Grandma’s Chili Beans

My Puerto Rican grandmother was a really great cook. She also took great pride in her position as authority of all things Puerto Rican in the kitchen. I spent many curious afternoons with her as a kid in both her amazing garden and kitchen, trying to figure out how she made some of my family’s favorite dishes. I was most fascinated by watching her make Arroz con Gandules, a combination of rice, pigeon peas and pork, cooked all together in the same pot. It is a dish that is traditionally cooked only around the holidays, though I would request that she made it for me any time of the year. She always obliged – I was her favorite after all. The savory aroma of that rice cooking is still one that brings me right back to my childhood every time I make it now.

Grandma basting the holiday turkey.

Grandma basting the holiday turkey.

The smell of food conjures up memories for everyone. When I’m cooking Puerto Rican food at home, fellow Latin guests can rejoice in the same aromatic and amorous sense of nostalgia. We are bound by the same history of comfort through food.

So when my dear friend, companion, mother, father, brother, sister – Mr. David comes over to create a new gown for me, I in exchange cook for him. And, I know exactly what things make him most happy at my table. Most of you probably think that he survives on cigarettes, coffee, and whiskey. Though that may be true, I know a better way to his heart and also a much more loving way to get that gown finished. It is simply by cooking him Arroz con Gandules or a pot of my grandmother’s chili beans. This exchange has become a cornerstone of our most perfect union and the bridge chartering numerous artistic collaborations.

Mr. David enjoying my grandmothers chili beans.

Mr. David enjoying my grandmothers chili beans.

There is nothing fancy about these beans. They are very simple to make. All they require is the patience to let the beans gently simmer until they are perfectly done.

Chili Beans

3 Tablespoons Achiote lard (recipe follows)
1 pound ground beef
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 tablespoon Gebhardt Chili powder
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup Sofrito (recipe follows)
8 ounce can tomato sauce
2 quarts water
1 pound dried pinto beans, rinsed and picked over
1 tablespoon salt

In a heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the achiote lard and
add the ground beef to the hot pan and cook, stirring occasionally,
until the meat is well browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the chili powder,
cumin, oregano, bay leaf and sofrito and cook about 4 minutes.

Add the tomato sauce, water and beans and bring to a boil. Reduce the
heat to a simmer, partially cover the pot, and cook, stirring
occasionally, until meat and beans are tender and sauce is thick and
flavorful, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Add the salt after the first hour
of cooking.

My grandmother used to serve us these beans over a bowl of steamed white rice.

Achiote Lard
1 cup lard
2 tablespoons achiote (annatto) seeds

Heat the lard and annatto seeds in a small skillet over medium heat
just until the seeds give off a lively, steady sizzle. Don’t overheat
the mixture or the seeds will turn black and the oil a nasty green.
Once they’re sizzling away, pull the pan from the heat and let stand
until the sizzling stops. Strain as much of the oil as you are going
to use right away into the pan; store the rest for up to 4 days at
room temperature in a jar with a tight fitting lid.

To make the sofrito follow this link to view a past post.