Judías Pintas con Cordero

lamb with pinto beans

While searching for a new Spanish recipe with white beans and leftover lamb, I came across recetas tradicionales using pinto beans instead.  I’m inclined to think that these are variations on an old recipe, dating back to before la Reconquista (reconquest of Spain). I suspect the origins are either Jewish or Moorish, because almost none of the recipes contain pork (which became almost obligatory relative to obedience to the Catholic church, in the eyes of the Inquisition ), but they do tend to contain cumin, which (Claudia Roden says) was an important spice used in Moorish lamb …and later Spanish pork.

alubias pintas

The pinto bean element to this recipe may be common now, but they definitely wouldn’t have been used prior to 1492, since they came from the Americas. The original bean ingredient would definitely have been fava beans (AKA broad beans), because that’s all we had in the old world. Interestingly, the word for beans in Spanish is alubias, but they are also known as judías. This puzzled me for 30 years, because judías means Jews. I asked lots of Spanish people over the years why they call beans judías, but nobody had the faintest idea. Last year I came across a Spanish text, on the etymology of judía. It states that there’s no written historical explanation, but there is a precedent relating to the Moorish occupation of Spain. It goes on to say that many of the foods specific to Jewish cuisine in the Levant, were prefixed Jewish in al-Andalus (Moorish Spain), such as Jewish thistle, Jewish vegetable, etc. This naming convention also applied to foods of other ethnic groups, such as Carthaginian, Kurdish, Persian, etc. It has been discovered that broad beans were originally domesticated in Israel, 10,000 years ago, which probably predates the farming of wheat and barley. So this particular naming convention would appear to have become ingrained in the Spanish language over time. However, this is not the case in South American Spanish where beans are called frijoles.

Pinto beans are a member of the common bean family, native to the Americas. The Spanish were much enamoured of the beans that they found in the New World and brought them back to farm. Many varieties of pinto beans now come from the North of Spain. I can’t say where these beans were grown, but I did buy them from Queviures Antolin in the Boqueria. Pinto comes from the verb pintar – to paint, which makes them painted beans!

pierna de cordero

The lamb ingredient in Judías Pintas con Cordero would normally be neck of lamb – here I’ve used leftover roast lamb. Any lamb with a bone would be ideal. If using fresh lamb, brown it first and add it to the stew with the potatoes.

Pinto Beans and Stock:

300g dry pinto beans
1 large onion (peeled)
6 cloves garlic (peeled)
1 stick celery
1 large carrot (peeled)
1 roast lamb leg bone
2 bay leaves
a couple of sprigs rosemary
a couple of sprigs thyme
12 cloves
1 1/2 pints water

alubias remojadas

Soak the pinto beans overnight for 12 hours.

caldo de alubias

Rinse the beans and put them in a pressure cooker with enough water to cover by about 2.5 cm (1 inch) – I used 1 1/2 pints. Add all the other ingredients (stud the onion with the cloves) and cook on high for 13 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally. Discard the bones, the cloves, herbs and celery.  The beans get cooked while making the stock – this can be done at the same time as frying the onions (below).

Judías Pintas con Cordero:

500g leftover roast lamb (cut into bite sized pieces)
600g cooked pinto beans
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
2 tomatoes (grated)
1 red or orange pepper (chopped)
1 leek (chopped)
3 medium potatoes (cubed)
1 pint lamb and bean stock
a glass dry white wine
a couple of splashes of white wine vinegar (to taste)
a large squirt of anchovy paste.
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera picante
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
a teaspoon ground cumin
a teaspoon chopped parsley (for garnish)
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
extra virgin olive oil


Gently poach the onion in plenty of olive oil.


When the onion is soft, add the garlic and grate in the tomatoes.


Stir in the leek and orange pepper (capsicum).


Warm a teaspoon of cumin seeds and grind them with a pinch of salt.

comino y pimentón

Sprinkle on the cumin and pimentón.


Mix in the chopped lamb.


Spoon on the cooked beans, using a slotted spoon.


Grind the carrot and onion from the bean stock with a mortar and pestle or just combine them (like I did) with the stock, using a stick blender.

caldo mezclado

Pour the stock into the cazuela, along with a glass of white wine, a splash of white wine vinegar, a large squirt of anchovy paste and some cracked black pepper. The white wine vinegar cuts through the fattiness of lamb, in the same way that mint sauce (which contains vinegar) does.


Peel and chop the potatoes and add them to the dish.
Cover and cook on low for 40 minutes to an hour – until the potatoes are tender.

judías pintas con cordero

Check the seasoning and sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice. The stew was fantastically thick and creamy from the starch in the beans and potatoes, not to mention gelatin from the lamb bone. The cubes of potato had a fabulous way of almost dissolving in my mouth. I recommend drinking a glass of El Cordero y las Virgenes (The Lamb and the Virgins, by Fil.loxera & Cía from Clariano in Valencia) with the lamb and beans.

About Mad Dog

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11 Responses to Judías Pintas con Cordero

  1. Eha says:

    After a solemn week spent virtually in Windsor perhaps it is time to cast one’s eyes around. Perchance to look up some of your interesting links . . . make the stock and beans the same way and love slow-cook lamb dishes – but rarely would have lamb left over 🙂 ! With autumnal temperatures slowly part of life shall definitely take your lesson into the kitchen with me . . . Hope your beautiful spring weather lasts and the scourge is frightened away . . .

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Eha! I like cooking a roast on Sundays, irrespective of whether I have guests, because I love repurposing the leftovers. Regardless though, the traditional cut of lamb for this in Spain is neck 😉

      • Eha says:

        Thanks for that tip ! I have used neck chops since childhood . . . they were cheaper for a migrant family .so let’s be traditional !

  2. informative post, as usual. I suspect that this dish would work also a in a vegetarian version: everything the same, without the meat – a bean gratin sort of. I never understood if pinto beans are the same as borlotti… I though they were but every time I try them, they never come as chestnut-ey and deep as borlotti … but it could just be nationalistic pride, of course.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Stefano – I think all the Spanish bean and chickpea recipes lend themselves to being vegetarian. No doubt, when times were hard meat would have been left out and there are many Spanish vegetable dishes which only contain pork because of the Inquisition. I’m sure it would be amazing baked in the oven with breadcrumbs on top!
      I believe pinto and borlotti beans are both common beans, but borlotti are slightly bigger. The above were definitely superior to anything I’ve bought in the UK.

  3. Josephine says:

    Une bonne idée bien savoureuse!

  4. Karen says:

    Sounds like a different way of using lamb and a good one at that. I’m wondering if the beans came from the mercat de la boqueria, does that mean you are back in Spain?

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