Sunday, September 15, 2013

bean there, done that

San Miguel de Allende is hopping with visitors in town for Independence Day celebrations.  That means plenty of events.

But the weather is not cooperating for this town famous for its walkable streets.  No heavy rains.  More like the mists you would find on the Devonshire moors.  Enough, though, to keep me ensconced in the casita.

On Saturday morning, I drove over to a grocery far away from the centro district.  But that turned out to be more of an adventure than I had predicted.  The roundabout in front of the grocery store was in gridlock.  And when I picked up my few items, I was stuck in line behind four chilangos, probably in their mid-twenties, who had started celebrating with the tequila a little early. 

It took them almost twenty minutes to get checked out with their bottles of liquor and wine, ice, liters of Coke (because liquor without sugar is too challenging for aging fratboys), and packs of cigarettes.  All the while picking up candy bars from the display and eating them while insulting the poor cashier.

The Indian couple in front of me whispered "turistas" -- I think to assure me that the behavior was embarrassing to everyone in line.

That was good enough to convince me it was a great afternoon to cook up some bean soup and resume my slog through the recent Margaret Thatcher biography.  (It is a good read.  Just a long one.)

My bean soup is always a time-consuming process.  I try to set out three or four hours to get it just right.

The first step is the most tedious.  I call it Winnowing the Stones.

Before beans are packaged, they are dried.  Around here, that means in the open on the ground.  As a result, some foreign objects find their way into the bean bag.  Rocks.  Small pieces of wood.  The occasional rodent reminder.  And beans that have gone off.

That last category is the most difficult.  Most cooks I know leave the "deformed" beans in the mix.  I take them out.  Their flavor tends to color the rest of the beans.  Rather like cheese that has been overtaken by an unsavory mold.

(By the way, I have found exactly the same mix of debris in beans north of the Rio Bravo.  My winnowing technique has a long heritage.)

While the beans are undergoing their fast soak, I start on the preparation of the vegetables and ham.  There really is no recipe.  I find what is fresh at the market and look for compatible tastes.

On Saturday that was garlic, onion, poblano pepper, jalapeño peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, and red bell pepper. 

Anyone who has not tried the small zucchini available in Mexico is missing a taste treat.  They have the added benefit of acting as a thickening agent in soup.

I suppose I should call this vegetable bean soup.  In volume, the vegetables easily out-space the beans.*

But it all works out.  After an hour and a half of simmering -- and the addition of a generous bit of cumin and oregano -- I sat down to a bowl of deliciously piquant bean soup.  Just in time to discover that Mrs. Thatcher won the 1979 election.

I doubt that I would have had more fun in the misty -- and crowded -- streets of Independence Day San Miguel de Allende.

What I did have was a very restful and delicious afternoon and evening in the casita on the hill.

* -- And, yes, I made enough bean soup to provide me enough food for my next two weeks here.  I have only eaten one meal in a restaurant since I arrived.  Here in the land of noted eateries.  But I doubt I could find any place that could rival my soup.

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