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.

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.

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.

Ceviche

This turned out to be a lot simpler than I originally imagined. Perhaps because ceviche is a delicate little beast, and I have been sick from it at least once. I don’t know why I trusted Los Chavos in Zona 5 to keep me safer than I could keep myself, but I had never considered attempting to mix up a batch of this Latino sushi any more than I would consider making my own plate of yellowfin sashimi or beef carpachio. It just seemed like a bad idea.

But the heat of summer is already arriving to Guatemala City, and Sunday morning I woke up sticky, sweaty, with the sheets stripped off and the fan pointing directly me. I was craving something fresh and light, but was not in the mood to drive to Esquintla, further towards the impending heat, to our favored and trusted ceviche joint, Blanquies. Why not make it, I thought.

I threw the idea out there, not so confidently and as more of a test of Hec’s reaction. He was intrigued by the idea, and I soon regretted making the suggestion as he grew increasingly enthused and I increasingly concerned thatt we’d just make ourselves sick. Time away from work is not something I can do this week. I took it back, saying I thought it wasn’t such a good idea, only for him to convince me otherwise. We had tilapia in the freezer, and bought a half pound of baby shrimp from the grovery. We were in for it, I thought.

Just to be safe we let it sit in the bacteria-killing lime all night long. Maybe that wasn’t necessary, maybe that wasn’t even the safest rout, but in my mind it made sense. It was delicious, if not a bit acidic…but what do you expect from a cup of lime juice? In the end the acidity got to me, and I was trying to remember the others I’d tried before. Perhaps a day of marinating is too much. We’ll try only a couple hours next time.  It’s been about 12 hours since we ate, and so far no signs of sickness. I’ll keep you updated.

Ceviche

Ingredients:
4 fillets of tilapia (or any seafood you prefer)
1/2 lb baby shrimp
1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1 red onion, finely minced
4 large fresh tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 dash favorite hot sauce
2 t salt
1 t dried oregano
handful or two of fresh cilantro
ketchup for garnish (optional*)

Directions:
Mix fish of your choice, lime juice, onion, tomato, hot sauce, salt, and oregano together and let sit at least an hour, or until fish change from raw translucent colors to pink/opaque and flaky. Add cilantro at last minute. Let each mix in own ketchup (if desired), more cilantro, and additional hot sauce. Finish batch within 48 hours, and be careful, if you save leftovers, not to double dip your spoons which will easily contaminate the batch.

*This is, in my opinion, a strange addition Guatemalan’s like. But I have seen recipes which call for ketchup. I don’t think it adds balance (being acidic in itself), and is sort of taints the dish. I tried it, and wasn’t crazy about it, but many find it necessary.

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.

Salsa Pollognese

Episode 2 in grinding my own meat! This bolognese-style red sauce with ground chicken was quite simple to make, delicious, filling, and very healthy. I recommend it.

Chicken Bolognese

Ingredients:
1 onion, finely minced
dash of olive oil
1 lb chicken breast, ground
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2 t thyme, dried
2 t basil, dried
1 14 oz can tomatoes
2 large tomatoes, chopped
dash of sugar
1/2 t salt, or to taste
fresh ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup white wine (I actually used red because it was all I had, but I’ve heard you shouldn’t use red)
1/2 c chicken stock, optional
1/2 cup milk
parmesean cheese

Directions:
Heat oil, cook onion on medium heat until translucent. Add chicken and cook until done. Add carrot, bell pepper, garlic, both tomatoes, herbs and sugar. Let simmer on low-medium heat uncovered for about 20 minutes. Add salt, pepper, chicken stock, and taste. Adjust seasoning to liking. At the last minute add milk and heat through. Traditionally served over pasta with parmesan cheese.