I love beans. Soupy beans, refried beans, beans in a dip, or beans in a salad—it doesn’t matter how you serve them, I will eat beans and be happy. Like most Texans, they’ve long been a staple on my family’s table and I make a pot at least once a week. Matter of fact, I love them so much that I once preferred a side dish of pinto beans over some world-famous barbecue.
It happened last year. I was at the annual Foodways Texas symposium and renowned pitmaster Aaron Franklin served us dinner one night. Yes, his brisket was indeed exceptional, but it was his peppery pinto beans that I wanted to brave the line for yet another round. I know this may sound strange but I couldn’t stop eating them! And actually, I wasn’t alone in this opinion as others agreed his beans were superb. For me, it was the beans that were worth the long wait.
Without access to a smoker or an outdoor space, I knew that I couldn’t even begin to replicate Aaron’s barbecue, but I figured his beans were probably more doable. So after dinner, I went up to Aaron and asked him how he made his addictive beans. He shrugged and said it wasn’t anything complicated—he just threw into a pot some pinto beans along with some chopped brisket and a few shakes of pinto bean spice and let it simmer for a long time.
Well, I decided it was probably his smoked meat that took his beans over the top. Yet there was certainly no reason why I couldn’t at least try to make a similar pot, especially since most of his ingredients—save for the brisket—I always have on hand in my kitchen.
As I was beginning to make my pot of beans, I recalled my mom used to make pinto beans with smoky kielbasa sausage. It wasn’t sweet like beanie wienies but was instead more like a Texan take on that Cajun favorite, red beans and rice. The heartiness of the sausage coupled with the spicy, rich beans made for a mighty fine meal. It was then I realized that my mom's beans were what Aaron’s beans had reminded me of, and explained why I loved his so much. It was time to bring this old family favorite back into my regular rotation.
Now, some people think that beans are complicated, but they're not as long as you let them slowly do their thing. This pot was no different, and after stirring together pintos with sausage, jalapeños, aromatics, and a handful of spices, I then let them hang out on the stove for a few hours they until they gently came to life. When the beans were tender and the broth rich and savory, I then finished with a few dashes of smoked paprika for a final burst of smoke. It was a perfect pot of beans.
A bowl of beans is Texas-style comfort food at its best, and these peppery beans with sausage are no different. You can present them as a side dish and they will be the hit of your barbecue, or you can ladle them into big bowls and serve with wedges of warm cornbread for a satisfying supper. And yes, you must be patient while beans slowly reveal their true nature. But it's okay because like all good things, beans are well worth the wait.
Peppery pinto beans with sausage
1 pound dried pinto beans
1 tablespoon vegetable oil or bacon grease
1 pound smoked kielbasa, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 to 4 jalapeños, seeded, stemmed, and diced (depending on how hot you want it)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups water
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Sliced jalapeños, for serving
Rinse and sort the beans. Place in a large pot or Dutch oven, cover with two inches of water, bring the pot to a boil then turn off the heat, cover the pot, and allow the beans to soak for an hour. After an hour when the beans have almost doubled in size, drain and rinse the beans and rinse the pot.
Place the pot back on the stove and add the oil. Heat up the oil on medium-low heat. Add the sausage, and while occasionally stirring, cook until it just begins to crisp and some of the fat is rendered, about 3-5 minutes. Add to the pot the onion and jalapeños and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds. Pour in the water and deglaze the pot, scraping the bottom of the pan to incorporate any stuck bits.
Return the beans to the pot and add enough water to cover the beans by 1 inch, about 6 more cups. Stir in the cilantro, chili powder, cumin, oregano, smoked paprika, black pepper, and salt, turn the heat up to high and bring the pot to a boil. Once it’s boiling, turn the heat down to low and then cook partially covered until tender, which can take anywhere from 2 hours to 3 1/2 hours, depending on the age of the beans.
Keep an eye on the beans as they cook, making sure the liquid doesn’t get too low (if it does, add about 1/4 cup more water to the pot) and gently stir every half hour or so. I also like to taste the broth after 1 1/2 hours and see if the seasonings need any adjusting. You’ll know they’re done when the broth is rich and brown with most of the vegetables dissolved, and the beans, of course, are tender.
When the beans are done to your satisfaction, taste again and adjust the seasonings—at this point I usually add a few more dashes of salt, black pepper, and smoked paprika. Serve the beans warm topped with sliced jalapeños, though if you have the time, let the beans rest overnight in the refrigerator and then reheat, as they only get better the next day
Yield: 8 servings
Note: While I haven’t tested the recipe in a slow cooker (there is no room for one in my small kitchen), I think this recipe would work well in one. To make it, I would cook the sausage, jalapeños, onions, and garlic in a skillet before adding them along with the soaked pinto beans and the rest of the ingredients.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Valentine, Texas is a squint of a town in far West Texas. If you’re heading to Marfa from El Paso, then you’ll drive through it as you head to your destination. Though if you’re not paying attention, you could very well miss it.
While Valentine is indeed small, it is large enough to have a post office. And every year people send their valentine cards to Valentine, Texas to get a special postmark. That post office, however, is the only business around. So, for instance, if you’re hungry then you’ll have to keep on driving. But that’s okay, as Marfa is only a few more miles down the road.
Now Marfa isn’t large either, but it does have a fair number of places to eat. You’ll find Mexican food, American food, Italian food, falafels, grilled cheese sandwiches, a Dairy Queen, and pizza. There’s also a quirky cafeteria, which has delicious proteins, sides, sandwiches, and homemade cookies for dessert.
The last time I was in Marfa, I ate lunch at the cafeteria, which is called Future Shark. It was a fine meal and after a week of stuffing my face with nothing but cheese, tortillas, and chili gravy, it felt good to get some fruits and vegetables (besides chips and salsa) into my system. As good as my meal was, however, I declined grabbing one of the cookies on display because I was too full.
This turned out to be a mistake. And as I drove out of town and continued on my road trip, I kept wondering if perhaps I should turn around and go back for a cookie. Well, that didn’t happen. The West Texas sky was magnificent that day and I was soon caught up in taking pictures of clouds. And the nice thing about Texas is that there is an abundance of good food so I found plenty to eat once I hit Alpine, the next town down the road.
But I kept thinking about those cookies. Fortunately, when I got back to New York, a little research lead me to a recipe for a spicy chocolate cookie by the cafeteria’s chef, Krista Steinhauer, which I found in the book “Sweet on Texas” by Denise Gee. I’m not certain if it was one of the desserts on display when I ate at the cafeteria, but I knew that I could at least bake one of her tantalizing creations at home.
In my haste to make the cookies, however, I soon realized that I didn’t have all the ingredients on hand, such as pepitas. But I did have pecans, which make for a fine substitution, and I found that the rest of the recipe was also extremely adaptable.
Are you a fan of chocolate along with a little heat? Then this spicy chocolate pecan cookie is for you. Starting with a rich cocoa base, the cookie gets additional jolts from espresso powder, cinnamon, vanilla, and orange zest, along with pinches of ground clove and cayenne for a bit of fire. And then to keep things texturally interesting, you add handfuls of oatmeal and toasted pecans, along with some chocolate chips.
Each crisp yet tender bite is rich with deep, nutty chocolate. Though speaking from experience, you might have to eat several cookies in a row to confirm that this is indeed the case. Also know that if you’re a dunker, these go extremely well with a glass of milk or a cup of creamy morning coffee.
As chocolate and valentines go together like rice and beans, what could be more appropriate than a chocolate cookie inspired by a Texas town also named after that particular saint? (Okay, admittedly its inspiration was a few miles down the road, but it’s close enough.)
You’ll want to share these spicy chocolate pecan cookies with someone you love—on Valentine’s Day or at anytime, because like love, cookies are always welcome. And if the big sky and vast, scratchy dessert of far West Texas are also in your heart, then perhaps eating a plate of these will keep you satisfied until it’s time to hit the road again.
Spicy chocolate pecan cookies (Adapted from "Sweet on Texas" by Denise Gee)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange zest
3/4 cup all-purpose four
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup rolled oats (not instant)
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped roasted pecans
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease or line with parchment paper two baking sheets. Cream together the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until smooth. Add the egg, vanilla, and orange zest and beat until creamy.
Whisk together the flour, cocoa power, espresso powder, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and cayenne. Add the dry mixture to the liquid mixture. Stir until well combined. Stir in the oats, chocolate chips, and pecans.
Working in batches, form the dough into walnut-sized balls (if it’s too soft, you can place it in the refrigerator for 10 minutes) or scoop out the dough using a 1-tablespoon cookie scoope, and then place on the prepared baking sheets 2 inches apart.
Bake one sheet at a time, for 10 to 12 minutes or until the cookies have expanded and puffed. When they come out of the oven, the cookies will still be soft but as they cool, the cookies both harden and flatten. Cool on the sheet for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling. Repeat for the remaining cookie dough.
Yield: about 30 cookies
Note: Espresso powder is a dark, finely ground instant coffee. You can usually find espresso powder next to the regular instant coffee at the supermarket or at gourmet stores. If you can't find it, then finely ground coffee beans, preferably a dark roast, can be substituted instead.
Thursday, February 06, 2014
One recent Sunday after a hearty beef stew dinner, my family sat in my grandma’s living room taking the New York Times dialect test. It was interesting to see how the paper judged our way of speaking, though it was a little surprising to discover that several Native Texans who had never lived outside the state supposedly had accents from Jackson, Mississippi. How did that happen? We decided that the test was perhaps flawed.
What the test did successfully reveal, however, was how many words there could be for one thing. Take my grandma’s beef stew, for instance. It was slowly simmered beef in a broth rich with tomatoes and vegetables. Now, most people I know would agree that this dish was indeed stew. But someone with Eastern European roots might call it goulash, and someone from Latin American might say it was guisado. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone just simply said it was a bowl of soup. Clearly there are many ways to label an object.
So, what do you call a slowly simmered stew made with beef and red chile peppers? In most parts of Texas, you’d automatically assume this was chili, especially if ancho chiles—either in the form of powder or whole chiles—were involved. But in Far West Texas, when you encounter beef stewed with red New Mexican chiles, which are sometimes known as chiles colorados (the word colorado colloquially means red in Spanish), the dish is known as chile colorado con carne. And yes, while Texas chili and chile colorado are related, the two are not exactly same.
So how do they differ? Well, besides the different chile peppers used, Texas chili is traditionally made without tomatoes, though you will find them in chile colorado. Likewise, fillers are verboten in Texas chili yet potatoes are welcome in chile colorado. And while Texas chili is usually all beef, people often cook their chile colorado with pork instead.
I make Texas chili all the time. It’s one of my favorite things. But even though I’m not from West Texas and didn’t grow up with chile colorado, I enjoy it during the cold months, too. Fortunately, my mom visits New Mexico every year and brings me back a big bag of New Mexican red chiles, and they are always put to good use.
The recipe that inspired mine comes from a book published in 1898 called The El Paso Cookbook. It starts with New Mexican chiles, beef, tomatoes, onions, and garlic. From that base, I then embellish it with a few more spices, along with some bacon and beer. I also prefer it with potatoes; a touch that I find sets this dish apart from regular Texas chili. The chile colorado takes a while to make, as you want to slowly cook the meat until it’s fork tender. But after a few hours hanging out in a broth rich with piquant New Mexican chiles both the beef and the potatoes taste marvelous. It’s well worth the wait.
In El Paso, you’ll usually find chile colorado con carne served on a plate though I prefer to have it in a bowl, as I find it easier to eat that way. It goes best with flour tortillas and you can either use them to sop of the leftover sauce in the bowl or spoon some of the chile colorado into the tortillas to make your own soft tacos.
If you’ve never had chile colorado, it may be new to you but I think that you’ll find it very familiar. Texans love beef and Texans love chiles and both of these are in abundance here. And no matter if you label it a chili, guisada, soup, or stew, I think everyone can agree this is a hearty, satisfying dish perfect for a cold day.
Chile colorado con carne (Red chile beef stew)
12 (about 3 ounces) dried New Mexican chiles, seeded and stemmed
6 slices (about 4 ounces) bacon
4 pounds chuck roast, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, diced
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 bottle dark Texas beer, such as Shiner Bock
2 cups beef or chicken broth
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
1 bay leaf
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon lime juice
Chopped cilantro, for serving
Shredded Monterey Jack, Muenster, or Asadero cheese, for serving
Warm corn or flour tortillas, for serving
In a dry skillet heated on high, toast the New Mexican chiles on each side for about 10 seconds or just until they start to puff. Fill the skillet with enough water to cover chiles. Leave the heat on until water begins to boil and then turn off the heat and let chiles soak until soft, about 30 minutes. Once hydrated, discard the soaking water and rinse the chiles. Place the chiles in a blender along with 1 cup of clean water and puree until smooth.
Meanwhile, in a large heavy pot, such as a Dutch oven, fry up the bacon on medium heat until crisp and the fat has rendered, about 10 minutes, turning once. When it’s done, remove the bacon from the pan and drain on a paper-towel lined plate, leaving the bacon grease in the pot.
Sprinkle the beef with the salt and pepper and then add to the pot, cooking on each side on medium heat until lightly browned. Transfer browned beef into a mixing bowl. (You may have to do this in batches.)
Leaving on the heat on add the onions to the pot and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Pour in the tomatoes, beer, broth, and chile puree, then stir in the cumin, oregano, allspice, cloves, and bay leaf. Add the beef and any accumulated juices and then crumble in the cooked bacon.
Turn the heat up to high. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to low. Stirring occasionally, simmer the stew for 2 to 2 1/2 hours or until the beef is fork tender. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add the potatoes and cook for 45 minutes more or until the potatoes are tender. Stir in the lime juice and add salt to taste.
Serve warm with cilantro, cheese, and flour tortillas.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings