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.

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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.

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.

Honey Garlic Lentils

I read this item on a menu once and though I never tasted them, the idea has been dancing around my head ever since. I searched for recipes online.I found some with a similar title, but the ingredient list never fulfilled the image and expectations my mind had created. I was expecting a strong but creamy roasted garlic with a surprising, but not overwhelming, sweetness. The other recipes included too many other overwhelming flavors such as soy or dijon. After too much searching, and plenty of thinking, I devised this simple recipe.

I love roasted garlic, and I find that its far too easy to consume too much. Some nights we each finish an entire head, wanting more, although we know it was plenty to begin. This recipe was begging for it. I roasted three heads, but think perhaps a few more could be added for stronger results. A few tablespoons of honey and barely a dash of balsamic. All whisked together, simmered for a minute, and folded in with barely-done lentils — al dente, if it can be applied here. You want them to keep their shape. Some red onions, gently sauteed, and pistachio nuts (although I would have used walnuts or pine nuts if I had had them around). Its better if allowed to sit overnight in the honey garlic mixture, and the onions and nuts added the next day right before the meal.

Honey Garlic Lentils

Ingredients:
3 cups cooked lentils
3 heads garlic, roasted
3 T honey
2 t balsamic vinegar
olive oil
2 red onions, thinly sliced
salt
a pinch of red pepper flakes
pistachios, walnuts, or others– preferably toasted and well salted.

Directions:
Cook lentils and roast garlic ahead of time.

Squeeze roasted garlic from bulbs, and whisk with honey and balsamic vinegar in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Let simmer just a minute. Remove from heat. Pour over lentils. If you have time, let mixture sit overnight.

Heat olive oil on medium in a pan, and gently cook onions until just tender. Add a pinch of salt and red pepper flakes. Stir in lentils with honey sauce until just heated through. Toss in toasted nuts.

Wasabi White Bean Spread

This spread is one of Hec’s newest creations. He doesn’t spend much time in the kitchen these days for few reasons, mainly work and that I don’t share creative control of dinner once I have an idea in my head. Usually he catches up on preparing class, washes dishes, or plays the guitar for me while I work on dinner.

But this is 100% his creation. I had other plans for the white beans we had cooked that day, but when he said he had an idea, I let him run with it. At one point he was a genius in the kitchen, combining things I never would have imagined yet producing the most succulent meal. I recall a certain pork chop with pineapple, raspberry jam, bbq sauce, and who know what else was in there. I think I need to encourage him to come into the kitchen more, and perhaps its time I washed the dishes and learned guitar.

This dish has few ingredients — but that is the beauty. The white beans blend to a smooth and creamy texture, the olive oil adds depth and richness, and the wasabi gives a strong kick at the end. And it is versatile. Eat it on toast or crackers, use it on a sandwich in place of the usual condiments, or serve as a side dish instead of the average mashed potatoes.

Wasabi White Bean Spread

Ingredients:
2 cups cooked white beans, drained completely
1 T wassabi paste
2 T olive oil
salt to taste (I add it when I cook the beans)

Directions:
Blend everything together until smooth. Enjoy!

*Everything is more or less to taste. Adjust the wasabi and olive oil to your liking.

Ribollita, Italian Peasant Stew.

We went to Xela (Quezaltenango) last weekend. It was a lovely end to a nice, long break from work. In the 22 months I have lived in the country, I had yet to make it there. It seemed a bit far (although now the highway has improved and it is barely a three hour drive now!), and I never had any business out that direction. But my visa renewal was coming up and I was looking for a cheap way to leave the country. So Mexico it was. Mexico really isn’t close, but from Xela it was a day trip, so we took advantage of the trip. I won’t go into details, my passport is now renewed, and Xela is a beautiful beautiful place I hope to visit again very soon. Hidalgo, Mexico — not a town I’ll recommend.

Whenever I travel someplace new I like to indulge in the culinary treats typical of the town. In Xela it is Shecas…a sweet bread often flavored with anise. We bought half a dozen from a bakery in town, and although they were delicious we were disappointed they had no anise. Oh well, we though. Then, on our way out of town in Quatro Caminos, there were venders at the stoplights selling bags of them. Impluslively I rolled down my window, asked if they contained anise (“si, si” , he responded), and we traded a 10Q bill for a bag of 10 shecas before the light turned green. I ripped open the bag and tore off a bite, and immediately disappointed. Not only was there no trace of anise, they were dry and tasteless. Ugg, I thought. I pondered “what am I going to do with 9.75 dry and tasteless pieces of bread?!”

Then, instantly, an image of old useless bread brought a rush of fond culinary memories. I rummaged through my bookshelf until I found the mini “marble memo” notepad where I scratched down the recipe.
Lets jump back 5 years to November 2004. My junior year in college, study abroad in Rome, Italy. My parents visited for a couple weeks. We toured the country side, including a few days in Florence (Firenze!). We went to the museums, shopped on Ponte Vecchio, and ate delicious Tuscan cuisine. I’m not sure how we discovered the tiny restaurant in that little village tucked in the mountains surrounding Florance. (I should have done proper research here, but in my emotion I didn’t have the time…Mom, do you remember? Do you still have that little ceramic ashtray the restaurant owner gave us?).

I remember very clearly it was very very cold. We took a bus about 20 minutes up the twisted mountain roads and were dropped off on the main street of an empty town. We ate the most delicious**, tender whole chicken, butterflied and grilled to perfection with that crusty blackened skin. We had a tomato stew thickened with day old bread, and we had Ribollita, a white bean stew also thickened with day old bread. There was no one in the tiny place. It was dark outside, but candles surrounded us in every direction giving an old-fashioned glow to the place. I felt like I was back in the 1800s. The owner chatted with us (and now I forget if it was in my broken Italian or his broken English). He explained the preparation of the dish in enough detail that I was successful in my online search at the internet cafe the next day (I don’t think I knew about Google back then). He gave us a little ceramic ashtray that I think my Mom uses for coins.

Good memories. I would like to go back. I wonder if it is still there. In the past 5 years, on and off I remember the stew and thought on making it, but the timing was never right. But finally it happened and it was magic. The white bean are great. It’s loaded with veggies full of vitamins. It’s healthy. And letting chunks of day old bread absorb the broth and disintegrate completely thickens the stew and creates a hearty, delicious texture. And it’s cheap and easy to make, although a bit of chopping is required. I just ate a bowl and my belly is warm and satisfied. I will sleep well tonight.

Ribollita. Italian White Bean Peasant Stew.

Ingredients:
1 cup dried white beans*
8 cups water
1 red onion, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional/more or less to taste)
2 stalks celery, finely diced
2 medium carrots, diced
1 potato, diced (optional)
2 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 bay leaves
3 springs thyme (dried or fresh)
3 sprigs rosemary (fresh)
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups red cabbage, 1/2″ pieces
2 cups savoy cabbage, 1/2″ pieces
1 bunch kale or swiss chard, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 can chicken broth
1 loaf day old bread (traditioanlly “italain peasant bread”, but you can use whatever you have).

Directions:

1) Soak beans overnight. Cook in 8 cups water according to directions (I do it in my slow cooker on low for about 5 hours). Once cooked, reserve all the liquid. Puree half of the beans while keeping the rest whole. The pureed beans will add a nice thick texture to the soup, while the whole beans let you know they’re still there!

2) Meanwhile, cook onions and garlic until soft. Add celery, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper. Cook until veggies are softened, about 10 minutes.

3) Add cabbages. Cook until softened and flavors combine.

4) Add tomato paste, still well to combine.

5) Add the liquid from the beans, the pureed beans, the chicken broth, and swiss chard/kale. Let simmer on medium heat about 30-45 minutes until potatoes are cooked and the flavors well blended.

6) Add the whole beans, and let warm through.

7) Meanwhile, toast up the old bread. Rub a clove of peeled garlic over each piece. Place a piece in each bowl, crumbling it well.Once stew is cooked, and seasoning adjusted if necessary, spoon a serving over the bread. Mix to integrate the crumbled bread into the stew. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

8)Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, and grated parmesean, pecorino, or assiago cheese if desired. Enjoy!

*You may use canned beans instead. Make sure to use water or broth to replace the cooking water from the beans.

**I stated in my last post that the chicken I made was the most delicious chicken I have ever had. I take that back…it is the second most delicious chicken I had ever had. The one I had in Italy was hands down the best!

A Mediterranean Meal: Babaganoush, Balsamic Tomatoes, and Lemon Pepper Parmesan Chickpeas

Med

A wonderfully light and well-balanced, yet rich Mediterranean meal that might cost you a good $30.00 at any restaurant in Chicago serving similar stuff. And its good for you. Beat that.

Babaganoush - Shriveled EggplantBabaganoush - Finished

Babaganoush:
2 Eggplans
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1.5 tablespoons tahini (I heard suggested once my Mark Bitten to use peanutbutter as a sub, but never tried it)
Juice of half a lime
1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon salt (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon hot paprika

Directions:
1. Roast the eggplant. There are many methods for this. Grill it (30 minutes, rotating), bake it (30 minutes), roast it in the pan (30 something minutes, also rotating), and I’ve even heard of microwaving it. Use the method easiest to you. The times are estimates. You want it (if you are grilling or roasting in a pan) charred on the outside, and heavy and completely shirveled. It will look very sad compared to its fresh form, but thats what you want.

2. Scrape out the insides, it should come easily. Don’t use the charred skin. Add the rest of the ingredients and puree in your blender or hand mixer until very very smooth. Fix salt and hot paprika to your taste. Serve with crackers or toasted pita bread.

Marinated Tomatoes

Tomatoes:
6 Roma tomatoes (or any that look really good and ripe)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Basil and Thyme, about a teaspoon of each
Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions: Chop and seed tomatoes. Mix with all ingredients and let marinate for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.

Lemony Chickpeas

Lemony Pepper Parmesan Chickpeas:
1 can chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and patted dry
1/4 cup freshly shredded salty cheese (parmesan or romano is good)
Juice of 1/2 lime or lemon
Salt
Fresh ground pepper (be generous here, it’s important. Maybe 1 teaspoon?)
A drizzle of olive oil if you desire.

Directions: Roast the chickpeas in the oven or in a pan until browned on the outside. Let cool to room temperature. Add lime, salt, and finely grated cheese, and toss. Cover generously with black pepper.