First you should know, this recipe is for beans made from scratch (from dry beans). Second you should know, Puerto Ricans don’t call beans frijoles, we call them habichuelas. Pink beans stewed with tomato sauce, sofrito and sometimes some form of smoky meats (hock or bacon). Much to my chagrin, dried pink beans are incredibly difficult to find. Perhaps this is the reason why so many online habichuela recipes start with “use one-14oz can of beans…” I don’t think so, homie. This isn’t the only shortcut Puerto Ricans have come to utilize as I found out during a recent discussion with The Noshery’s Meseidy Rivera, when she mentioned that using fresh sofrito and achiote oil was “old school.” How can it be old school when I still apply these methods to my cooking and I’m only in my early thirties? My grandparents came here in the 50s, maybe because we’ve only been here for three generations – virtually isolated from other Puerto Ricans – we haven’t adapted the shortcuts that many people develop through acculturation. But, I surely didn’t know that my cooking was “old school,” I just thought it was “grandma’s.”
Beans are so important to my family. When I was a teenager, I was at my grandma’s (as per usual) and she started cooking beans. I sat on the couch in the living room of her two-story townhouse, she gave me instructions to “watch the beans” as she sat on her porch to gossip with her neighbor. I did not watch the beans. In fact, I totally spaced out and proceeded to be enthralled by Tom and his shenanigans with Jerry. All of a sudden, my uncle burst through the door and said, “The beans are burning,” and leaped over my legs towards the kitchen and turned the fire down. Luckily, they didn’t burn…but it was a close call. My grandma and my uncle were pretty damn upset with me. My second memory is of my nina in Stockton. She makes beans at least once a week. She maniacally shuffles through her dim and archaic kitchen, the floor groaning under her feet, the power of the gas range heating up the entire room. She fusses and curses everyone, her unique and unplaceable accent shrilly bouncing off her Bauer bowls and pouring out of the doorway. Then, she slowly adds water, onion and sometimes garlic to her pot. When her beans come to a boil, she turns it down to a simmer and starts to work on her tortillas. And they are the most delicious and soul satisfying beans and tortillas I have had. When I found out about Rancho Gordo, I knew I had to purchase a bag for my nina.
Rancho Gordo beans are not designer, they’re heirloom. People put care into producing a quality product that cannot be matched by the dust ladened bag that sits on the shelves of your supermarket. When my nina found out that her beloved Pinto bean – that I brought her a bag of – was grown in Stockton, it was nothing short of a miracle. “A full circle.” My nina’s ex-husband, Tom, was Indian. Tom believed the symbolism of circles equaled wholeness…totality. She ate the beans and said, “these taste like the beans we used to have as a kid. Beans don’t taste like this anymore.” I drove home and made my own pot of beans, using Ojo de Cabra, and they sure as hell didn’t taste like the beans I had used in the past. These were plump, meaty and buttery; and no butter (or any other fat) was added during the cooking process. But, they sure were buttery.
This recipe seems long, but it's 8-10 hours of inactive bean soaking. And 3 hours of bean simmering.
- 16oz dried Ojo de Cabra beans
- 2 medium yukon golds, diced into quarters.
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 2TB sofrito
- Rustle through the beans; you’re looking for pebbles or shriveled looking beans to discard.
- Soak 16oz of beans in 3-4 qt. cold water, overnight.
- Drain the beans and discard the bean soaking water.
- In a large pot, cover the beans in 3 qt of cold water with 2 cloves of garlic and one small onion and bring to a boil. Bring down to med-low heat and let beans simmer; 2 hours.
- Keep an eye on the pot, ensuring it has just enough water that the bottom isn’t stuck to the pan. But, you do want the water to reduce significantly. Skim off and discard any scum.
- Add 2TB sofrito. Cook 40 mins.
- Add potatoes and salt to taste. Cook another 20 mins.
You can freeze the extra sofrito in an ice cube tray (for up to 6 months) and use it in stir-fry, chili and curries.