Frijoles Negros con Epazote

The city of Oaxaca, capital of the state of Oaxaca, lies in a valley known as the Etla Valley. Etla is the Spanish rendering of the Nahuatl word etl, which means “black beans.” So the Etla Valley is the valley of black beans, and this is indeed the bean which one encounters almost exclusively in Mexico’s south.

Epazote is an indigenous Mexican herb. It has a strong smell that is reminiscent of something you might use to thin paint, but it actually adds a rich, wonderful, indescribable flavor to things cooked with it. You can find fresh epazote at Hispanic grocery stores. It is said by some that cooking black beans with epazote helps mitigate any gastric disturbances one might normally expect from eating beans, but I’m not sure how much the evidence supports this. I just know that it really compliments frijoles negros.

This is not a recipe from the cooking school, as those recipes belong to Susana. This is one I developed after trying this dish on my first trip to Mexico. Enjoy.

Frijoles Negros con Epazote

1 pound dried black beans
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large sprigs fresh epazote
2 tsp. salt, or to taste

Sort through the beans and discard any pebbles, twigs, or moldy beans. Rinse the beans thoroughly and drain.

Place the beans in a heavy pot. Add water to cover by two inches. Bring to boil over high heat, then remove the pot from the burner and let the beans sit for one hour. (Alternately, you can soak the beans in cold water for 4 to 8 hours.)

Add the onion, garlic, and epazote to the beans. Add enough water to again cover the beans by 1 inch. Return the pot to the burner and again bring to the boil. Stir the beans, then reduce the heat. Do not cover the pot. Let the beans just simmer for 1 hour, without stirring. (But watch the beans. If the water disappears, add more.)

At the end of the hour, stir the beans well. If necessary, add enough water to cover the beans by 1 inch. Simmer another 30 minutes, then check the beans. If they are beginning to get soft, add the salt. Add water as necessary, so that the beans remain slightly covered. When the beans are cooked through, remove the epazote and discard. There should still be enough liquid to just cover the beans. To thicken the liquid, you can either use a masher, as the Indian women do, to mash a small percentage of the beans, or you can remove 1/2 to 1 cup of the beans and puree them in a blender, then stir them back into the pot.

Serve with warm tortillas. Can also be served over rice (not as traditional, but a nice way to sop up all the juice). Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side dish.

Copyright ©2010 Cynthia Clampitt

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Filed under culinary history, Food, History, Language, Recipes, Travel

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