Beans. There is no staple more quintessentially Latino, more constant in every Hispanic country in South and Central America and the Caribbean. Whether it’s a thick and luscious potaje from Puerto Rico or Cuba, or something on the brothier side from Mexico, where frijoles are cooked up, ever so simply, with a little fat and epazote, the legume is as much part of who we are as any food in our history. Indeed, they’re a huge part of human history in general because they’re among the first crops ever to be cultivated by man. Early Native Americans, in particular the indigenous people of Mexico, lived on just three staples—squash, corn and beans, known as the “three sisters.”
For reasons that remain relevant thousands of years later, our predecessors had it right. Not only do beans make a hearty meal, they’re incredibly healthy: they contain no cholesterol or fat and are high in protein and carbohydrates, which is what humans need for energy, and fiber, which helps reduce cholesterol. Combine them with rice (like we need to tell any Latino to do that!) and you have yourself a seriously healthy meal: the amino acids of each, the bean and the rice, complement one in another and together form a complete protein, which is the what we humans depend on for growth and development.
Today’s recipe for garbanzo and kale stew is a great example for how to take an already healthy staple and make it even healthier. Typically, potajes de garbanzo, like many bean stews, are flavored with chorizo, bacon, a ham hock or some other kind of intensely fatty meat. Here, the stew relies instead on a sofrito seasoned with plenty of cumin, oregano and smoked paprika (which evokes the chorizo taste) as well as a rich vegetable broth. The chickpeas are meaty—the better to make you feel like you’re eating something substantial—and make a nice foil for the leafy kale, which is super-rich in vitamin K, a powerful antioxidant. A great meatless Monday option!
3 T olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
2 Cubanelle peppers, cored, seeded and finely diced
4 garlic cloves, mashed to paste in a mortar and pestle
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
3/4 tsp smoked paprika
1 cup dry white wine
2 cans, low sodium chickpeas (or 1 lb dried beans, soaked and softened)
1 14-oz can whole tomatoes, chopped
2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
2 cups chopped kale or baby spinach
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Start by making the sofrito. In a caldero or olla, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions, peppers and garlic and cook the vegetables, stirring, until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Keep the heat as high as you can without burning the vegetables. You want them to fry, and not steam in their own juices. This will extract maximum flavor. Add the bay leaf, cumin, oregano and paprika and continue cooking another 5 minutes.
2. Add the wine, scraping up any bits that have stuck the pot and cook until the liquid is almost entirely reduced.
3. Add the beans, tomatoes and vegetable broth, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and allow to simmer, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Add the chopped kale or spinach and cook for an additional 5 minutes, until the leaves are wilted. Taste and correct seasoning if necessary. Serve over white or brown rice. Makes 4 to 6 servings.