Colombian Comfort Food: Frijoles Antioqueños

As a young kid, weekday dinners were a pretty ordinary affair. We ate well, and always as a family, but the menu was straightforward: a protein, a vegetable, potatoes and a glass of milk – a meal dictated by working schedules, a food guide and a need to get my sister and me to soccer practice on time.

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On Sundays, the pace changed. Time spent in the kitchen ballooned, my dad starting early, chopping, frying, simmering. Meals were no longer separate bits of colour speedily spooned onto a plate. They were proper dishes, drawn out over the course of a day: hefty pots of jambalaya, chilli, spaghetti, stew; roasts with root vegetables, boeuf bourguignon with fettuccine alfredo. Even when I stopped eating meat, the dinners continued, my dad making separate pots of meatless sauces and stews so that I could still join in.

But at a certain point, those dinners dwindled – my sister and I were out more, interested less. And now that my parents live on the other side of the country, jambalaya graces our plates the one or two times a year we all manage to gather in the same place. The memory of that little tradition has, for a long time, been far from my mind.

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This past Sunday morning, with no thought to those dinners, I put my biggest pot on the stove and started to cook. I chopped vegetables, rinsed beans, measured out spoonfuls of tomato paste. For the first time in a long time, I cooked leisurely, extending what could be a quick process out over the course of a few hours.

I was making a friend’s recipe for Frijoles Antioqueños, a mellow Colombian stew of beans, green plantains, tomato sauce and pork, the latter she’d omitted on my behalf.  

beans-crop.jpgGeographically speaking, the dish is far from the meals that inspired my childhood dinners. But in its ingredients and its methods, it fits right in (admittedly the green plantain is a bit of an outlier, but it stands in nicely for the ubiquitous potatoes of my youth). 

And as I stood over the nearly-finished pot of beans, the feel of the day – the aromas, the pace, the process – took me back to those Sundays. 

In a perfect world, I would have served the dish up to close company. I ate it alone, savouring the subtlety of the flavours and the memories they brought back. And then I went on with my day. But the next time my family and I all find ourselves in the same city, I’ll put a big pot on the stove early in the day and make Frijoles Antioqueños. Sunday or not.  


Frijoles Antioqueños
Adapted from a recipe shared by my lovely friend, Catalina
Serves 6

Notes: If you want to work with dried beans, which will extend the cooking time but make an arguably tastier dish, scroll to the bottom of the recipe directions for…more directions! 

Ingredients for the beans

3 cups of cooked kidney beans* 
1-2 green plantains, chopped in medium pieces
1/2 white onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1-2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tbsp olive oil (or another neutral-tasting oil)
Cold water

Ingredients for the Hogao (tomato sauce)

2 tbsp olive oil (or another neutral-tasting oil)
1/2 white onion, chopped (again, about 1/2 cup)
1 bunch of green onions, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
Salt, pepper and cumin to taste 

To serve

Cooked rice, cilantro, avocado

Directions

1. Pop the beans, plantains, 1/2 cup of onion, carrot, tomato paste and olive oil in a large pot. Add enough cold water to nearly cover your ingredients. Cover with a lid and cook over medium-low heat until the plantains are nearly tender, about 20-30 minutes. 

2. When the plantains are nearly cooked, warm 2 tbsp oil in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the white onion, green onions and garlic to the pan. Cook for 5-10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Toss in the tomatoes and cook, stirring regularly, until they’ve broken down into a sauce. Season with salt, pepper and cumin to taste (I used about a 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp each of pepper and cumin) and turn off the heat. 

steps 1.jpg3. Stir half your tomato mixture into the bean mixture and continue cooking the beans over low heat for ~10 minutes more, until the flavours have melded and the plantains are cooked through. Taste and add more salt, pepper and cumin as you see fit. 

4. Serve over warm rice. Top with fresh cilantro, avocado, and a spoonful of the remaining tomato sauce.  

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*Note about working with dried beans:

My friend Catalina makes her Frijoles Antioquenos using dried, rather than canned, beans. And honestly, that’s the tastier (and more economical) way to go – it’ll leave you with beans that are tender but not, as canned beans will be, super-soft.

So why did I write the recipe to use canned beans? They are, simply, more predictable to work with. Dried beans can take anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours to cook, depending on their variety, size and age. And if you’re new to cooking with dried beans, that can be intimidating. So cooked it is.

But! If you know your way around a bag of dried beans, or are up for an experiment, I wholly encourage you to use dry beans instead. Here’s what to do: 

1. Rinse the dry beans in a colander, sorting through them to remove any pebbles or other non-beany things. 

2. Transfer the beans into a large bowl and cover them with water (you’ll want the water to rise an inch or two above the beans). Set the bowl in the fridge and let the beans soak for 8 hours or overnight. When you’re ready to start cooking, drain the water off and give them one last rinse.

3. Place the beans in a large pot and add enough cold water to completely cover them. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook until they’re almost tender. Again, they could hit the tender mark anywhere between 30 minutes and three hours.

4. Once your beans are nearly tender, pick up at Step 1, adding your plantains, onions, carrot, tomato paste and olive oil to your bean pot.

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