Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Beans

Maybe the end of summer is awakening in me a craving for slightly more substantial foods because I seem to have beans on the brain lately. Or maybe it's having just returned from Mexico where beans are, of course, a staple and found in abundance.  Whatever the reason, while friends and family were preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, I found myself sifting and stirring these frijoles negros con epazote.

My Hurricane Beans are simple but delicious, which goes to prove that most of the time, the simplest way is the way to go.  Too many ingredients and too many steps can sometimes over complicate a healthy and delicious meal. I grew up eating mostly pinto beans but I've grown accustomed to black beans during my frequent travels to San Miguel de Allende where Doña Beatriz of Casa Carmen Bed and Breakfast prepares the black, glossy legumes like no other cook.

Doña Beatriz

Doña Beatriz garnishes them with fried tortilla strips which adds to flavor and texture. Unlike many cooks, she does not soak her beans overnight; she  simply throws them into boiling water (after carefully picking out bits of dirt and rinsing them) lowers the heat o a simmer and covers them. The beans cook for 2 ½ to 3 hours until they are completely soft. You don't need to check them constantly, as long as you've left them on a low flame and covered. Midway through the cooking process, add salt to taste and an unpeeled clove of garlic. If you run low on water, add only boiling water to the pot.

What gives these beans their signature flavor are the sprigs of epazote thrown in when the beans are almost ready. Epazote can be found dried or fresh at Latino stores or you can even grow your own as my neighbor, Leslye, does...lucky me!

Hurricane Beans a.k.a. Black Beans with Epazote

Recipe Type: Side Dish

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 15 mins

Cook time: 3 hours

Total time: 3 hours 15 mins

Serves: 6-8


  • 1/2 cup olive oil

  • 4 cups black beans, cooked

  • 4 to 5 oz of pancetta or bacon chopped into little chunks

  • Salt to taste

  • Several sprigs of epazote

  • 2 – 3 corn tortillas cut in strips and fried to a golden brown


  1. Brown the bacon/pancetta in the olive oil slowly until it is golden.

  2. Add the cooked beans and bring to a simmer for about 15 minutes, adding water if it is not soupy enough.

  3. Add the epazote and cook for another 5 minutes.

  4. Serve garnished with the fried tortilla strips.

Beans can be cooked and then frozen after cooling them, thereby giving you the freedom to prepare them in whatever style you prefer, whenever you like.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Fideos y Frijoles

Basil sprouting out of the stone next to a wild milkweed plant in Casa Carmen Bed and Breakfast in San Miguel de Allende.

To be in San Miguel is to experience total hospitality, civility, gentlity, and beauty. Whatever this maligned country of Mexico is undergoing, this place is certainly an oasis. I am once again enjoying the warmth of Casa Carmen, the bed and breakfast here in San Miguel de Allende where I bring my students for a Spanish immersion program every summer.

This week, my husband and I are here together, visiting friends and enjoying the many culinary delights the city has to offer.  My husband is an Italian who is passionate and knowledgeable about cooking.   Being married to him these many years, it is no surprise that in this Mexican-Italian marriage there is so much blending of what we both love.  For example, pasta and beans.

In Mexico, it is hard to avoid beans in all their different forms. Here at the market, I always find pale green frijoles peruanos (Peruvian beans) and make a dish that would be welcome on any table in Italy. It is a replication of a dish called pasta e fagioli, an Italian peasant food.  All of the necessary ingredients can be found in Mexico or in the States. Of course, the pasta itself can be any kind of small pasta. This dish is a marriage of cultures and convenience and, I must say, a love match. I'll call it Fideos y Frijoles a la Italiana.

Fideos y Frijoles a la Italiana

Recipe Type: Soup

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 20 mins

Cook time: 3 hours

Total time: 3 hours 20 mins

Serves: 4 to 6

  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped pancetta or bacon
  • 1 stick celery, minced
  • A few celery leaves roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 large carrot, chopped or minced
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped finely
  • 4 cups (approximately) of white navy beans or cannellini, or pale green Peruvian beans
  • 1 cup small pasta or broken spaghetti
  • Salt to taste in sauce and in pasta water
  • 1 cup basil leaves

  1. Drop them in boiling water and turn down the heat.

  2. When the water is at a low simmer, lower the heat and cover the pot with the lid slightly shifted to allow some steam out of the pot.

  3. Let them cook at a low temperature for about 3 hours. About midway through the cooking, add a clove of garlic and salt to taste.

  4. If you run out of water, add more, but you should only add boiling water. Adding cold water will make the beans hard.

  5. The beans should be soupy when they are ready and very soft.

  1. In a pan, brown the bacon in the olive oil until golden brown.

  2. Sauté the celery and carrot in the same pan for a few minutes then add the garlic.

  3. Add the tomatoes and continue to sauté for a few minutes, then cover and keep on low heat until all the ingredients are "guisados" (cooked in the oil).

  4. Take a small portion (about a cup) of the beans and put them in the blender so that you can thicken the soup in the beans.

  5. Put these blended beans back in the pot.

  6. Add the bacon, carrot, tomato, etc. sauce and cook for 5 minutes.

  7. Put the pasta in boiling, salted water in a small pot and, before it is completely soft, strain it and add it to the beans. Let it cook for another 5 minutes. Don't let the pasta get too mushy.

  8. Serve in deep bowls and garnish with sprigs of basil.

My mother always cooked beans in a clay pot, but any stainless steel pot will do the job. You can shorten cooking time by soaking the beans overnight, throwing out the water the next day and cooking them in fresh water. Also, if you have a high quality extra-virgin olive oil on hand, drizzle a bit on the served plate. You will get the scent of the oil plus the fresh basil as you take your first spoonful.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


There is quite a bit of debate about the differences between chilaquiles and migas.  They are both considered Mexican comfort foods and are made with some combination of corn tortillas, salsa, cheese and eggs, depending on whom you ask.  Some argue that it has to do with the way the tortillas are fried and when the salsa is added.  Others contend that chilaquiles are made with eggs and baked while migas are simply fried tortillas with onions, cheese and salsa.  Is this a regional dispute?  A case for a panel of Food Network judges?  The stuff that family feuds are made of?  Even Gilda "La Madrina" and I can't seem to agree.

During a recent discussion about this, Gilda remembered that she had written down my mother's recipe for chilaquiles while my mother dictated it to her over the phone--when they were teenagers!  Gilda dug around and found the recipe.  Written in pencil and the page now yellowed, the instructions are vague and fail to settle the question of whether chilaquiles and migas are different interpretations of the same dish.

I remember my mother frying triangles of corn tortillas with onion, then adding salsa and scrambled eggs.  She called this dish chilaquiles, not migas.  I have made the dish pretty much the same way over the years.   But in honor of the recipe as dictated and written by two best friends over 40 years ago, I have deviated from my usual practice.  This is the result and, as is the prerogative of a daughter/ahijada, I have renamed this dish Chila-migas.

What is the tradition in your family?  Are you a chilaquiles purist or a migas connoisseur?  Enlighten us!


Recipe Type: Breakfast

Author: Gilda Claudine

Serves: 4 to 6


  • 1/4 cup of Canola oil

  • 1/2 chopped onion

  • 1 tomato, diced

  • 1 serrano or jalapeño pepper, chopped

  • 5 corn tortillas

  • 6 eggs

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • Queso fresco or queso cotija, about 1/2 cup or more

  1. In a heavy skillet, heat half of the oil.

  2. Sweat the onions, tomato and pepper and set aside when done (about 10 minutes).

  3. Cut 5 tortillas into triangles.

  4. Add the rest of the oil to the skillet and, when hot, fry the tortillas.

  5. Remove the tortillas with a slotted spoon/spatula and drain on a paper towel.

  6. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

  7. Return the tortillas to skillet, layering the bottom with them.

  8. Add tomato mixture and another "layer" of tortillas.

  9. Whisk the eggs and add to the skillet, allowing them to cook.

  10. Add salt and pepper to taste.

  11. When the eggs are cooked halfway through, remove from the burner.

  12. Add the desired amount of cheese and place skillet in the oven.

  13. The chila-migas are ready when the cheese is melted and the eggs are cooked through.

  14. Serve with slices of avocado, red or green salsa, and garnish with chiles.

I chose to sauté the onion, tomatoes and chiles and did not add salsa to the dish. Adding a red or green salsa when layering the tortillas in the skillet is optional. If you choose not to add salsa at this stage, serve the dish with a side of salsa.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


For the ancient inhabitants of Mexico and, in fact, all of the Americas, corn was king.   Maize was deified, and the variety of meals based on corn were nearly infinite. The modern-day Mexican eats corn in some shape or form every day, probably mostly in the form of tortillas. But each region of Mexico has a different way of consuming corn, in the form of gorditas, garnachas, tamales, atoles, guaraches, etc.

North of the border, little is known or understood about the regional foods of Mexico. This past June, when I took my students to Mexico for a summer Spanish immersion course, I introduced them to corundas, a kind of tamal originating in Michoacan (shown here:)

The tamal is wrapped in the green outer leaf of the corn, shaped, more or less into a triangle. You can add filling to the masa or simply pour cream and green (tomatillo) or red salsa on top. Whenever it can be found, tequesquite, a mineral salt, is used as a leavening agent when cooking the masa, a practice that dates back to the Aztecs. A good substitute for tequesquite is baking soda.


Recipe Type: Appetizer

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 30 mins

Cook time: 1 hour

Total time: 1 hour 30 mins

Serves: 4 to 6


  • 2 ½ lbs corn masa prepared according to the instructions on the bag

  • 3 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1 cup shortening

  • cup milk

  • Husks of 10 tomatillos

  • Green corn husks

  • Salt to taste


  1. Boil the tomatillo husks in about 1 ½ cups water with the baking powder.

  2. Strain the water, disposing of the husks, and mix the broth with the milk.

  3. Beat the shortening until it is fluffy.

  4. Very graduallly, add to this shortening the milk-tomato-water mixture and continue to beat it.

  5. When it is well mixed, very gradually add the corn dough (masa) mixture, beating more.

  6. Add salt to taste.

  7. Make a cone shape with the corn husks and scoop dough into the cones.

  8. Wrap the husks into a triangle shape and tie with a thin piece of corn husk or cooking twine.

  9. Place the corundas in a steamer and steam for approximately one hour.

  10. Serve with crema mexicana and a green or red salsa.


Corn masa can be found in most grocery stores in the U.S. One well-known brand is Maseca.