Haitian Beans and Rice
If you ever studied French, you probably learned somewhere in the first year that green beans are haricot verts. Interestingly, “haricot” is not entirely a French word. It came, by way of the Spanish conquistadors, from an Aztec word, ayacotl. (Though some scholars point out that the German harigoté, or stew, might have contributed to the etymology, too.) “Haricot” also exists in English, where it is generally used to describe the dry forms of the New World beans that the Aztec called “ayacotl.”
The American haricot bean is both ancient and important. Evidence reveals that it was already being cultivated as early as 7000 BC Haricot beans had diversified and spread throughout the Americas, becoming a staple food of the vast majority of Native American groups, by the time the first Europeans arrived.
It is likely that Christopher Columbus was the first European to see the haricot bean, but it wasn’t until the conquistadors reached Mexico in 1519 that the bean made a big enough impression for people to pick up the local name. However, though the name by which the bean became known is Aztec, the haricot bean has so many forms that it was “discovered” numerous times across the Americas. Cabeza de Vaca discovered different types of haricot beans in Florida, Jacques Cartier came upon other varieties near the mouth of the St. Lawrence, and numerous groups of settlers in North America learned of growing the “Three Sisters” of beans, corn, and squash from the indigenous population.
Today, almost everything that comes to mind when you say “bean” falls into the family of haricot beans: string beans, pintos, kidney beans, black turtle beans, navy beans, great northerns, and lima beans are probably among the best known family members. However, there are also Anasazi beans, cranberry beans, appaloosas, Jacob’s cattle, and myriad others—a bean for every environment, from cold and wet to hot and dry.
In time, the haricot bean became more important in Europe than the indigenous fava bean. It had its first European success in Italy, which it reached in 1528. It became so popular in Tuscany that Tuscans became known as mangafagioli, “bean eaters.” When Catherine de Medici left Tuscany for France, to marry the Dauphin, she was persuaded to take a bag of these new beans with her. The people of Provence were the first to benefit from Catherine’s extra cargo, and beans were soon part of the local cuisine. Despite resistance from some famous writers and gastronomes (largely due to the often unpleasant and socially unacceptable side effects of eating too many beans), haricot beans continued to increase in importance and popularity throughout Europe.
Of course, haricot beans have remained important in their hemisphere of origin. Both North and South America offer innumerable dishes that utilize beans from this family, many of them the identifying dish of a cuisine, such as Brazil’s feijoada completa or Cuba’s black beans and rice. This recipe comes from Haiti. Its name is French for “National Dish.” Though the ingredients are simple and inexpensive, this dish is remarkably good. Enjoy.
(Haitian Beans and Rice)
1 cup dried pinto or kidney beans
1¾ tsp. salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley
6 Tbs. bacon fat (see note below)
½ tsp. ground black pepper
¼ tsp. ground cloves
1 cup rice
Sort and wash the beans. Put beans in a pot with 3 cups water. Bring to boil, boil for 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Stir in salt, then set aside and let soak, covered, for 1 hour.
In a large pot or deep frying pan, sauté garlic, onion, and parsley in bacon fat. Stir in pepper and cloves.
Drain the beans, reserving the liquid. Add the beans to the garlic and onion mixture and sauté for 5 minutes. Measure the bean soaking water and add enough water to make 5½ cups. Add water to beans in pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 1 to 1½ hours, or until beans begin to soften. Then add rice to beans, cover, and continue cooking until rice is done, about 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 250˚F. Pour bean and rice mixture into a well-oiled 2-quart casserole. Bake in over for 30 minutes.
I have given you the authentic recipe above, but because it has been decades since I last considered using bacon fat an option, I have altered the recipe for my own consumption. I now substitute light olive oil, then I add a few drops of Liquid Smoke to the beans before cooking them to create virtually the same taste but in a more healthful form. If you’ve never used Liquid Smoke before, it’s a delightful thing to discover.
Though pinto or kidney beans are the varieties used by Haitians in this dish, pretty much any dried beans of similar size (such as black turtle beans or navy beans) would work in this recipe. So your preferences or what you have on hand can help determine what you use.