My earlier blog tells about the origin of tamales and how to eat one, but if you want to make a supper party featuring tamales you might need some guidelines for a menu. A traditional meal in here in Mexico, the ancestral homeland of the tamale, is an accompaniment of Pinto beans (frijoles). Black beans would work well too. Where I grew up in New Mexico this meal would also include a simple tossed green salad with tomato, lettuce, a chopped avocado, some onion and oil and vinegar dressing. You would want to have a tomato salsa on the side to put on the beans. I would add a loaf of garlic bread as well. Lemon meringue pie would be my Mother’s pick to serve for dessert; I would probably have brownies with ice cream.
Pinto beans are to the Southwest what Boston baked beans are to the East Coast. In the 1930’s when my Mother taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Rocky Arroyo, New Mexico, she boarded with local ranchers. Their supper every evening was Pinto beans (without the tamales), served with fried salt pork, blackstrap molasses and sourdough bread. The beans were topped with canned tomatoes and fresh sliced onions. It is a simple meal and quite nutritious as well. Someone who didn’t grow up eating this kind of food might think it sounds awful or boring, but for me it is comfort food.
Colorado is lucky to have Adobe Milling, a grower of Pinto beans and Anasazi beans. When we are in town we bring back lots of bags of Anasazi beans that we get at King Soopers Market. They are also available from Adobe Milling on the internet. These beans have an interesting history. They are a 1,500 year old variety: the popular story behind their modern origin is unusual. In the 1980's a member of an archeological team from UCLA was looking for remains of Pygmy elephants that roamed the earth thousands of years ago in New Mexico and came upon these beans. The beans were in a clay pot sealed with pine tar and were determined by radio carbon dating to be over 1,500 years old, yet some still germinated and it is from those that we today can share the harvest of heirloom beans of ancient Americans! The beans are a beautiful splotched brown and white that taste a lot like Pinto beans but more buttery. When they are cooked they look alike.
I grew up eating Pinto beans at least once a week. My father always cooked beans with salt pork, and some people like to use ham hocks, but I tell you if you have never had beans cooked just for themselves you are missing out on a fabulous low fat meal. I consider Esperando to be a master bean cooker. Here is his recipe (--first a word of caution, we like our beans really garlicky so cut back on the garlic if that is not for you).
Esperando's Pinto Beans
2 c Pinto beans
1 bay leaf
1 T epizote (available at specialty Mexican markets and maybe Whole Foods)
1 T oregano
1 T thyme
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 T coarse ground black pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
6 cloves minced garlic
2 T salt
Pick over the beans (now and then a rock gets in there, great for tooth cracking!) and rinse them under water. Put everything except the salt together in pot, bring to boil and simmer for 3-5 hours until done, add salt at the last. Beans can also be prepared the night ahead by covering with boiling water and letting sit overnight shortening the cooking time the next day to 2 hours. They can also be cooked all day in a slow cooker. Beans should be cooked until they are completely soft and a few are showing signs of falling apart. This same recipe works for black beans as well.
2 large ripe tomatoes
1 yellow onion
1 c packed fresh cilantro
1 serrano chile, stemed, seeded and finely minced
1 tsp salt
1 T olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon or lime
Put in food processor and process until pieces are bean sized.
Now you can have a tamale party! Buen aprovecho!