As much as I love Greece, I’ve made some interesting stops in the last couple weeks, and this is Hispanic Heritage Month, so all the better!
One was to my favorite Cuban restaurant, Old Havana Sandwich shop. Every time I go there, I feel at home.
I was there recently, and the only word I could manage to think of when I left, was “satiated”. Some food is so good, you really don’t know how empty you were until you finish. I sighed the whole way home, and could only guess at how much Ernest Hemingway’s career must have benefited by having easy access to Cuban food! The food is so good, and atmosphere so vibrant and relaxed, that I always leave inspired to write or create in some way. They cater to everyone, with vegetarian options as well. The smooth and silky black beans are vegetarian friendly. I don’t know how they do it, but they are velvety.
This time I really splurged and got the Masas de Puerco Frito, which is bone-in fried cured pork. It is incredibly rich. They source local, pasture raised pork without antibiotics.
Also, the black beans, maduros (ripe plaintain), and rice were fully as good as I remember.
Topping my treat off, I asked Sr. Matos for the Natilla a la Habanera, which is his abuelita’s recipe.
Also, there is a recipe in the reprint of the 150 year old Cuban cookbook – Nuevo manual del cocinero cubano y español by J.P. Legran, published in 1864. A special edition of the cookbook was re-released in print by Durham, NC-based publisher, Light Messages, with a foreword by Old Havana’s very own Roberto Copa Matos. It is a wonderful step back in time, with many terms from vintage Spanish. The cookbook is written in beautiful Spanish. Ask them about it.
The recipe is Natilla a la Habanera. Don’t get confused, it is not spicy! It is a creamy, dreamy, smooth, light and refreshing custard pudding. The unique, very subtle flavor comes from the bay (laurel) leaf. The custard can be made with cornstarch or flour. At Old Havana, they use cornstarch…
Gracias mi amigos.
It really doesn’t take much!
So later when cold, rainy weather hit, the first thing I thought of was black bean soup, and those lovely golden-brown and creamy textured arepas from my friend Sandra Gutierrez’ new Cookbook, Latin American Street Food. I got mine from Quail Ridge Books, an independent bookstore. The book is amazing and chockful of goodness. The arepas were wonderful. Oh my.
I thought the masarepa flour would be hard to find or only in one of my favorite ethnic food stores, but was surprised they carry it in the Hispanic section of common grocery stores with other staples such as rice or tortilla flour (corn masa). There is no way to convey just how thrilled I am to find this recipe. For an ethnic Southern girl, the only way life can get any better is to discover a “biscuit” made from “cornbread”.
Oh the sheer thrill! Weeeee!
I won’t pretend my black bean soup is as authentic as her arepas, but with the weather changing to autumnal coolness, and a settled-in dampness hanging on, it sure hit the spot!
I so love that this is gluten-free, and is easy to customize for vegan, vegetarian, or traditional dietary lifestyles.
Black Bean Soup
1 – 16 oz package dry beans, rinsed well and soaked
1 quart stock (chicken or vegetable)
1 large onion- 5-6 oz diced medium
1 1/2 Tablespoons garlic minced
2-3 oz diced celery
4 oz multi-colored peppers, diced medium
2-3 bay leaves (laurel), usually dried
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon toasted, ground coriander/cumin spice
2 teaspoons salt (to taste)
1-2 teaspoons toasted and ground chili powder
2 Tb olive oil or butter
3 oz ham, medium dice
3 oz smoked turkey meat medium chunk
meat bones (smoked turkey leg)
Beans will remain hard if too many ingredients are added early in the cooking time.
It is best to simply let the beans cook in the stock until soft, about an hour. Cooking times will vary depending on the equipment used. I used a rice cooker.
Add salt, 1TB of oil, and optional meat bones and mix well with the beans in the stock.
Add bay leaf and allow to simmer until beans are softened, about an hour.
Sweat the onion, celery, peppers, and garlic on low heat, with 1 TB of oil, not browning, until the aromas are released 3-4 minutes.
Add them to the beans after they have softened. (I can’t stress this enough).
Add remaining spices and herbs, and cook for another 20 minutes.
When the beans are tender and flavors incorporated, serve immediately.
Happy Fall Cooking,