A Little Trick: The Bean Mash


If you want to add some creamy goodness to your beans without adding good cream, try taking about half a cup of your cooked beans and some of the broth and mash it with a fork in a bowl. Now add it back to the pot and stir well. Your clear bean broth is now soupier and richer. 

Frankly, I love clear bean broth when the beans are heirloom and fresh but a fellow likes a change once in awhile. This is also a nice trick for vegans who aren't eating cream, yogurt or other dairy products. The mashing doesn't taste like dairy but the texture does seem a little more indulgent. 

The beans in the photo are Domingo Rojo. 

Mazano Chiles Steamed Like a Tamal: Diana Kennedy's Chile Canario en Pilte

Manzano chiles are also known as Peron and apparently in Oaxaca, Canario

They look like habeneros but they have much more flesh and a less tropical, but no less delicious, flavor. They are powerful but not quite as humbling as a habanero. The seeds are black and shouldn't be eaten. I've fermented the chiles and they were incredible. 


Every time I look at Diana Kennedy's Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy I find something different. Her recipe for Chile Canario en Pilte is simple and completely new to me. From the Sierra Mazateca of Oaxaca, it's easy to like, especially if you have access to yierbasanta. 


I've had banana leaves in my freezer for months, waiting for something to be done with them. A quick rinse under warm water made them pliable enough to cut and fold. A longer soak might have been better but I was impatient. 

Six manzano chiles were cut in quarters with the seeds removed. Diana calles for thinly sliced scallions but I had to do with onions cut into half moons. All is tossed with sea salt. 

On each banana leaf went several yierbasanta leaves (also known as hoja santa or acuyo, depending on where you are in Mexico) topped with the chile/onion mixture. 


The banana leaves are folded up into a nice rectangular package and then tied. 


This is a beautiful clay steamer from Los Reyes Metzontle. We import them as part of the Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Prjoect. I about plotzed when I first saw it. We now carry two sizes. The larger is better for a big tamal party and while at first I thought the smaller version would be kind of silly, it's the one I use more often, for steaming things like this and everyday vegetables as well. 


A banana leaf is placed on the bottom and then the packages are stacked up, ready for their sauna treatment. 


After about 35 or 40 minutes (probably less in a metal steamer), the aroma is heady. The chiles are soft and onions are infused with both the chile and the yierbasanta. There's nothing quite like it. 


I had made some blue corn tortillas and even stuffed some of them with refried black beans. This chile relish was perfect for them. 


Later at dinner, I made a simple pork tenderloin and thought to bring out the Chiles en pilte. All was fine until I hit a very hot one. The heat was unbelievable and I had to excuse myself for a moment. When I returned, I went back for more. 


More Fun with Fresh Xoconostle

Our local market again had xoconostle, the super sour prickly pears that are loaded with good nutrition and are a hoot to cook with. 


If the light in my kitchen looks angelic, it's because it is! A foggy morning makes my photos look as if a professional took them. 

These are the xoconostle roasting on a clay comal (pan). You can see that the pan has a slip of cal on it to protect the clay. This is handiest for making tortillas but I have a dedicated comal to tortillas, another for vegetables and another for chiles. I'm a little obsessive and I love my toys.


It takes a while for the fruit to roast, even on a moderate heat. They should be soft and hissing as they release some of their juices, but not burnt. 

Cut them in half and scoop out the seeds and center pulp. I put them in a pitcher with some honey and water and in about a week I should have some mead. 


I had company this morning. 

My friends in Hidalgo use the skins in their salsa and I've started doing the same. I was in a rush this morning, so I threw the xoconostle in a blender with some onions, garlic and fermented serrano chiles I'd made earlier, with a splash of water. 


The resulting salsa is plenty sour so there's no need for limes. I have pork chops in the fridge for tonight and I think they have a date with this salsa. 

Fermenting Chiles

Everyone seems to have fermenting fever these days and I'm no exception. Kraut, beets, kombucha and kimchi are all my companions in the kitchen. I'm sure this is a healthy thing but even if it isn't, I love the off-the-grid self sufficiency and the delicious flavors. In the unlikely event that kombucha is the equivalent of a Pepsi, I still choose the homemade drink. 


In the photo you can see my latest batch of serrano peppers, onions and garlic in a 5% brine. I used to add some dried Mexican oregano but I didn't like the way so much would float to the surface and the whole point seems to be to keep everything submerged. Adding later actually tastes better to me. The fermentation takes about a week but I like to keep it going as I can. Too long and the chiles can turn to mush. This isn't a horrible thing. You can just gently strain the jar and put the remaining vegetables into the blender and call is salsa. 

The top of the Mason jar is secured with a very clever gadget called Kraut Source. I was in on their initial Kickstarter funding and it's one of the very few new gadgets that has stood the test of time. I have three and I'm considering more.


Asparagus-Bean Broth Soup

Excuse me if this was your idea and I've unknowingly borrowed it, but I had about three bunches of asparagus bottoms in my fridge. I snap them and let them break where they want naturally, usually about three quarters of the way down and I make the asparagus as a vegetable and save the woody bottoms until inspiration hits. 


I have been a pressure cooker kick lately so I cooked about three bunches worth of woody stems with plenty of water and some sal mixteca for about 30 minutes on high pressure. After a quick release, I tool the asparagus out and worked it through a food mill, leaving rich delicious liquid below and all the woody fiber in the mill. 

In a soup pot I sauteed some onions and garlic in a little olive oil and once soft, added a spoonful of dried porcini mushroom powder from the Wine Forest. This made a thick paste. Then I added the liquid from the pressed asparagus and about a cup of leftover bean broth from a pot of Ayocote Morados I had in the fridge. 

Obviously you can use a different bean or omit it all together. I love the porcini powder but you could omit it and maybe add some soy sauce of fish sauce or nothing. If you don't have a food mill, you could push the puree through a sieve,, using the back of a wooden spoon to help but for my kind of cooking, I find I use a food mill a lot. I've tried something similar with an immersion blender but there's little worse than fibrous strings ruining an otherwise velvety soup. 

The bigger point is many people through away their bean broth and woody vegetable waste but I was able to make it into several swell meals. 

A Beautiful Runner Bean from Michoacan: Ayocote Purepecha

I will soon be writing more about a recent trip to Morelia that changed me in a lot of ways. For now, I wanted to introduce you to some lovely beans that chef Lucero Soto, of the famed Lu restaurant had waiting for me in my hotel room when I arrived. 


This is a single beans with many colors. I suspect it's an Ayocote (Phaseolus coccineus), but Lucero told me it's not. It came from Purepecha farmers in the countryside outside of Morelia and it was incredibly thoughtful of her to remember my relationship with beans and take the trouble to have them greet me in the hotel room. She even told me this but I was checking in and not really listening and when I got in, I thought, What strange trail mix these Mexicans have! A day or so later, I was wanting a snack, so I opened the bag and started munching. This wasn't trail mix or granola. These were beans. 


When cooked, they were delicious. A little starchy and with very thick skins. We had them this last Sunday, along with a pork dish I invented and some asparagus. All agreed it was a fine meal. 

What to Do With a Pot of Beans No. 3: Bean Soup with Roasted Red Pepper and Kale

Yes, that's been the flu that has been knocking me down. But I get right back up! Thanks in part to some leftover beans!


This was entitirely based on what was in the fridge. Leftover Ayocote Morados with lots of bean broth and not so many beans, a jar of Trader Joe's roasted red bell peppers, some kale that was left in the "Crisper" drawer of my fridge and salt. Once heated, I added a spoonful of yogurt. It was incredible! Proof again that when you start with good ingredients you can make some simple magic. 

Make Mine Moka!

As a teenager, I never understood it's appeal. My father's dependence on it first thing in the morning seemed at odds with my flower child persona I was indulging at the time. I learned to like coffee on my first trip to Amsterdam. I reinvented myself as a sophisticated European mistakenly born in California and good coffee with a cheese toast in cafes over the canals affected me deeply. Then I went to Italy and my indulgence became a happy habit. 


For me, coffee means Italy. Obviously a good barista in a bar is what it's all about but at home, I keep coming back to the stovetop Moka. I believe I bought my first one in about 1980 and have mostly stuck with the instructions given by Marcella Hazan in her seminal The Classic Italian Cookbook (now best enjoyed as The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.)

The trend now seems to be for lighter, less bold coffee but I'm in the Italian and French roast camp and so far nothing has inspired me to change sides. I have been reading a lot about different techniques lately and I have read numerous times to preheat the water before adding it to the water chamber. I have trouble wrapping my head around this concept. From start to finish, this is a quick process. For the record, I will now document my morning routine.

I'm going to state the obvious just in case this is all new to you. I mean no offense but I've heard some doozy stories over the years. 

Start by filling the bottom chamber with fresh water up to the point of the escape valve. Don't go over. Have the water just meet the bottom. 


Now add the filter that holds the coffee. You want a finer grind but not as fine as espresso. At my local coffee merchant, I have to ask them to grind it at "5". At one particularly particular place, they insist on knowing what my technique will be. If I say Moka or stovetop espresso, they always seem to grind it too fine and this seems to clog up the works and not all the liquid comes out and sooner than later I have to replace the rubber rings. 

Following Marcella's advice, I gently fill it up with coffee, one very small spoonful at a time. There's a gentle mound when I'm finished. You screw the top on but it's very important that you place it from directly above the pot. It's easy to kind of slide it in from the side and take out the mound and make a mess of things. Top down. Screw into place. 


Now I have always closed the lid, added medium heat and then waited for the noises that let me know we are done. Marcella suggests that as soon as the coffee starts coming out of the spout, you turn the heat down to very low. I do this if I'm thinking about it but after all these years, I'm just happy to have coffee in the morning without a lot of fuss. I have been reading that you should make the coffee with the lid open as the closed lid can create diluting steam. All of my Mokas seem to be fine with this but I have had models in the past that sputtered so much that it would make a mess. I can't really tell any difference but I do enjoy the view of the coffee streaming out that I've adopted it at home. 

Once you hear the noise, you cut the heat and wait for gurgling to end. 


Meanwhile, I have a trusty $16 milk frother. You fill it about a quarter full of milk and very low heat at the same time you're making the coffee and the timing is perfect. I add some of the hot milk to the mug with some sugar and mix. This probably isn't needed but I think it keeps the coffee warmer, longer. Romans say, Life is too bitter not to take sugar with your coffee. I, of course, use our piloncillo. Then I add the contents of the Moka. 


Finally I froth the milk and add it to the mug. In Italy, this would be three servings. I'm not in Italy and I'm rather needy so the whole pot works for me. 


If you don't want to invest in the milk frother, you can whisk the hot milk or you can just heat up some milk in a pan and call it a day. Cold milk will chill the drink too much and the flavor is better if the milk is slightly scalded. 

A new pot is a sad thing. It take about 2 weeks to really be fabulous. Such is life. Once suggestion I read on the internet is to reuse the coffee grounds and keep making pots until you're happy. 

I went through a period where I loved the idea of big mugs of drip coffee (which oddly, I prefer black with no sugar) but I found myself too wired and getting dependent on the brew. I tried the French press and it wasn't for me. I did once dip my toes into the countertop espresso maker pool but it was so expensive, fussy and for me, inconsistent that when it broke about a year after I got it, I wasn't sorry to return to the Moka. 

I have no idea but I have about 6 different pots. I love their vintage look and the more you use them, the better they look and taste. The pot in the photos is an Alessi and it's very beautiful and after about two weeks, it's making good coffee. 

One more piece of advice is to buy several gasket rings and maybe even a spare filter when you buy your pot. They do wear out after awhile and you'll have the devil of a time trying to remember what size you have. 

And just for laughs, so you can put life among the foodies here in the Bay Area in context: