"To know how to eat is to know enough."
--old Basque saying
I have a real affinity for Basque cooking. I am not of Basque origin nor do I live in or near the Basque Country. I do, however, live in a region of the United States which has many members of the Basque diaspora, and we are blessed with Basque restaurants and markets which are overseen by immigrants from País Vasco. At local county fairs and community festivals, there will invariably be a few food vendors selling chorizos, croquetas, and lamb sandwiches. I love it all.
In Spanish villages, it is common to serve legumes several times a week all year round. This is common at my home too. In Euskal Herria, beans are often served for the midday meal or as the basis of the soup for the first course of the evening meal. Many varieties of beans are common including navy, fava, garbanzo, and pinto. Beans are a common crop in the Basque Country, and many strains are specially cultivated, including a red kidney bean that is grown near Tolosa, prized for the way it holds its shape during cooking.
My affections run toward small red chili beans. When I make red beans and rice, these are the beans I prefer to use, and I like to use them for Basque red beans as well. There are similarities between this dish and the New Orleans staple which is hardly surprising since Creole cookery has its roots in Spanish as well as French cuisine.
While New Orleanians like their red beans creamy, and will even mash some of them during the cooking process to encourage creaminess, Basques typically prefer whole beans. Instead of letting the beans themselves do the thickening, Basque cooks will often add potatoes as the primary thickening agent. The goals for the desired textures of the dishes lead to different methods of soaking the beans. When I make red beans and rice, I soak the beans overnight. When beans are soaked for hours, they tend to have their skins split which is perfect if you want a creamy sauce to ladle over your rice. But for Basque beans, I cut the soak time down dramatically. Some Basque chefs say you should not soak red beans at all, but instead plan on cooking them for five or six hours. I've found a compromise that I believe works well.
And now I am going to let you in on the real secret. Don't cook Basque red beans and serve them immediately. Instead, cook them, let them cool, and then chill them in the refrigerator overnight. Letting them chill overnight allows the flavors meld in a wonderful way. The next day, reheat them just before serving.
For this style of red beans, I like to use lamb stock. Veal stock also works well. Chicken stock or even vegetable stock isn't bad. But please, please, please, do not substitute plain old water, and don't even think about using store-bought bouillon cubes. That's just wrong.
There are two basic types of chorizo - Spanish and Mexican. The Spanish is a cured pork sausage made with pimentón peppers. If you can't obtain Spanish chorizo in your part of the world, use some other mild pork link sausage, and add your own pimentón or Spanish paprika along with a bit of garlic and oregano.
- 2 cups dried small red chili beans
- 8 cups lamb stock
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 leek, white and tender green parts, diced
- 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size cubes
- ½ pound chorizo, diced
Put the dried beans in a large bowl and cover them with water. Let them soak for four hours. Drain and rinse the beans.
In a 5-quart stock pot, mix the beans, stock, carrot, bay leaves, pepper, and onion. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add the oil, and simmer for 90 minutes.
Add the leek, potatoes, and chorizo. Simmer for another 30 minutes.
Let the beans cool, and then cover and chill them in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, reheat them just before serving. Don't forget to remove and discard the bay leaves. Alongside generous hunks of sourdough bread, this serves four hungry people.
A big thanks to momomom who gave me excellent advice on this write-up. I truly appreciate your help.