Saturday, May 27, 2006

Friend bearing beans

I never thought myself a friend of the bean, but more a distant acquaintance. While I modestly enjoy them at the occasional picnic dolled up in a thick rich molasses sauce alongside some fresh summer corn and smoky barbeque, bean involving events come none too often and a spoonful is about all I need of the starchy legume. Then one afternoon they came calling alongside my friend Jeanie, unassuming, nestled within a recycled yogurt container. My friend is a fabulous cook and I had no reason to doubt her culinary creation. But I must admit to a slight internal nose scrunch upon hearing, she came bearing beans. I mean really, beans? Not double chocolate espresso brownie bars or hunky chunky rip-me-up-roaring cowgirl cookies or even beautiful silky nubs of homemade truffles? My eyes did not deceive; the vision on the counter was no dream. And while I politely embraced the beans with plans for a full investigation to be held later, I quietly listened to the story of three friends, a pot of black beans and a friendship sustained over years. The details of the tale are unimportant but what moved me then and has remained with me over the years, was their commitment to weekly feed the relationship over a simple but delicious meal of black beans and rice, kale and plantains. Reflecting upon this time of communal eating, my friend shared how seemingly random this group of friends was, how the decision to lunch casually fell together and how the meal became a cherished touchstone in the well of her busy life; one that would not last forever with the untimely death of her friend. By the end of the story, the once unassuming beans took on a weightier kind of presence. They were no longer food substance hastily slid out of a can partnered up with some random picnic buddy. They became symbolic- and I already knew that I would love these beans. And that this recipe of friendship and memory would be added to the others, banked and cherished; made and shared for other such alchemical moments.

Black Beans with Ham Hocks, Cilantro and Lime
serves 6 adapted from Stephanie Lyness's article in Jan/Feb 1998 of Cooks Illustrated

My full investigation introduced me to an extraordinarily creamy bean with layers of infused flavor. These beans are mildly sweet and earthy, slightly smoky and very grounding.

1 pound black beans picked over and rinsed
12 C water
1 smoked ham hock
1 green bell pepper stemmed, seeded and quartered
1 medium onion minced
6 garlic cloves minced
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp salt

2 tblsp olive oil
1 medium onion minced
1 green bell pepper stemmed, seeded and minced
8 medium garlic cloves minced
2 tsp dried oregano
3/4 tsp salt or to taste
2 tsp ground toasted cumin
1 tsp ground toasted coriander
1 tblsp lime juice
1/2 C chopped cilantro

Instructions: Bring bean ingredients to a boil over medium high heat in a heavy soup container. Skim off scum. Reduce heat to lowest possible simmer, adding more water to ensure the beans are always covered. It is the slow cooking that allows the flavored broth to seep into the bean creating a full flavor and velvety texture. Keeping the beans covered with enough water ensures that they cook evenly. Partially cover with lid and cook until beans are tender but not burst (they lose flavor!), about two hours. Remove ham hock from beans. When cooled, discard bone and skin (which I admit I did not, hey I like the chewiness...) and cut meat into bite size pieces. Set aside. Fry up all the ingredients for the sofrito except for the lime juice and cilantro, for about 8-10 minutes. Scoop about 1 cup of beans and 2 cup of liquid into the sofrito pan. Mash beans with a potato masher and simmer until mixture thickens about 6 minutes. Transfer the sofrito mix back into the bean pot and simmer until beans thicken about 15 minutes longer. Add lime juice, cilantro and ham hock and season to taste with salt and pepper. The beans are good as is or over rice. They can be garnished with a dollop of sour cream, some minced onion and a kick of hot pepper sauce.


McAuliflower said...

I love black beans and thought I had them figured out till reading this post!

Combining them with a sofrito base is a gimmie (I am only now realizing) :)

Loved your First Impressions comment on Food Blog S'cool. Embedding the details of your life within your writing is perfectly fine. Soundbiting oneself is an odd practice though it can make for an interesting exercize...


Callipygia said...

I am glad you stopped by-your blog is one of the few that I have read and enjoy, it seems we have some things in common. Also, I am going through your tutorial in s'cool. Very helpful, thanks

Ivonne said...

Wow! That sounds delicious!!!

Callipygia said...

ivonne- they are!

jbird said...

Only you can make black beans sound as yummifying as a warm valhrona chocolate pudding. Awesome, you.

Callipygia said...

jbird, no awesome you! warm Vahlrona pudding- sigh.