish
  • Sliced scallions, mint, cilantro and crushed dried chiltepín chiles or chiles de árbol, optional, for garnish


  • Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy soup pot or casserole over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 to 6 minutes until it has completely softened, the edges are golden brown, and there is a toasted and sweet aroma wafting from the pot. Add the garlic clove and and cook for another minute until the garlic is fragrant and has colored. Stir in the tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook for 5 minutes until the tomatoes have cooked down to a soft, thick paste.

  • Add the beans along with 1 cup of their broth, as well as 4 cups of the chicken or vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, cover partially and simmer for 10 minutes. The beans should be completely soft and the broth thick and soupy.

  • Meanwhile, prepare the masa for the dumplings. In a medium bowl, combine the corn masa flour with the water and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Knead together with your hands. The dough will be very coarse and seem dry. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, queso fresco, cilantro, and mint, and mix together until the dough is very soft and homogenous, about 1 minute. Set aside.

  • Working in batches, puree the pinto bean soup in a blender until completely smooth. Pour back into the soup pot and whisk or stir in the remaining 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low.

  • Begin forming the dumplings. Scoop up enough masa to make 1-inch balls, roll them between your hands (moisten your hands with water if they stick and, one-by-one, gently drop them into the soup. Once all the masa balls have been shaped and added to the soup, gently stir with a wooden spoon to make sure none stick to the bottom. Cover the pot partially with a lid and let the soup simmer gently for 15 to 20 more minutes until the masa dumplings are cooked through. They will thicken the soup as they simmer.

  • Taste the soup for salt and add more if need be. Serve hot, garnishing each bowl with a spoonful of fresh Mexican cream if desired. You may also sprinkle on some sliced scallions, mint, cilantro, and crushed chiltepín chiles or chiles de árbol for a punch of heat.

  • Note: If you are lucky enough to live next to a tortilleria or store that sells fresh corn masa, already mixed, go for it! You will need about 3/4 pound. Just mix it with the queso fresco, oil, mint, cilantro, and salt. If you can’t get ahold of fresh masa, rest assured that the corn masa made with masa harina for tamales or tortillas will still be excellent. If you have a choice between corn masa flour for tamales or for tortillas (they are two different products; masa harina for tamales will say so on the package), go for the tamal mix for these dumplings. The masa harina for tortillas is finer than the flour for tamales, but it will still work.

Traditional Capirotada with Mango and Plantains

Makes 10-12 servings


  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 5 to 6 bolillos, teleras or Portuguese buns, or 1 large baguette cut into 1-inch slices
  • 1 pound piloncillo, grated, or substitute for 2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 stick canela, ceylon or true cinnamon
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 2 quarts (or 8 cups) water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 ripe plantains, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch diagonal slices (about 3 cups)
  • 1 to 2 large ripe mangoes, peeled and sliced (about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup finely crumbled or grated queso Cotija
  • 2/3 cups roasted peanuts
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for serving


  • Place racks on upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350°F.

  • Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a small pan. Brush the surface of two large baking sheets with some of the melted butter and place the bread slices onto the buttered baking sheets in a single layer. Use the remaining butter to brush on top of the bread slices. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown on the bottom and remove from the oven.

  • In a medium saucepan, place the piloncillo, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and raisins, cover with the 8 cups of water, and set over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a simmer, stir occasionally, and let simmer for 30 minutes or until reduced by half. Turn off the heat. With a slotted spoon, remove the cinnamon stick, star anise, and, cloves and discard. Set the piloncillo syrup aside.

  • Add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil to a large saute pan set over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, cook the plantain slices in a couple batches for about a minute per side, or until golden brown on both sides. Place the browned plantains on a paper towel covered plate and set aside.

  • Use the remaining tablespoon of butter to grease a 9×13-inch baking dish. Add a third of the bread to make the first layer covering the bottom of the baking dish. Distribute all around half of the plantains, half of the mango, half of the Cotija, and half of the peanuts. Pour on about a third of the piloncillo syrup. Start another layer, adding a third of the bread and the remaining half of the plantains, mango, Cotija, and peanuts. Pour another third of the syrup, trying to get all of the raisins in. Finally, cover with the remaining third of the bread and pour the rest of the syrup on top. Cover with aluminum foil.

  • Set oven rack in the middle of the oven. Bake the capirotada for 25 minutes, then remove it from the oven, carefully uncover, and press down with a spatula so it all bakes in the syrup. Cover again with aluminum foil and return to the oven. After another 25 minutes, carefully remove the foil, and bake for about 10 minutes more so the top browns. Cool slightly before serving and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.