October 31, 2011

Pinto Beans, Chicos and Roasted Chiles

Fall in New Mexico offers a delicious harvest. In this arid climate, local people have been growing beans and corn for centuries. The abundant desert sun also allows chile peppers, sweet yellow, mild green, and spicy red, to grow bountifully. Every Saturday, vendors from the nineteen Northern New Mexican Pueblos come the the Santa Fe Farmers Market to sell their produce. 


I had the opportunity to talk with a farmer who had just threshed his crop of pinto beans, sweet corn, and chiles. As I sifted my fingers through the bushel basket of beans, he shared his wisdom about ways to cook the pintos so that they grow soft and digestible while maintaining their shape. 


Here is my interpretation of his recipe for cooked pinto beans:
Chiles with chicos (left)
and pintos (right)
In a stockpot, place 1 cup of beans in 5 cups of boiling water; boil for 2–3 minutes, cover and set aside overnight. The next day, most of the indigestible sugars will have dissolved into the soaking water. Drain, and then rinse the beans thoroughly before cooking. Cook fresh beans for 30 minutes or dry beans for 50 minutes, skimming off any foam that rises to the top.


"We cook these beans with chicos", he told me, while opening a bag of smoked sweet corn for me to smell. The aroma, earthy and rich, tantalized my senses. I listened to his stories about the importance of preserving corn so that it lasts for the whole winter. First he described making chicos, sweet corn kernels smoked in their husks and dried in the sun. 


Then, he detailed the way to make posole, corn soaked in lime water and ash. This process, known as nixtamalization, is essential for producing whole grain dishes such as posole and hominy as well as masa harina, the corn flour from which tortillas and tamales are made.
Soaking the corn keeps it from sprouting while in storage. In addition to preserving the grain as foodstuff, this process also affords several significant nutritional advantages over untreated maize products. It converts B vitamins into a form that the body can easily absorb. It also makes amino acids and calcium more readily available.


Both forms of alchemy allow the corn to last for many months while creating a flavorful and digestible variation on this starchy vegetable.


Even though you may not be able to find chicos outside of New Mexico, posole is more readily available. When you have a winter day to spend at home, try this recipe for Posole Stew. It will take about 6 hours to cook and the final flavor is well worth the wait.


1 pound prepared posole corn, well-rinsed         
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 cups water
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
5 cups water, approximately
3-6 dried red chile pods, rinsed and crumbled
2 tablespoons salt                     

Place posole and 10 cups water in large stewing pot. Bring mixture to a boil at high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer posole for 5 hours. Add the remaining ngredients to posole and simmer for 1 hour. 


Whether cooking beans with chicos or posole, many New Mexicans add freshly roasted green and red chiles. Their spicy sweetness lends even more depth to these traditional foods. 


Beyond being staple foods of the pueblos in Northern New Mexico, beans and corn are both food and seed. Every time we save a kernel of corn or a bean, we create the possibility for another crop to grow next year. Beyond their capacity to nourish us with a balance of protein and carbohydrates, these delicious seeds also feed the soil with their bio-available abundance of nitrogen, phosphorous and calcium.


No wonder each pueblo offers gratitude for beans and corn in its traditional dances and speaks of their meaning in their creation stories. Make time to cook and savor the simple richness of these foods for yourself.
Roasted Chiles

Roasting Chiles

1 comment:

Adena said...

Safe travels - enjoy the sun this winter and VERY much looking forward to your posts and recipes. <3

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