Last night Mr. C and I enjoyed a superb eight course dinner with a wine pairing supplement to booth that had us in heaven for over 3 hours.
Even today, I was still in a foggy daze, floating around, remembering each course and accompanying glass of wine down to every utterly amazing second of this feast aided by some fuzzy and dark photos of the evening's tasting menu.
I'll be posting about last night's dinner at a later date but the point is that for tonight's supper we were both craving something quite the opposite of our elaborate and multi-course affair.
We wanted instead a down to earth, simple, comforting and old-fashioned homecooked meal, full of memories of good times and people and places attached to this dish.
Taking advantage of the great theme that Cathy from My Little Kitchen picked for Is My Blog Burning? #11:Beans, Beans, the Musical Fruit, Mr. C shopped for dinner and I cooked Habichuelas Guisadas.
For my beans, I've adapted a recipe found on Rice and Beans And Tasty Things: A Puerto Rican Cookbook by Dora Romano.
The book, published in 1986, was a gift from a friend over a decade ago and even thought it has long been out of print it's a 484 page treasure trove of traditional recipes from one of the most delicious and tropical cuisines out there.
Being that I normally cook to taste, without specific measurements and always determined by whatever seasonal ingredients I happen to have around, I found this recipe to be the closest to how I usually prepare these beans, which according to Mr. C is never often enough.
But frankly, if you were to visit 25 different households, they'll show you 25 different ways of cooking beans--just as it happens with eggnog, marinara sauce or chili recipes-- so this is my very personal interpretation.
One thing I do not use is boullions or commercial seasonings (Sazón) on the beans or any dish. Since there was no fresh Recao (otherwise known as culantro--not to be confused with cilantro) in sight for the Sofrito, the base condiment in these cuisine's beans, soaps and stews, and I refuse to use the store-bought brands, I used fresh cilantro (coriander) in its place.
Instead of Ajíes Dulces (Puerto Rican sweet peppers, small and with a very floral bouquet) I added 2 Anaheim Peppers. The flavor is not the same but as the saying goes, when there is no bread, eat crackers.
And to substitute the cooking ham or salt pork (also known as tocino) I used the fatty tips of a package of Fletcher's Peppered Bacon we had in the freezer, cubed (in the manner of very small diced onion) almost microscopically for a fast cooking and a inconspicuous presence in the dish.
These beans (I used Red Kidney) are meant to be spicy but not hot. However, since I can never say no to a little heat I tweak the recipe by using a hotter pepper in the sofrito (Anaheims are sweet and very mild) or sprinkling some red pepper flakes to the plated beans. Or mixing a little hot sauce--like my favorite Matouk-- to impart a fruity and thick heat to the beans.
The calabaza or squash (pumpkin) gives a lovely semi-sweetness to the beans while thickening the caldo (sauce). I used Butternut Squash. It works just as nicely and it is in season.
To compliment and contrast the sweetness of the sauce I add a very light dash of the best quality vinegar I happen to have around --white wine, apple or champagne vinegar is okay, but no Vinagre de Jerez or Balsamico.
We served the beans as a side to Arroz Blanco y Chuletas Fritas (White Rice with Marinated Fried Pork Chops). It was a real treat and just as our meal last night, finger licking good.
I'm already looking forward to the leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
Puerto Rican Style Stewed Beans (Habichuelas Guisadas)
*1/2 pound dried red kidney beans (soaked overnight then cooked until tender)
2 ounces diced bacon
1/4 pound butternut squash (peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch cubes)
5 heaping tablespoons of sofrito
4 tablespoons tomato sauce (less if you use tomato paste)
1/8 teaspoon ground oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon rinsed capers
5-6 Spanish Olives
1 Bay leaf
In a small skillet set over medium-low heat, sauté the bacon (or ham or salt pork) for 2-3 minutes.
Add the sofrito, olives, capers, oregano, tomato sauce, vinegar, Bay leaf and squash and cook for 2-3 minutes more.
Add the beans with equal amount of the cooking liquid, to cover them at least by one inch. Correct seasoning and bring to a boil.
Lower heat and simmer with the pot lid slightly ajar until the sauce thickens to taste, about 20 minutes. The sauce should neither be too runny or too thick.
*Or a large can of beans if in a hurry. Pink or pinto beans are okay too.
The Sofrito was made fresh--all ingredients roughly cut--with 1 onion, 2 Anaheim peppers, 4 cloves of garlic, half a bunch of cilantro, skipping the homemade Aceite De Achiote--Annato infused olive oil, for color--because I had no Annato around. Just blitz it in the food processor or pulse in blender and listo!