Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pinto Beans & Potatoes

Argh—we’re having some computer hiccups here at Robert Frost’s Banjo, & I’ll be off trying to deal with them & about a kabillion other errands down in the “big city” of Ontario, OR—or “down below” as folks around here refer to that part of the world. This might affect comment moderation, at least for the morning & early afternoon out here in the forgotten time zone (Mountain Standard). But I am posting (thanks to the scheduling feature) despite the fact that my monitor may decide Wednesday is the morning it really doesn’t want to wake up.

& I’m posting a variation on a recipe from my favorite cookbook, the unfortunately out-of-print Africa News Cookbook. This recipe is amazingly easy, & it consists of ingredients you can buy in Council, ID (at least in the recipe’s original form
—our variation does introduce an ingredient beyond Council’s resources, but one that’s readily available almost anywhere else); & it’s been a wintertime staples chez Hayes-Umbach for a good long while now.

It’s called, as per the post heading, simply “Pinto Beans & Potatoes,” & according to the cookbook, it derives from a Rwandan recipe. The cookbook also states: “This dish is traditionally made with manioc (also known as cassava), but pot
atoes are a reasonable substitute." Of course they are; I’m of Irish-American extraction on my dad’s side, so I come by my love of taters honestly—something shared by my sister Naomi as well. The ingredients are as follows:

About 1-½ cups (or a bit more) of dried pinto beans: The recipe calls for 2 cups, but I find this just a bit heavy bean-wise; also one of the few faults I ever found with this cookbook is that sometimes the bean measurements seem to refer to the quantity of beans prior to soaking, & sometimes to the quantity afterward, but without m
aking the distinction clear. Obviously, soaking increases the volume.
3 large potatoes, chopped: I generally use 4, even if the potatoes are large, & if I’m using smaller russets or Yukon Golds, I pretty much eyeball the equivalent amount.
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 chopped bell pepper: This is a variant Eberle & I ad
ded recently, & it’s quite good. I suspect peeled & chopped carrots would be a fine addition as well.
1 tsp salt
1 thinly sliced onion: I tend to mainly use either yellow onions or Walla Walla onions (our own local variety here just north & east of prime onion land)
1-½ tsp of Vietnamese chili garlic sauce: Now here’s the Eberle-John added ingredient that hasn’t made it to the shelves of Ronnie’s Supermarket or Council Valley Market, our town’s two food emporiums. But fortunately, we don’t have too far to go to pick this up. Obviously, this can be adjusted to taste—I think you’d get a fair kick
at 1 tsp, & I could definitely see increasing to 2 tsp. & since the original recipe doesn’t call for anything like this, you don’t have to use it. But to my palate (& to Eberle’s) it’s an improvement.
4 TBSP of oil: The recipe calls for peanut oil; we usually use olive oil.

After the beans have been prepared & soaked, you bring them to a boil, reduce them to a simmer, & cook them until they’re “just tender.” & you do likewise for the potatoes. In the meantime, you heat the oil in a large skillet or stewpot, & sauté the onions until they’re golden. You should add the chili sauce with the onions. Then add the celery, bell pepper & whatever veggies suit your fancy, along with the salt, stirring occasionally. I add the potatoes after the vegetables have cooked for a bit, & are “relaxing” from the sautéing, stirring again, & then I add the tender beans last of all & give everything a good he
arty stir. Giving the ingredients a while to get to know each other on very low heat while improve the flavors; I’d say they should at least be on low heat for 10-15 minutes minimum.

Now there’s the one-starch vs. two-starch question. When Eberle & I were first getting used to living together, we were both a trifle shocked at the other’s stance regarding how many starches you can serve at a meal. Coming from a working cla
ss background, & having done a fair amount of manual labor for pay (such as that was) in my younger days, my perspective was that you really couldn’t serve too many starches with a dinner. Why shouldn’t Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner include all of the following: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, & rolls? Eberle’s perspective, again based on upbringing, was diametrically opposed to this—you didn’t even serve bread with pasta—shocking!

I’m happy to report that both of our positions ha
ve softened over the years. We now enjoy stuffing & mashed potatoes on the big foodie holidays, & I’m quite happy to serve a dish such as today’s offering without scooping it over a mound of rice. Now the Africa News Cookbook suggests serving this over rice (unless you want to go all-out & make the strange substance called fufu). I’ve found that I like brown rice much better with this particular dish than white rice—something about the stronger, nuttier flavor I guess. Anyhoo: this gives you three options (or four, really): no rice, brown rice, white rice, or if you’re daring, fufu. One thing about serving the dish over rice: it does go further, & this is a dish that improves as the flavors mingle more, so it’s quite good as leftovers.

Hope you enjoy!


  1. Ooh, this sounds good. As a Texan, I can testify that pinto beans are the staff of life.

    When we were in New Orleans last spring, we dropped by Kitchen Witch, a book store dedicated new, used, out-of-print, and rare cookbooks. Among other treasures, we found The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent (Harris). It's not only a nice cookbook, it's an example of excellent book design.

  2. Thanks for the comment. Your skills are so varied. You are also a very talented cook. I almost said it looked African.

  3. K: I'll look around for that-- a possible Powells item perhaps? They do have a cookbook annex on Hawthorne, I think, & I believe they have used as well as new at that outlet. I might perhaps see garbanzos as a bit more staff of life, but pintos are right up there.

    OO: Thanks for your generous comments. I really like the new music look of your blog-- love the info on afrobeat music.

  4. Great recipe -- I'll have to cook up a big ol' pot of this for me and Citizen K.!

  5. Thanks T-- sure hope you & K enjoy it!

  6. Thanks John. You are an inspiration.

  7. Thanks, likewise, Oladapo-- say, I'm thinking your blog as it's currently set up would best fit under the "Blog Gumbo" category here on RF Banjo-- it seems like you're branching out into fields of interest in addition to your creative writing, & "Blog Gumbo" is where I list the links for blogs with varied interests. Will make the switch, but let me know if you think that's not an accurate reflection of your blog.


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