Puerto Rico is a cornucopia of rich culture, beautiful attractions and amazing food. Puerto Rico is known for its popular dishes such as empanadillas, pollo guisado (which is a dish of chicken stew cooked in tomato sauce with potatoes, carrots, and sometimes pumpkin), pernil (which is a traditional Puerto Rican holiday dish consisting of pork shoulder or leg slowly cooked in an oven with spices), tostones (a dish made from sliced green plantain that is smashed individually until flat), arroz con pollo (which is a delicious dish of cooked rice and chicken, commonly cooked with sofrito, tomato sauce, olives and peppers), maduros and habichuelas.
All this talk of food must be making you hungry. Even though there are countless dishes to try, here is one particular dish that might just do the trick. Have you ever heard of habichuelas?
Habichuelas guisadas, as it is locally known, is a dish consisting of stewed beans made with fresh sofrito and sazon. It is a popular comfort food, or a side dish to Carne Guisada, It is creamy, tender and bursting with flavours. It is sure to leave you wanting more.
How to Make Habichuelas at Home
Now that we have you hooked, here are the steps to making this tasty dish at home.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 cup diced country ham or bacon omit if vegetarian
- 1/4 cup Puerto Rican sofrito
- 1/4 cup tomato sauce
- 1½ tsp sazon con achiote and culantro
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 2 cups low sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
- 2 cans pink beans (habichuelas rosadas), undrained 15 oz. cans
- 1/3 cup diced potato, pumpkin and/or baby carrots
- 8 pimento stuffed olives
- 2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped for garnish
- Add adobo seasoning or salt to taste
- In a medium sized sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped ham and saute for 2-3 minutes, until it starts to caramelize.
Add the sofrito and Sazon seasoning. Saute for 2 minutes, until fragrant.
Add the tomato sauce, oregano, bay leaves, and cumin. Saute for 1 minute.
Add the chicken stock, beans (with their liquid), chopped potato, pumpkin or carrot, olives, and chopped cilantro. Cover and bring the mixture to a boil.
Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow the flavors to meld, the beans to become really tender, and the pumpkin/carrots to cook. The mixture should be very creamy and not soupy.
- Check for seasoning, and add Adobo or salt if needed.
The best recipes for habichuelas make use of dry beans and cooking on low heats so the beans are tender and all the flavours meld into them.
There are various ways to serve habichuelas. You can serve them as a side dish to rice (as mentioned above), you can also serve them as a soup ( known as sweet cream of beans or Habichuelas con Dulce).
Variations of Habichuelas to Try
There are so many variations of habichuelas that you can try. There is :
- Habichuelas pintas (pinto beans)
- Habichuelas rosadas (pink beans or cranberry beans)
- Habichuelas rojas (red kidney beans)
- Habichuelas negras (black beans)
- Habichuelas blancas (white beans or cannellini)
- Habichuelas caritas (black eye peas)
You can experiment with different flavours to create new dishes. For a spicy variation, add a jalapeno to your sofrito so that the beans pack a little punch. You can also serve them mixed with rice as a rice dish. Additionally, you can enjoy them as a sweet desert when you prepare them con dulce style. This is when the beans are pureed and cooked with coconut milk, evaporated milk, sweetened with sugar and spiced with cloves and cinnamon. This makes a thick and creamy desert that all can enjoy.
Other Puerto Rican Dishes to Try
The other options for dishes that you can try is a long and seemingly never-ending one. Not to worry though, here are a few hand-picked ones, specially for you.
- Pasteles- boiled green banana dough filled with pork meat
- Piraguas- shaved ice with syrup of different flavours
- Arroz con Grandules- Yellow rice mixed with pigeon peas
- Amarillos- fried ripe plantain
- Rellenos de Papa- deep fried potato dough with ground meat filling
- Pastelon- the Puerto Rican take on Lasagna. A dish of baked ripe plantains with ground beef
The History and Characteristics of Habichuelas
One theory debates that habichuelas was created by enslaved African people who were kidnapped and brought to the Dominican Republic. This is because it is similar to frejol colado which is created by Afro-Peruvians and consisted of black beans, milk, and sugar or panela.
Another theory also argues that habichuelas are of Turkish descent as they bear similarities to a dish called Ashure, also known as Noah’s Pudding. Not only is Ashure made with similar ingredients including sugar, beans and spices, like Habichuela con dulce it is also associated with a religious period of fasting.
Habichuelas are most popularly eaten during Easter festivities and is created to be shared with neighbours and family.
The ingredients for Habichuelas guisadas comprise of olive oil, ground cumin, tomato sauce, country ham or bacon, bay leaves, pink beans, diced potatoes, pumpkins and/or baby carrots, oregano, chicken broth, sofrito, and perhaps some cilantro to serve as garnish.
If you are looking to make this dish, some tips are: using dry beans to ensure you get a creamy broth that cannot be gotten from cans, a good type of beans to use would be the dry pinto beans or pink beans which are also known as cranberry beans, and buy beans from places that have a good turnover (that is, they have not been sitting on shelves for a long time). Additionally, you might want to consider whether or not you want to soak the beans. Although soaking generally helps cook the beans faster and makes them easier to digest, you might not always need to. If you are cooking beans that have thinner skins, you can opt to skip the process of soaking them overnight.
Habichuelas are tasty and fun to make at home. Embark on this flavour-filled adventure and make your own today whilst discovering the culinary wonders of Puerto Rico in the process.