Oh, happy day...
There is this bean dip that has haunted me for years, a taste I remember fairly well as a kid while visiting family in Texas. Served warmed just as many restaurants do with a salsa and with warm tortilla chips to munch on while ordering dinner, it was the most satisfying bean dip I have yet to have. Or was it even a dip at all, maybe an effortless Charro Soup as it was soupy but had just the right consistency to hold together on a chip; and the beans were whole, not mashed.
It has been years in the making and using varying ingredients, my attempts have led me to this recipe. It is similar to Frijoles or a Charro bean recipe, better known as Mexican cowboy beans that are so favored in Northern Mexico. Frijoles de Olla simply means beans in a pot. There is one ingredient I find very important in making the flavors come together and that is the use of Epazote. Aptly called skunk sweat to the Aztec due to the odd scent the plant exudes. Even so, it is an amazing plant used for very distinct purposes for thousands of years. Also known as wormseed, long ago it was paired with meat foods as it rids the body of intestinal worms and is also known to calm digestive troubles. It is most popular today in adding a distinct flavor to bean dishes and in addition, it helps prevent flatulence. The taste is hard to describe - kinda minty and piney with a sourly lemon mustard greens aftertaste, that is, when eaten fresh, but who on earth would do that? Like cilantro, you either love it or not. Oh, epazote is discouraged in use for the pregnant or breast-feeding mothers.
This is my effort to replicate the taste of long ago, enjoy!
Salsa Frijoles De Olla
makes about 12 appetizer servings
1 pound dried pinto beans
2 medium onions, chopped
2 large green bell peppers
1 cup finely chopped smoked ham
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
2 chile de árbol chiles, sliced
1 large sprig fresh young epazote or 1/2 teaspoon dried
8 garlic toes, minced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked chili powder
4 fresh medium tomatoes, or 1-15 oz can roma tomatoes, drained
Garnish of chopped onions, fresh tomatoes and jalapeno peppers if desired
warm tortilla chips
Rinse beans under cold running water removing any dirt, sort discarding disfigured beans or any stones and put in a large stockpot covering with cold water. Allow at least 3 inches of water above the beans. Bring to a boil cooking for about 2 minutes. Turn off heat and allow beans to soak for an hour or until the middle of a bean is soft
(not chalky). Drain liquid from pot.
Add 1 of the chopped onions, 1 of the chopped bell peppers, ham, bay leaves, salt and árbol chilies. Cover with water adding at least 1 inch of water past the top of the beans. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Add the epazote and garlic, stir and cook gently, adding water as needed until the beans are soft, about 2 hours uncovered. When the beans are soft, add remaining chopped onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, paprika, cumin and chili powder. Bring to a simmer and turn off heat. Taste and add more salt if needed. Let set for covered for 30 minutes.
Serve in bowls garnished with chopped sweet or green oni0ns, ripe tomatoes and jalapeno slices if desired along with a bowl of warm, toasted tortilla chips.
Note: A sprinkle of crumbled queso blanco on top or grated white cheese would be a fine addition too.