Habichuelas con dulce – "Mom, Steph’s using a knife again!"

“I saw the best thing at Subway today,” I told Mom as I drove her home from work.

“What’s The Best Thing?” Mom asked, perhaps thinking it was the name of a new sandwich or god knows what.

“I’m about to tell you.”

“Oh,” she giggled.

“Well, I was standing in line at Subway and there was a Mexican guy in front of me who didn’t speak much English. He was answering with ‘Sí’ and ‘No’ while this young white chick pointed to different fillings. Finally he got to the middle aged Indian woman complete with nose ring and bindi who was putting the toppings on the sandwiches and she points to the lettuce and asks, ‘Lechuga?’ For a moment it didn’t register then I realized, Wait, she’s speaking Spanish! She points to all the toppings and refers to them by Spanish word, ‘Mayonesa? No mayonesa?’ How awesome is that? The guy looked slightly amused, but I think he appreciated it.”

“Indians are smart business people then,” Mom said. “And so are those Asians. It’s Americans who are stubborn and don’t want to learn Spanish.”

I thought this incident was pretty cool. Showing communion between minorities. (Perhaps an overly optimistic interpretation, but hey, let the idealist dream.) And good business sense. (Yo, Spanish is about to overtake English as most spoken in the US.) I won’t get into the “Why don’t they just learn [English/Spanish]” War my mother’s response implicates. Too messy for right now. I just thought it was pretty neat.

Anyway, today I finally cooked (or am cooking since it’s still on the stove) a new dish, one I’ve never had before, habichuelas con dulce. This is a Dominican dessert made from beans (odd, I know) that is commonly served on Easter (or when I need something sweet after an only slightly satisfying Lean Cuisine). Though it’s served on Easter it smells like Christmas because of the cloves and cinnamon, but I guess it still has Jesus in common. (So does that mean it smells like…Jesus?) It’s eaten hot or cold, sometimes with warm cassava bread or milk cookies. It’s a time consuming process so I definitely understand why it’s a holiday dish and meant to be made by old women who have nothing else to do. First you have to boil the kidney beans and also separately boil a peeled and diced sweet potato. Since we don’t have a potato peeler I attempted to use the knife to do it, but Mom got freaked out and took over, fearing I’d chop off my fingers. I’m known for being so clumsy that for the longest times I wasn’t allowed to handle knives. After Mom finished and left I had to dice the sweet potato so I picked the knife back up and Daniel yelled, “Mom, Steph’s using a knife again!” :p

You have to puree the sweet potato but since our blender was made in 1980 it sucks and I had to do it in batches in our tiny food processor (same with the beans). After you puree the beans you have to strain it, pressing the thick mixture so you squeeze out the liquid and eliminate the bean peels (which also takes a while). Finally once you have those set you combine it in a large saucepan with the other ingredients (which you can find under the Recipes tab) and heat it on medium for about 30 minutes.

I got the recipe from Latina magazine and compared it to one I found on the internet. The one from the magazine used Allspice berries but the internet one didn’t. In fact it used raisins. So I substituted but of course when I strained out the cloves and cinnamon sticks at the end the raisins had to come out too. But I ended up picked them out, making sure they weren’t stuck to any cloves since apparently biting into one is a frightening experience (according to Mom), and putting them pack into the mix. The consistency is soupy. Not too liquidy but pudding-y (what a word) either. The other recipe said to boil it to desired consistency so it probably could have stood to be on the stove a little longer. However, it’s thickening as it cools, like natilla. It’s somewhat flesh-colored (Jesus-colored?) like the beans sans skin of course.

I think it’s delicious. I think it’s great but Mom just tried it and wasn’t a fan. She doesn’t like cloves. It reminds me so much of Christmas. Kinda makes me wish it was winter (if the 95 degree weather didn’t already). So I guess my foray into Dominican cooking was a success. (As far as I know. I might get invited to a Dominican Easter one day and find that their habichuelas con dulce kicks mine’s ass.) Tomorrow I may (may because this will satisfy my sweet tooth for a while) make dulce de leche, well loved by several–if not every–Latin American country. Though funny how once you cook something and have a serving, even just a bite, you don’t really want it anymore. So…who’s up for habichuelas con dulce?

Latina Magazine; have a sneaking suspicion there is a better version of this recipe out there.

1/2 lb sweet potato (pretty much one sweet potato), peeled and diced
Pinch of salt
2 cups of cooked red kidney beans
1 cup of bean cooking liquid
1 can coconut milk
1 can condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup of sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp whole cloves
1/4 cup of raisins (optional)

1. Boil the sweet potato with a pinch of salt until tender then puree in a blender with enough liquid to make purree smooth. Set aside.
2. Puree the beans and bean cooking liquid in blender and then strain through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing to get all the liquid out and remove peels.
3. Whisk potato puree, beans, milks, sugar, vanilla, salt, cinnamon sticks, cloves and raisins (if desired) in a large saucepan. Simmer over medium to medium low heat for about 30 minutes or until reaches desired consistency.
4. Stain out the cinnamon sticks and cloves. May be served hot or cold, alone or with milk cookies or cassava bread.

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