The famous sandy beaches of Puerto Rico were beckoning to us. What we hadn’t anticipated was falling in love with its unique cuisine even before we hit the beaches! There were many food shacks lining the road to our resort and we stopped off for a quick bite on our way. The grilled meats, fried plantains, beans and rice had us hooked!
Known locally as Cocina Criolla, Puerto Rican food is a delightful mix of Native Taino, African, Spanish and American cuisines. In the days that followed, we explored this cuisine as much as we explored historic San Juan, the El Yunque National rainforest and those famous long sandy beaches. We feasted on tostones (fried sweet plantains), Mofongo (mashed plantain), flans de leche (caramel custard), paella, fresh seafood and grilled or smoked pork. But the one dish we always ordered at almost every meal was rice with red bean stew. It reminded us irresistibly of a similar Indian dish called Rajma or spicy kidney beans. Sometimes the beans came in a bowl with the rice on the side and sometimes they were cooked along with the rice, rather like a biryani.
Here, I have followed the traditional Puerto Rican recipe but also thrown in some typical Indian ingredients such as ginger, dried fenugreek leaves and whole spices to bring the best of both worlds together.
Puerto Rican Bean Stew
This stew can be made with red or black beans. You can substitute chorizo for the ham used here. Or, if you want to keep it completely vegetarian, omit the meat altogether. Serve with a bowl of steamed basmati rice on the side.
3 tbsp olive oil
4 each whole: cardamom, cloves
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
1 inch stick cinnamon
½ tsp each: cumin seeds, fennel seeds
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ inch piece ginger, finely chopped
1/2 each: onion, sweet green pepper, finely chopped
¼ cup diced smoked ham
4 tbsp divided: finely chopped fresh coriander
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp each: ground cumin, oregano, ground black pepper, red chilli flakes, dried fenugreek leaves, sugar
6 whole canned plum tomatoes, pureed or crushed
1 can (540 ml) dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup water
¼ cup red wine
¼ cup each: chopped red onion, fresh plum tomato
Warm oil in a deep non-stick skillet set over medium high heat. Add whole spices, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, cumin and fennel seeds. Sauté for 1 min until spices are
fragrant. Add garlic, ginger, onion, green pepper, ham and 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander. Sauté, stirring occasionally for 5-7 min or until vegetables are slightly softened.
Add salt, all the remaining spices and tomatoes. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 5 min or until tomatoes are slightly thickened. Add beans, water and wine. Mix well, cover and cook on medium low heat for 30 mins for flavours to combine.
Remove from heat and fold in remaining fresh coriander, chopped red onion and plum tomato.