Sunday, September 19, 2010

Jeannie's Puerto Rican Beans

Picture shows:  Aegeus Consults the Pythia Seated on a Tripod. By the Kodros Painter, c. 440-430 B.C.

        When I woke up this morning (quite early; I've started to study for an examination that takes place 6.5 weeks or so from now) and went downstairs to read, I was still unsure what to post here today.  There are a few ideas "in the chute", including one that I'm not sure how I'll deal with based on Jane's recent comment, "with my contact lenses out, that looks like Bill O'Reilly's head" (I've forgotten what she was speaking about).  My Blackberry suddenly buzzed and when I reflexively (I need to monitor that reflex) consulted it for news, the email I received was positively oracular and made me decide that today was the day to share Jeannie's Puerto Rican Beans recipe.

Picture shows:  Blackberry Curve 

        Jeannie was Jeannie Cazares (now Jeannie Fallon), a friend and former work colleague of mine from some years ago. Jeannie's a brilliant (word used deliberately and with emphasis), lovely person and working with her made me very happy.  We depended on and could count on each other and things got done right.  Hi, Jeannie.

Picture shows:  CBS/FOX Video logo screen grab

        Jeannie was a native Puerto Rican who grew up in New York City.  Her father was a professional hotel and restaurant chef and Jeannie definitely inherited the "good cooking" gene.  The following is Jeannie's father's recipe for Puerto Rican beans and rice, which she kindly gave to me.  It is extraordinary.  Jeannie used to supply me with her father's sofrito, which is a basic component of Puerto Rican cuisine, but the sofrito recipe I've included should work well.

 Picture shows:  Puerto Rican Beans with rice

Puerto Rico Style Beans

1 Can of Goya Pink Beans*

2 Cup of Smoked Ham

1/4 Cup of Goya Alcaparrado

1 Packet of Goya Sazon (con Culantro y Achiote)

1 2 Teaspoons of Goya Adobo (con Pimienta) (more or less may be added according to taste)

2 Cans of Goya Tomato Sauce

2 Tablespoons of Jeannie’s blend of Sofrito (See Sofrito recipe below)

2 Cups of Yellow Calabaza (a/k/a Pumpkin) - Cut into medium sized squares.  Potatoes may be used as a substitution.

Fresh Cilantro

In a medium saucepan cook Smoked Ham in a teaspoon of oil (Corn is my preference, but any will do).  Cook Ham until lightly brown.  Add the two tablespoons of Sofrito and 2 can of Tomato Sauce.  Add the rest of ingredients, holding aside, the Beans, Calabaza and Fresh Cilantro and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add the Beans and 1 2 cans of water and simmer on medium flame until sauce thickens, add Calabaza and simmer on low until Calabaza is cooked.  Add Fresh Cilantro and turn on high for several minutes and your beans are as tasty as mine.

* If you are using uncooked Goya Beans in the clear pack, use only half of the pack.  Cook beans  according to instructions on package without using any ingredients, i.e: salt, onions, etc.

Picture shows:  Puerto Rican Sofrito

Makes about 4 cups.
If you can't find ajices dulces or culantro, don't worry.  Increase the the amount of cilantro to 1 ½ bunches.
2 medium Spanish onions, cut into large chunks
3 to 4 Italian frying peppers or cubanelle peppers
16 to 20 cloves garlic, peeled
1 large bunch cilantro, washed
7 to 10 ajices dulces (see note below), optional
4 leaves of culantro (see note below), or another handful cilantro
3 to 4 ripe plum tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into large chunks

Chop the onion and cubanelle or Italian peppers in the work bowl of a food processor until coarsely chopped. With the motor running, add the remaining ingredients one at a time and process until smooth. The sofrito will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It also freezes beautifully. Freeze sofrito in ½ cup batches in sealable plastic bags. They come in extremely handy in a pinch. You can even add sofrito straight from the freezer to the pan in any recipe that calls for it in this book.

Pantry Notes: Ajices Dulces, also known as cachucha or ajicitos are tiny sweet peppers with a hint of heat. They range in color from light to medium green and yellow to red and orange. They add freshness and an herby note to the sofrito and anything you cook. Do not mistake them for Scotch bonnet or Habanero chilies (which they look like)--those two pack a wallop when it comes to heat. If you can find ajicitos in your market, add them to sofrito. If not, up the cilantro and add a pinch of cayenne pepper. Culantro is not cilantro. It has long leaves with tapered tips and serrated edges. When it comes to flavor, culantro is like cilantro times ten. It is an excellent, memorable, but  not essential addition to sofrito. 

Picture shows:  Culantro

Picture shows:  Calabaza

        As most people know, the world of beans (always served with rice) recipes is large, varied and regional and that is a glorious thing.  The dish resonates for me both because not only do I like it very much, but it was the most flavorful, adventurous thing my daughter Jane would eat for a long time.  Like so many children, Jane was a fussy, conservative eater.  We were always worried whether we were nourishing her sufficiently.  For reasons too complicated to explain briefly here, we raised Jane with the loving advice of a number of Brazilian female friends. This accounts for Jane's fluency in Portuguese and also her love of beans and rice cooked in a number of Brazilian and other ways.  Because it is a very healthy dish, we always felt good when we saw her eating it.

Picture shows: Train to Belo Horizonte

        One of the women who helped us with Jane when she was young was a lovely woman named Claudia, who was a drama teacher and stage manager in her native Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  Claudia went through periods of homesickness for her children and friends back home when we knew her, but she was a dear person who  adored Jane.  One day when Jane was quite young and still didn't speak a lot, Claudia made beans and rice for Jane and left her in the kitchen to eat while we adjourned to the living room next door to chat.  All of a sudden we heard a happy, completely articulate and insistent shout and demand: "Claudia -- more beans, more rice.  More beans, more rice."  Claudia began to cry.  It was lovely.

Picture shows:  Belo Horizonte

        As I said, you can find a million beans (and rice) recipes.  You can read terrific John Thorne and Petits Propos Culinaires essays on this subject.  Jeannie's beans are the best.


  1. Curtis, I love this recipe and had almost forgotten about it. I used to make the sofrito and freeze it in an ice-cube tray until I needed it. Everyone I've made this dish for has begged for the recipe. Thanks for reminding me. I will make it this week. Jo

  2. I'm so glad you found it. It really is great. Thank heaven for computers that save recipe files. Curtis