|Family & Friends in front of my grandparents home in Tuinucú|
My mother expressed her love very successfully through the food she prepared. My father loved soups, especially bean soups. He didn’t think a meal was complete without soup, so Mamina made some sort of soup almost every day of her adult life.
My memories of soups begin in my grandmother’s kitchen. We lived with my father's parents until I was five years old, because my father helped run Abuelo Beluco's dairy and sugar cane plantation. The wood burning fireplace (hearth?) took up a whole wall of the large kitchen. Abuelo and my father got up at 3 AM to milk the cows, then lit the fire to boil the milk for breakfast. After that the cooking went on all day. Abuela Natalia, my grandmother, had a cook and other servants, but there was no question she directed all that went on in their home, especially in the kitchen. They prepared almuerzo (lunch) each day, for all the men working on the plantation. Those meals for 20-30 people always started with a hearty bean soup.
I was rarely allowed in that kitchen, I was a little child and I guess it was dangerous. Plus with all the activity I would have gotten in the way, but I remember the heat and the smoke and the wonderful smells! In the afternoons my grandmother sat at the table and sorted through the beans that would be left soaking for the next day's soup. It was a good time to talk with her.
The picture above is my grandparents home in Tuinucu, Cuba. Family and friends on the steps.
Several of you have asked how to cook dry beans, so I'm posting general instructions before I post specific recipes in the weeks to come. You might want to save this, to refer back to.
GENERAL DIRECTIONS FOR COOKING LEGUMES (BEANS, LENTILS, ETC)
Sort through the dry beans or peas the day before you plan to cook them, to take out any rocks or debris, etc. Most packaged beans come pretty clean, but old customs die hard so Mamina always did this. Rinse the beans, you can use a colander, or just put water in a pan with the beans and try to pour it out without spilling all the beans :), then cover with cold water and soak over night or for at least 4 hours. My mother always cooked beans in the same water she soaked them in, I don’t. Come morning I drain the beans and add new water to cook them in. I read somewhere that this way you get rid of some of the starch that causes gas when you eat the beans. The exception is when you are making black beans, if you drain the soaking water you will loose all the nice color, so cook them in the water you soaked them in.
It’s not imperative to soak lentils and split peas, but it doesn’t hurt either. Lentils kind of sprout when you soak them overnight, and that increases their nutritional value.
A pressure cooker makes cooking beans a half hour process. Make sure the beans are well covered with water, at least 2-3 inches above the beans. Cover the pressure cooker, put the steam valve on, cook on high heat until the valve is dancing and you know the pressure cooker has reached full pressure. Begin timing.
Lentils and split peas will be done in 15 minutes
Garbanzos (chick peas) 25-30
Be careful opening the pressure cooker. You must let all the pressure and steam dissipate, which takes about 10 minutes if you just let it sit. The food will continue to cook for at least the first 5 minutes, so count this as part of the cooking time. You can put the pressure cooker under running water to speed up the process and stop the cooking. You will hear the steam escape. Then you can remove the valve and open the lid. If it’s hard to open wait longer. Play it safe.
If you don’t have a pressure cooker, it’s best to use a heavy pan, so the beans wont burn or stick. Bring to a boil then simmer on med/low for a couple of hours. Best to cover the pan so they don’t loose as much water. You will probably have to add water, or start with 2-3 inches of water above the beans. Lentils and split peas should be soft in less than an hour. Other beans will take 2-3 hours, depending how soft you like them. Test the softness by smashing a bean between your fingers. Should be easy to smash. I actually think the beans cooked slowly, without the pressure cooker, taste better.
You can also cook beans in a slow cooker, on high heat, they will be soft in 7-8 hours.
Do not add salt at the beginning of cooking, it will toughen the beans. Wait until they are soft, when you add the sofrito.