My Abuela’s Puerto Rican Red Beans From Scratch

Abuela Approved Badge red beans Puerto Rico

We Puerto Ricans love our beans and rice—that much está claro. But what color beans we love most is up for debate. Lots of Boricua recipes call for habichuelas rosadas—pink beans—as does Carmen Aboy Valldejuli (the Puerto Rican Julia Child and the island’s pioneering cookbook author) in her classic recipe for habichuelas rosadas secas (p. 72 of “El Libro”).

But my first cooking teacher, my. mom—and her mom, my abuela Rocío, who we called Nani; and mom’s childhood dear friend Jacqueline, who’s a truly great Boricua cocinera—are on Team Red. According to them, the most traditional Puerto Rican beans and the ones that must be used are habichuelas coloradas or rojas—red kidney beans.

Red beans and rice
These beans are for Boricuas on Team Red: red beans or habichuelas coloradas.

What everyone agrees on is this: be they pink or red, habichuelas are as Boricua as the plátano and a must-have at the familia mesa. If not daily, then at least two to three times a week—or it just doesn’t feel like home cooking, island-style. “There’s nothing more Puerto Rican than rice and beans,” says Mom. “They are tasty and healthful. They are affordable. For many people on the island, arroz con habichuelas is their whole meal every day.”

One more beans bonus. Habichuelas have “a lot of protein for people who are vegetarian,” Mom says. Not that she knew many vegetarians when she was growing up in Puerto Rico. “Hardly any,” she admits. “If someone was, it was: ¿Y que le pasa?”

But it’s a different world now and like most of us, Mom, 82, tries to eat healthy—with little to no red meat and lots of fish, vegetables and red beans in her diet.

One cup of Puerto Rican calabaza, or Kabocha pumpkin, is a defining ingredient in these habichuelas guisadas.
Puerto Rican calabaza, similar to Kabocha pumpkin, is a defining ingredient in mi abuela’s traditional recipe for habichuelas guisadas.

Which is why we dug up this recipe, from her mother, my grandmother. “When I was growing up, we ate habichuelas almost every day,” Mom remembers.  Did she look forward to them? “Of course” she says. “Everyone loved rice and beans. You grow up with them and you keep on eating them every day, until you die.”

Some cooks use ham in their beans, but this recipe doesn’t call for meat—and that’s fine, says Mom. Healthier that way. These days, she is more likely to start with a can of cooked rather than dry beans, but these habichuelas guisadas are definitely authentic and deliciosas. They stand the test of time.

Personally, I update my grandmother’s habichuelas with the following: 1 bay leaf, 2 to 3 Tbsp sofrito, 3 to 4 cloves garlic, and a big shake each of salt and sazón. I also finely dice (not chunk) the potato and the calabaza or pumpkin. (Hope that is OK with you, Nani.)

Below is the 82-year-old-recipe handcopied from mi abuela, found on a faded index card in Mom’s yellow-plastic recipe box.

Mi Abuela’s Puerto Rican Red Beans From Scratch

My Abuela’s Puerto Rican Red Beans From Scratch

Recipe by Rocío Jiménez Servera Cuisine: Puerto Rican


Prep time


Cooking time




  • 1 cup 1 red beans

  • 2 cups 2 water

  • 1 1 green bell pepper

  • 1 1 tomato

  • 1 1 onion

  • 1 Tbsp 1 olive oil

  • 1 Tbsp 1 tomato sauce

  • 1 1 potato, cut in chunks

  • 1/2 cup 1/2 Puerto Rican calabaza or Kabocha pumpkin, cut in chunks

  • 1 Tbsp 1 sugar

  • 1/2 tsp 1/2 garlic salt, or to taste

  • Her Granddaughter’s Recommended Updates
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp 1 to 2 olive oil

  • 2 to 3 Tbsp 2 to 3 sofrito

  • 3 to 4 cloves 3 to 4 garlic, chopped

  • 1 tsp 1 salt

  • 1 tsp 1 sazón

  • 1 1 bay leaf


  • Soak the beans overnight in water, to cover.
  • Drain the beans and place in a large caserola or Dutch oven. Add the water to the pot (make sure you have enough to thoroughly cover the beans).
  • Bring the beans to a boil and cook, covered, for about half an hour.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients. Cook for another half an hour.
  • When the vegetables are soft, push them through a large-hole colander, right back into your bean caserola. Make sure you also add the vegetable larger pieces that didn’t fit through the colander back to the pot. This gives your beans a nice chunky-creamy combo texture. If your habichuelas look too chunky, add more water, as needed.
  • If you accept my update recommendations, add these extra ingredients now. If not, skip this step. In a separate pan, on medium-low heat, warm the olive oil and add the remaining 5 ingredients: sofrito, fresh garlic, salt, sazón and bay leaf. Saute for 3 minutes. Add this sofrito mixture to the beans caserola.
  • Stir the beans in their sauce. Cover and simmer for another half hour to an hour, until the beans are fully soft and tender.
  • Your habichuelas guisadas coloradas están ready. Pluck out the bay leaf, if you used one, adjust seasonings to taste—and serve.


  • Puerto Rican calabazas are also sometime called West Indian or Jamaican or Kabocha pumpkins. Unlike the bright orange pumpkins we are used seeing in the States, these calabazas are smaller and typically green or yellow on the outside. Inside, they are very orange.

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