H is for Habichuelas Guisadas
Habichuelas Guisadas (beans stew) is a staple of Puerto Rico. It is a very easy and simple preparation, but so flavorful that you will go back to the same recipe again and again.
Though traditionally a Puerto Rican dish, habichuelas guisadas is popular in other regions as well, especially in the Dominican Republic.
The soul of habichuelas guisadas is the ‘sofrito’. The most common ingredients used for sofrito are pepper, onion, garlic, and cilantro. That said, there are many many variations of the recipe based on regional and family traditions.
Sofrito has its origin in Spain, and travelled with the Spanish colonists to various Caribbean and south American regions. And looks like the moment it landed, sofrito took off on a journey of its own, leading to the existence of myriad versions today depending on where it landed.
More than a blend of ingredients, sofrito is a technique in cooking. The literal meaning of the Spanish word sofrito is ‘fry lightly’. And that is exactly how sofrito is commonly used today – fried lightly in oil to get the cooking process started, forming the flavor base for many dishes.
Sofrito is used to flavor all kinds of stews, beans and rice, including meat stews.
As bell peppers are one of the main ingredients of sofrito, the color varies – green, red, orange, or yellow – based on the type of peppers being used. They can also be mild or spicy.
Some versions use other spices like cumin and oregano in the mix. Culantro, also called recao/ sawtooth herb/ wild coriander, is used in a sofrito often either in place of, or in addition to cilantro.It has leaves like rabbit ears and smells surprisingly like cilantro and is a blessing to those who have a negative perception of the flavor of cilantro.
Sofrito is used in many other ways, besides as the base for recipes: added at the finishing stage of a dish to enhance flavors, as a topping for cooked items or even as a dip. In all its incarnations, it is just captivating, let me say.
Sofrito is lent a helpful hand by the ‘sazon’, a dry seasoning blend.This blend is common to the islands.
Habichuelas guisadas can be made with any variety of beans. White, red, pink, pinto… any of them will work well for habichuelas guisadas. Dried beans are soaked and cooked and used for the dish. If you want to make it on short notice, you can used canned beans as well. I used a can of pinto beans and a can of dark kidney beans for this recipe.
Habichuelas guisadas is usually served with cooked rice.
H is for Habichuelas Guisadas
- Heat the olive oil in a pan on low heat.
- Add the sofrito to the oil and fry for 2 minutes.
- Add the chopped tomato and sazon to the pan. Stir and cook till tomato starts to wilt.
- Add the beans and mix together. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add 2 cups of water to the pan and bring to a boil.
- Cover and cook on simmer for 20 minutes.
- Garnish with cilantro springs and serve with cooked rice.
- Put together 1 red pepper, cut into pieces, 3 ají dulce (or any sweet peppers like cubanelle), chopped, 8 garlic cloves, 1 yellow onion, chopped, 6 fresh culantro leaves, chopped, 6 stems of cilantro, leaves and stems chopped.
- In a food processor, blend the peppers and garlic. Add the chopped onion and blend. Add the culantro and cilantro and blend. You can blend this to a smooth or coarse paste. Frozen in containers, stays fresh in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- Mix together 1 tbsp each coriander powder, cumin powder, garlic powder, onion powder, anatto (achiote) powder, dried oregano, dried cilantro, black pepper, and salt. Store in an airtight bottle for up to two months.