Frijoles Blancos con Carne de Cerdo (White beans and pork)

This has been on my husband’s list of dinner requests for some time now, and I’ve been putting it off. Not that it is daunting–its actually a very simple recipe. But this is one of those recipes that my mother-in-law makes; a childhood favorite. When he makes this request it is out of nostalgia; and now that we don’t live in Guatemala he is more nostalgic than ever. But I am well aware that any dish I make will never, no matter how delicious, live up to that memory… nor would I want it to. Food in the latino culture (as in most cultures) is very important. There is something about Mom’s cooking that can melt your heart and transport you back in time 20 years before to a specific rainy sunday when she made a favorite dish and life was perfect. I wouldn’t want to delute that memory or the affection this dish revives whenever consumed at her dining room table by recreating it too perfectly or frequently. It would lose its power and meaning. This is partly why I have not asked her for her recipes. It’s something sacred and, while it is not the dominating factor in our visits, will always keep us coming back.

But I can’t make any more excuses. This is the 6th week in a row I’ve promised to make it. So yesterday I bought a ham shank, soaked the beans overnight, and today I threw it together.

Frijoles Blanco con Cerdo is a simple dish of white beans stewed in a tomato-based sauce along with a ham shank. I have a cookbook with the recipe somewhere (thanks to Carla), but I just can’t find it. It was hidden somewhere in the move, but I suspect it will turn up when I’m not looking. So I turned to the never-failing web, and was very disappointed. While I did find recipes with a similar title, very few mimicked what I had in my mind, apart from this. But it is a poorly written recipe…most likely a word-for-word transcription of someone’s grandmother narrating the secret….probably a woman who has never followed a recipe in her life. Ingredients are added and they can’t tell you how much because they just know what looks and feels right. It most likely varies from time to time, and depending on which herbs and spices are available. Phrases like “plenty of tomatoes” and “basil, if you have it around” are the closest to measurement I could descern. So I worked with it, and with my memory of the dish I’ve eaten numerous times, and tried my best. For you, Love.

1 ham shank
1/2 lb beans, soaked overnight
3/4 t salt
1 t oregano
1/2 t thyme
1/2 t basil
1 bay leaf
Water to cover, or 1 liter prepared stock of choice
2 chile guaquillo (or another mild dried chile)
1 t cumino
1/4 t chile flakes (or more to taste)
1 large onion, diced
3 garlic, minced
1 28oz can of tomatoes

1. Add beans, ham shank, salt, oregano, thyme, basil, and bay leaf to a large dutch over and cover with water. Bring to a boil uncovered, then cover with lid and reduce to low heat. Cook until beans are tender, about 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, head a skillet on medium high, break up chile into pieces, add cumin and chile flakes, and toast in pan til fragrant (2 minutes, high heat). Grind cooled spices, and set aside.

3. Sauté the onion until translucent. Add minced garlic and cook for just one minute. Add tomatoes and ground chile mixture and cook until fragrant and liquid is reduced.

4. Once beans are done, liquify tomato mixture and add some of the liquid from the beans (two large ladle fulls), then add back to pot and stir well to combine.

5. Taste, add seasoning if needed. The recipe says to add bouillon, but if you use stock it isn’t necessary. Bring back to a boil and cook uncovered for 15 minutes. Serve, or wait (this is one of those recipes that gets better with time). Sour cream is a delicious topping on this dish.

Fresh Green Beans

These are delicious, fresh and rich at the same time. A perfect healthy side dish for the spring and summer. No more discussion required.

Ingredients:
Big bunch of green beans, maybe 1 or 2 lbs
Lemon or lime, zested
Olive oil
Dill, freshly chopped
Walnuts, toasted
Bowl of ice water

Directions:

1. Bring a big pot of water to boil, slightly salted. Prepare ice water and keep it close. Once water is boiling, blanch the beans about 30 seconds to 1 minute, remove with tongs, shaking off the water, and plop them into the ice water to stop the cooking. They will be beautifully crunchy.

2. Zest a lemon, chop fresh dill, and toast almonds and allow to cool. Set all aside.

3. Once ready to eat, heat a bit olive oil on high, then toss in the green beans and sautee until just warmed through. Move them to a bowl and toss in all the toppings, and a squeeze of the lime if you’d like. Add more olive oil if desired. Salt and black pepper to taste.

Garbanzo Carbonara


I love Carbonara, but have a real problem making it my dinner. I find it extremely heavy an unbalanced. It’s all fat and starch, with low protein content (bacon, although delicious, doesn’t count as nutritious in my book). Even trying it with whole wheat pasta doesn’t justify the ratio of bacon cheese and egg. But I love the stuff.

One day it occurred to me I could substitute garbanzos in for the pasta. While still a bit starchy, in my mind and belly they feel more acceptable.  Served with broccoli, I can handle it every other month or so.

Garbanzo Carbonara
Ingredients:
3 cups cooked garbanzos (I like mine with a bit of a crunch)
3 strips bacon
3 eggs
1/2 cup shredded pecorino
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Its essentially the same as carbonara: Slice the bacon to desired size. i prefer to have nice chunks of it…if I’m gonna eat it I wanna feel it. I do inch-long strips. Cook it in your skillet until its done how you like it (I like mine crunchy). Remove and set aside.

2. Heat a bit of oilve oil in the same pan on high eat. Add your garbanzos and sautee until beginning to brown up nicely. Remove from heat and let cool just a minute, no longer.

3. Break eggs into the pan over hot beans, and stir constantly not allowing the egg to curdle. The heat should cook the egg enough, but the constant movement will give it a nice a creamy texture. Once the mixture thickens up beautifully, add in the bacon and cheese And stir to combine well. The cheese should melt just a little bit, adding another element of texture and flavor. Season with salt and pepper.

Ginger-Orange Borscht

Beets might be my favorite vegetable. They are a relatively new discovery for me as we never ate them growing up. I had never considered them, and in the back of my mind the florescent purple flesh most likely made me a little nervous. But after a first taste the fear disappeared, and I have been experimenting with more ways to incorporate it into our diet: steamed, baked, braised, shredded and raw in salads, pureed into a spread. This is the first time I’ve tired a soup. Not sure why it hadn’t occurred to me earlier, but just like carrot or squash soup, pureed into a broth and lightly seasoned, its delicious. With a touch of citrus and ginger, it is fresh and delightful!


Ginger Orange Borsche

Ingredients:
1 yellow onion, diced
2 large carrots, roughtly chopped
2 tablespoons ginger, grated
1 clove garlic
4 large beets, roughtly chopped
2 cups chicken stock
4 cups water
salt to taste
1/2 cup orange juice
zest of 1 orange, reserve a little for garnish
fresh mint and yogurt for toping (optional)

Directions:
Simple simple simple. Sautee onion until translucent, add carrots, ginger and garlic and cook on medium heat until carrots are soft and ginger and garlic frangrant. Add beets, stock, water, juice, and zest. Cover and simmer on medium high for an hour, or until the veggies are tender. Puree, season with salt and pepper to tast. Garnish with additional zest, crushed fresh mint leaves, and yogurt.

Huevitos con Friojoles (Eggs with Beans), and a lesson on the life of a Guatemalan bean.

A busy life requires a few quick and satisfying meals to help you get by. Our lives have been quite busy in the last 4 months and we tried very hard to stay away from take out and restaurants. Huveos con frijoles (eggs and beans) was a staple that helped to get us through, providing us with immense satisfaction and saving us a lot of money. Before I go into the recipe, I’d like to discuss a bit about the Guatemalan bean.

Beans in Guatemala, for many families, are a staple. They go through three main stages throughout the week. Each stage is distinct and lovely in its own way, and I rather enjoy the beauty and logic of their evolution. The idea is based on preserving the beans as well as time; the addition of variety is simply a bonus. A large pot of beans are made at the beginning of the week and prepared using three different techniques at distinct times of the week; each of stage prevents spoilage and extends the life of the bean.

The first stage: frijoles parados, the whole bean. The beans, usually black or red colorados, are soaked for at least an hour and up to overnight, depending on the freshness of the bean. Then drained, and simmered for an hour or two, often with onion and garlic. Simple and delicious, and the water becomes a thick syrupy texture.

Second are frijoles liquados, literally liquefied beans. They are much like re-fried beans you would encounter in a Mexican restaurant, running into your rice and sneaking under the shell of your tacos al pastor, making it deliciously soggy. They are the whole beans simply liquefied and reheated in the frying pan. Near the beginning of the week they are very runny, and towards the end they begin to thicken with each additional reheating.

Finally, my favorites (pictured above) are frijoles volteados, or flipped beans (for lack of a better translation). These aren’t ready until the very end of the week, after being reheated numerous times at breakfast and dinner each day. The beans become dry, and when stirred clump to the wooden spoon. At this stage, when they are being reheated, and gather in a messy ball, much like a dough as it comes together. Once they are dry enough, a few swift tosses of the pan accompanied by a expert twirl of the spoon, the above appetizing log-like shape is formed. I will brag a little here: I have pretty much nailed this down, something I’m proud of as a gringa. In this form and texture, the beans lend themselves well to being spread a toasted tortilla. They slice nicely, as butter, but a few unruly morsels of richness always scatter from the loaf and you have you mop them up with some soft fresh bread. Don’t let those go…they are the best part, and there is little I love more…

except, huevitos con frijoles (eggs and beans). Heat a little oil or butter in a large skillet over medium. Scoop up a generous heap of the dry and crumbly beans (lets say 3/4 a cup, if you squish them in), and add them to the pan. Break them apart with a wooden spoon so they are mostly crumbs, and let them heat through. Once they’re all warmed, break 4 eggs over the pan and let them cook just a bit without stirring, until you see the whites of each egg just begin to turn from clear to white. Then here is the trick: stir and don’t stop until they are cooked to your desired texture. I prefer mine creamy, not too done, or else they can be a bit dry. The constant movement gives the smooth (but crumbly) texture that I like. They should be a bit shiny, and they’re deeply rich.  When done immediately remove from pan to serving plate. Taste, then add salt if needed (usually my beans are already seasoned, so just a tiny pinch of salt is needed). I usually eat it with a splash of hot sauce. On a toasted tortilla they are the best.

BBQ Chicken Bao

This stuff is great. They may not be authentic asian buns, but they are still an amazing concept and never disappoints in the delicious category. Previously we improvised in creating a Guatemalan red bean paste which we stuffed into a white-bread dough. The next experiment was whole-wheat and savory, filled with caramelized onions, fennel and dijon. It was just too delicious to stick around for a picture, so unfortunately was not featured here.

This one we’ll call a meal bao. Inside a — yet again improvised — BBQ chicken mixture,  surrounded by a whole wheat dough for increased nutrition. Great snacks to take to work or school. I love when the mere ten minutes are up, I remove the lid of the steamer and see that, indeed, you can make bread this way!

For issues of time, I baked a few batches as well, and the bottoms came out crunchy, the tops soft and moist. Both methods are delicious in their own way.

Bao Dough Recipe This should be done first as it takes a few hours for the dough to be ready.

BBQ Chicken Filling

Ingredients:

1 lb chicken, cooked and shredded
1 onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup BBQ sauce of your choice
2 teaspoons hot mustard
2 teaspoons chili garlic paste
more hot sauce to taste, optional

Directions:

Saute the onions until soft, translucent and browning. Add the chicken. Once cooked, shred the chicken up into fine pieces*. Add soy sauce and let it simmer a minute. Add additional ingredients and let mix well and heat through. Remove from heat and let cool. Fill dough with about 1 tablespoon of mixture, following directions and bake/steam for 10 minutes according to instructions.

*I actually didn’t have the patience to shred the meat, but I wanted it a fine texture, so I slightly blended it with my hand blender. It was perfect. Shredded would work too.

Brunch Beer

When we first saw it listed on the brunch beverage menu at Point Brugge in Pittsburgh we thought it was a crazy, and almost revolting thought. Hec couldn’t help but order it to accompany his eggs benedict al pesto. I preferred a mimosa with my Belgium waffles (the kind with that awesome crystal sugar inside). But what they brought to the table wasn’t at all expected (mind you this was long before my experiences with flavored beers such as blueberry or apricot). Mixed at the table to your liking, the waiter brought a bottle of hoegaarten weisse and a few ounces of lambic framboise. Slightly sweet, but very beer-like. Not lager-ish at all. It felt unseemly appropriate for 10am. I was jealous I hadn’t ordered it, and will admit that I stole many sips.

We recreated the experience a few times before returning to Guatemala: pre-meal cocktails, a replacement for champagne on New Years Eve. But alas, it was back to the traditional Gallo once in Guate.

The beer varieties, as I may or may not have mentioned before, are depressingly slim. Lager is available in three different labels, but they are all (gasp, shall I dare say it?) the same. I never will realize why Guatemalans are so proud of this mild lager. While it is very decent, perhaps better than Coors or Budweiser, it is extraordinarily ordinary.  I suppose I should mention the beer has won first prize in European beer contensts, beating the best german and belguim beers year after year. But it is all that is available. The monopolistic brewery, Cervecería Gallo, owns all of the national labels, and has influenced import laws so that any foreign brew is twice as expensive and hardly worth the buck. The cervecería was kind enough to offer a darker, sweeter brew, Moza, for a bit of variety. It is even available on tap and, although a bit too sweet on its own, we often order the Guatemalan version of a black and tan to add some variation to the daily grind. But I must be honest. Gallo just doesn’t do it for me.

Back in the day I heard rumors of the Irish Pub in Antigua, Reily’s, that sold Guinness. We made a special trip to check it out, and even saved up the Q60 ($7.50) each it would cost for a pint. But the bar tender told us the import regulations had been tightened and they could no longer offer it. We were deeply disappointed. Later we found that in Zone 10 there is a German-owned bar, El Establo, where they offer Tucher, a hefeweizen, or wheat beer.  It goes for Q40 ($5.00) a pint. While it is a delicious and a refreshing option, the price seems absurd next to the Q20 we pay for a Gallo.  Perhaps that is a typical bar price in any US city, but its not a price for a Guatemalan salary. We splurged there a few times, convincing ourselves it evened out with the all-you-can-eat popcorn, relaxing atmosphere, and good music selection.

Once we knew of a wine shop where you could buy cans of Tucher for Q14, a great deal we thought. But a few months later they informed us they were no longer able to import our favorite elixir. That ended a good 6 months ago, and since then we’ve been getting tired of the same old stuff. I’ve been adding lime and salt to my beer, as the locals often do, just to mix it up the taste a little.

But…the other day my cuñado told us  a secret location where we could buy the stuff at Q11 a pint, in cases of 18. !!! It is clearly a secret kept from the brewery, and perhaps it will be shut down in a few months as well as all the others. But in the meanwhile we are exploiting the amazing deal (per ounce it is cheaper than Gallo!!). It’s quite interesting because the store sells bathroom tiles. You have to give a secret code before they let you into the back room, and even there you need to sign in blood for them to admit they have what you are looking for! I’m not going to talk more,  for fear of the operation being cut short. ;)

All I want to say is that we have been enjoying our reasonably priced alternative to Gallo, and we have been able to, in a way, bring back brunch beer: a pint of tucher between two glasses, 2 oz of orange juice a piece, is a perfect accompaniment to pancakes or waffles on a lazy Saturday morning. It isn’t the Point Brugge recipe for sure, but we aren’t about to get greedy, either! Drink up! And don’t take variety for granted.

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