Cheap Eats:
Porotos Granados/Pebre
  (Cranberry Beans with Chilean Sauce)

Biodiversity. It’s a buzz-word that ranges in interpretation from the extreme view that nature would be better off without humans (if there’s a tree in the woods, is it beautiful if no one sees it?) to the simple challenge of choosing between white rice or brown. Somewhere in the middle is a practical, and pleasant, concept that aims to enrich our lives, and possibly save us from famine. This is the biodiversity of rediscovering "heirloom plants," those original forms from which we’ve hybridized our super rice, high-yield wheat, and giant baking potatoes.

The "enriching our lives" part comes from discovering some fun, interesting and different tastes. Within the last few years, I’ve fallen in love with the amethyst-hued, creamy-textured purple potato, which is usually only available in the fall; I’ve learned how to prepare a number of squashes I’d never seen before; and I’ve had a ton of new beans to "play" with: Jacob’s Cattle, Appaloosa, Rattlesnake, Anasazi, Cranberry.

The "saving us from famine" part refers to the folly of being dependent on only three or four species of wheat (for example), out of more than 200 species available. If you have a couple hundred species growing, and a blight comes along that wipes out three or four, you have something to fall back on. If you’re only growing a handful of species, and that blight comes along, you starve. So searching out kamut (an ancient wheat species indigenous to Egypt — King Tut loved kamut), thereby encouraging the growers thereof, borders on being heroic. And try some other grains, too, like quinoa (pron. keen-wa) or millet.

To get you started on your new life of culinary diversification, this month I’m offering a recipe that uses cranberry beans. Porotos granados, a dish from Chile, is of Indian origin; porotos is the Indian word for cranberry beans. The recipe contains the New World staples of beans, corn and squash, and is perfect fare for autumn.

Peculiar to Chile is a seasoning they simply call "color." It’s an orange-red mixture of garlic and paprika heated in oil. Chilean cooks keep this mixture on hand, often in differing degrees of spiciness, to season any dish that needs a little more zip. In this recipe, the "color" is built in.

Following the recipe for porotos is a recipe for pebre. Every country has its sauce — fish sauce, soy sauce, ketchup — and for Chile, it’s pebre. Traditionally, pebre is used on only two things — any meat and porotos granados. If you don’t want to bother, the porotos is great without pebre. It is also great with pebre. I eat porotos both ways, with and without — and I eat pebre without porotos. I like pebre so well, I even occasionally use it with corn chips, if I’m out of salsa.

Porotos Granados
(Cranberry Beans)

16 oz. (approx. 2 cups) dried cranberry beans

2 onions, coarsely chopped

4 Tbs. olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbs. paprika

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded, deribbed and chopped (optional)

1 14½ oz. can (approx. 1½ cups) diced tomatoes

1 tsp. basil

1½ tsp. oregano

2 tsp. salt

½ tsp. ground black pepper

3 cups winter squash (about 1½ lb.), peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes

1 cup corn kernels (canned or frozen/thawed)

Rinse the beans, then place in large pot with 10-12 cups cold water. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat and allow the beans to soak for 1 hour. Drain the beans, return to pot and add 7 cups fresh water. Bring the beans to a boil again, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.

Sauté the onion in the oil until it is soft. Add the garlic, paprika, jalapeño pepper, tomato, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture is the consistency of a thick purée (about 15 minutes).

When the beans have cooked for 1 hour (they should be beginning to get tender), add the tomato purée and the squash and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are completely tender and the squash is mushy (about 25-30 minutes). Stir in the corn and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Serve hot, with pebre on the side.

Serves 8.

(Chilean Sauce)

2 Tbs. olive oil

1 Tbs. red or white wine vinegar

½ cup water

½ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

½ cup finely chopped onion

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded, deribbed and chopped

⅛ tsp. crushed red pepper, or to taste (optional)

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

½ tsp. salt

Combine the oil, vinegar and water in a bowl and beat them together with a fork or whisk. Stir in all other ingredients. Let the sauce sit at room temperature for 2-3 hours, to blend and mature the flavors. Serve with porotos granados, with meat, with anything else you can think of to serve it with. Yum.


When chopping up something flat and thin, like cilantro leaves, a pair of scissors often works more quickly and more efficiently than a knife.

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