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.