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In honor of Stanley’s mom

January 27, 2019

When I was a kid, my dad cooked a lot. I figured that was just something dads did. I was surprised to learn that in the families of many of my friends, that was simply not the case. But, as I began to spend more time away from home, spending the night at the house of one friend or another, I came to understand why my dad cooked so much. It was self-defense.

I loved my mom dearly. Her love for her kids and the lengths to which she would go on their behalf was amazing (the same was true of my dad, but that’s not germane to this posting). There were a lot of things she did amazingly well. Cooking, as it turns out, was not one of them. There were a few dishes she made that were really, really good. There was also everything else she cooked. It simply wasn’t really her thing. With a few exceptions, she just didn’t enjoy cooking all that much.

Beans are a big deal in the South. Properly prepared, they can evoke images and memories of the farm (even if, unlike me, you were never fortunate enough to live on one), hearth and  home. Smooth and with a somewhat thick broth, they are flavorful and warming. Served with freshly baked and buttered cornbread, they are just the thing for a cool fall or cold winter day. Those weren’t the ones my mom cooked. The result was that I tended to avoid beans because the ones we ate at home were so, well, less than appealing. On the other hand, my parents raised me a certain way. If you accepted an invitation to someone’s house for dinner, you ate what they served and said “thank you,” regardless of whether you liked it or not – even if it was beans.

When I was ten years old, we moved to the little town of St. John’s, Arizona. One day, my best friend, Stanley (no, really), invited me to his house for dinner. Stanley’s family was from Mexico and I had never even tasted Mexican food (we had moved a lot but I’m from North Carolina and that was my first time in the Southwest, okay?). Anyway, his mom, who was convinced upon first meeting me that I, like her youngest son, was in danger of wasting away to nothing, created a feast. It was amazing! Still, I had tried to avoid the beans. After all, history and all that. Finally, though, it was inevitable. All I had left was a bowl of beans into which I had put the smallest amount I could without seeming rude. I took a deep breath, picked up a spoonful and put it in my mouth as though I relished beans and had been saving them until last so as to savor them at the end of the meal (politeness, remember).

Oh, my God.

They were amazing! Flavorful and seasoned with spices, many of which I had never even heard of, they were delicious. I was a convert to the Order of the Great Legume. Over the years, I’ve worked hard to learn how to cook beans. Sadly, I never learned how Stanley’s mom* made them. It was her recipe and I wasn’t cooking a lot, back then. What I’ve learned though, is that there are lots of varieties of beans and, as it turns out, lots of yummy ways to cook them.

Here’s one of them. Be advised this makes quite a few beans.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs beans (about 3 cups)
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 1 quart water
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3/4 tablespoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon quality chicken bouillon
  • 3-jalepenos, slightly seeded and cut into half-rounds
  • 1 10 oz can diced tomatoes and chilis (aka Rotel)
  • 2-3 ham hocks
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • lime wedges, to garnish

Instructions

  1. Soak beans overnight or use the quick soak method.
  2. Drain beans in a colander and rinse with cold water.
  3. In a skillet, saute onion, jalepenos and garlic in just a little unsalted butter until the onions are soft.
  4. Add the beans, chicken stock, water and sauteed vegetables to a large pot.
  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Partially cover with lid and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Add chicken bouillon and continue simmer for another 1 1/2 hours. If the beans are not tender, continue simmering until they are.
  6. Remove ham hocks to a cutting board and allow to cool. Once cool, remove all meat from the bones, chop and return to the beans. Continue to simmer until the juice is the thickness you desire. If you want lots of thick juice, add a little more chicken stock and remove about 1 cup of beans to a bowl. Using an immersion blender, puree the cooked beans and return to the pot. Allow to cook another 15 minutes.
  7. Serve with freshly baked cornbread and iced tea.

*Thank you, Mrs. Gonzales. You made quite the gastronomic impression on a snot-nosed kid from North Carolina.

 

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