Monday, March 01, 2010

Haitian Red Beans

This recipe is a reminder that simplicity can be incredibly delicious. I found it on Gherkins & Tomatoes, a blog about food, history and hunger that I can't adequately explain in a short sentence, so please check it out for yourself. Cynthia posted this recipe in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti. She once lived there and offered it as a meal of solidarity with the nation's people.

It's a big pot of beans to be eaten with rice and other dishes, or as a simple meal in itself. The method of frying aromatics in oil and using them to season the beans at the end interested me. It's similar to toasting spices in ghee to finish curries and dals in Indian cooking. Pureeing some of the beans and their rich cooking liquid creates a thick sauce. Adding the seasonings saturates the beans with flavors that keep you taking bite after bite.

I did embellish the recipe slightly, but I think it's still the ultimate in simplicity. You don't need fancy heirloom beans--I bought my grocery store's house brand of small red beans. And of course the leftovers are great. In fact, every time I ate them, I raved about just how great they are. I'm so making this again and again. If you try it, I hope you'll love what you end up with as much I did!

Haitian Red Beans
Adapted from Cynthia Bertelsen
Cynthia gives us this dish's proper name, Sos Pwa Rouj, or Red Beans in Sauce. She calls for peanut oil instead of ghee, but I didn't have any and didn't want to buy the refined, flavorless type they were selling at the supermarket. An organic or unrefined peanut oil should have actual peanut flavor and would be preferable here. Any oil good for high heat cooking will work, but ghee (clarified butter) tastes the best to me. For my version as written below, I couldn't resist adding 2 fat shallot cloves, which added beautiful aromatic flavor to the ghee mixture. Don't skimp on fat or omit this step--it creates an incredibly rich, satisfying sauce that is sometimes meaty, sometimes buttery, and quite complex for a simple pot of beans. Serve as a side dish with simply cooked meat or fish, or enjoy as a main course. Other possible accompaniments are pickled veggies, Indian pickles, hot sauce, chopped chile peppers and fried or hardboiled eggs.

Serves 6-8

1 lb small red beans, rinsed and picked over
1/2 onion, skin removed
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 Tbs ghee
2 large shallot cloves, thinly sliced (about 1/3 cup)
3 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley leaves, divided
Steamed rice for serving (I used long grain brown rice)

Place beans, onion, bay leaf and thyme in a Dutch oven or heavy stockpot and cover with water by about 3 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium and cook, partially covered, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until tender. Stir occasionally and add more water as needed to keep beans from crowding (I added about 2 cups). Note: Unless the beans have been sitting on a shelf for years, you don't need to soak them. However, soaking for at least 6 hours will speed up the cooking time. Be sure to discard the soaking water and rinse the beans before proceeding with the recipe.

Place a colander over a large bowl and drain the beans. Measure the bean cooking liquid. You'll need 3 cups. If you have more, boil to reduce to 3 cups. If you have less, add water to equal 3 cups.

Put 1 1/2 cups beans and 1 cup of the cooking liquid in a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth. Combine the puree, the whole beans and the remaining cooking liquid in the bowl you used to drain the beans. Add 1 tsp salt and black pepper and stir to combine.

Wash the pot you used to cook the beans. Add the ghee and heat to medium-high. Add the shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until light golden brown. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the garlic and 1/2 cup of the parsley. Cook until garlic just begins to color, taking care that it does not burn. Add the bean mixture and stir to combine. Cook until heated through. Taste for seasoning.

Serve over rice and sprinkle with remaining parsley.


Cynthia Bertelsen said...


What a wonderful rendition of the Red Beans recipe. I like the comment about the fat being necessary for the flavor of the dish.

Julie said...

Cynthia: Thanks! I always feel a little anxious when I adapt another person's recipe, so I'm happy you like my take on it. I absolutely believe the fat gives the dish much of its character and is a necessary vehicle for the aromatics!

Mallika said...

It's very much like Rajma, Indian kidney bean curry. Very nutritious and a very worthy cause

Julie said...

Mallika: I looked at some rajma recipes, and you're right! Interesting how these things work. I may try a version of it soon.