Cogollos Asados y Frijoles Rojos (Grilled Little Gems and Red Beans)

Source: Gabriela Cámara, My Mexico City Kitchen

Recipe Type: | Seasons: ,

Grilled Little Gem lettuce makes the perfect base for this tart bean salad, since the lime vinaigrette seeps into the crevices of the lightly charred lettuce leaves that cradle the beans. Normally vinaigrettes call for a higher ratio of olive oil to acid, but this one gets a lot more kick from equal amounts of lime juice and oil, plus ample garlic, salt, and parsley. When the cooked red beans marinate in this vinaigrette, they soak up a lot of flavor. At Cala, this dish comes with warm tortillas that you can use to scoop it up into tacos, which I highly recommend. Even committed meat eaters will find this vegetarian main dish satisfying. And if you have leftovers, all of these components keep for several days, making this an easy workday meal to reassemble. This recipe yields at least 3 cups / 800g of red bean salad, but I usually find it’s not worth cooking dried beans to make a smaller quantity. 

Make the red bean salad first, since the beans need to cook for about an hour and then marinate for another hour once dressed. Any small red bean that holds its shape could work, from adzuki beans to the Mexican red beans available at Mexican supermarkets. Plan on serving each person one head of Little Gem lettuce. It takes just a few minutes to grill the lettuce, which should be done right before you serve them to make sure they keep their crispness.

Makes 4 to 6 servings


2 cups / 360g dried small red beans
1 garlic clove
1 sprig epazote, 1 avocado leaf, or 1 Tbsp dried oregano or marjoram
4 tsp sea salt, plus more as needed
3⁄4 cup / 180ml plus 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3⁄4 cup / 180ml freshly squeezed lime juice
2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
1⁄2 cup / 10g flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
4 to 6 heads Little Gem lettuce, rinsed and damaged outer leaves discarded
8 to 12 Tortillas de Maiz


Cook the beans: Rinse the beans thoroughly, removing any debris, then place them in a medium pot and cover with about 4 inches / 10cm of water. In Mexico, we traditionally use a tall clay pot, but any pot will do as long as there’s room for the beans to expand as they absorb the cooking water. Add the garlic and the epazote, avocado leaf, oregano, or marjoram.

Bring the water to a boil, then immediately decrease the heat to maintain a low simmer and cover the pot with a lid. After 30 minutes, stir the beans, because the ones at the bottom of the pot will cook faster and you want them all done at the same time. Add more water if needed to maintain 2 to 3 inches / 5 to 7.5cm over the top of the beans. Cover and let simmer for another 15 minutes, then taste a bean for doneness. The beans probably will not be finished yet, but at this point, you should start checking them every 10 minutes, stirring gently each time and adding more water if needed. Let the beans cook until they are just a bit softer than you think they should be but still whole, with their skins intact.

Remember that the cooking time depends on the shape, type, and freshness of the beans. Start checking the beans for doneness after 45 minutes, since you don’t want them to overcook. They should be soft but not mushy, creamy inside but still able to hold their shape when you gently pinch them. At the very end of the cooking time, add 3 tsp of the salt to the cooking water and turn off the stove. Let the beans cool in the pot of water for about 20 minutes. Add ice cubes if you need to speed up the process. If you cook the beans in a pressure cooker, don’t use the quick-release valve or the beans may burst. Set them to a natural pressure release.

In a large bowl, whisk 3⁄4 cup / 180ml of the oil with the lime juice and the remaining 1 tsp salt. Add the garlic and parsley. Cover and set aside.

Once the beans are cool, drain them. I encourage you to reserve the broth, which makes a simple and delicious soup or can be added to another soup as a base. Don’t rinse the beans under cold water. Cooked beans are delicate and, like potatoes, will absorb whatever they come into contact with. Cold water will probably make them fall apart and will reduce their flavor when cooked, which you definitely don’t want. In this case, you also want them to soak up the flavor of your lime vinaigrette.

Transfer the beans to the bowl of vinaigrette and stir gently. Let the beans marinate for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours before serving. (After 4 hours, lime juice oxidizes and starts tasting a little metallic and unpleasant.)

Cut the lettuce heads in half lengthwise, brush their cut sides with the remaining 1 Tbsp oil and sprinkle with salt.

Warm the tortillas on an ungreased comal or in a skillet over medium heat and place them in a basket or other container with a lid to keep warm.

Heat a grill pan or cast-iron skillet over high heat. When you lay the heads of lettuce face down on it, you should hear a sizzle. Let them cook for about 1 minute before flipping. Cook for about 1 minute on the other side. Press lightly with a spatula. You want them to wilt slightly, and—if using a grill pan—for the cut surface of each head of lettuce to have nice dark lines. But they should also hold their shape and remain crisp and sweet.

Serve the lettuce cut-side up, topped with a scoop of bean salad and dressing from the bottom of the bowl, passing the tortillas at the table. 

Reprinted with permission from My Mexico City: Recipes and Convictions by Gabriela Cámara with Malena Watrous, copyright © 2019. Published by Lorena Jones Books, an imprint of Ten Speed Press. Photography copyright: Marcus Nilson © 2019.

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