Recently arrived back in Chile after my two week soirée in the Colorado Rockies and beaches of St. Augustine, Florida, I am in serious need of returning to my normal, healthy diet before my next (meat and dulce de leche laden) trip to Uruguay in three weeks.
In this interim, I am back to my usual wheat and dairy-free diet which normally does not include a lot of meat beyond poultry and seafood. In Chile, this means most people think I am “vegetarian”, which only means NOT to eat red meat or pork, and the concept of dairy and gluten free means not eating cheese and skipping the bread. Oh my. Luckily, I live exactly five blocks from the fish market and largest produce market in Santiago, so thankfully I don’t have to schlep very far to eat an amazing whole foods diet.
My body is readjusting to the lower mercury here and is craving, no screaming, for more dense, soul-warming foods. I came home with a serious hankering for black-lipped oysters from Chiloé (random, I know) and porotos granados, cranberry bean stew made with pumpkin, corn, and basil. Porotos Granados, is one of Chile’s true culinary masterpieces. It somehow captures the essential flavors of summer time but also is completely comforting in the winter. This dish marries the holy trinity of Chilean vegetables and legumes: beans, pumpkin, and corn. With the addition of perfumed basil, the flavors jump alive.
While this dish is traditionally made in the summer when cranberry beans are fresh and in season along with corn and basil, thanks to the Azapa valley on the border of Peru, we can get these foods (at a price) year round now. Azapa is akin to our Florida since its warm, toasty desert climate has sun year-round and is frost free.
For the sake of understanding the focal point of this dish, the cranberry beans, let me take you to the summertime markets. Starting in December and culminating in April, cranberry beans make their annual appearance with the characteristic hot-pink shells in the markets piled meters high. At La Vega, there always seems to be a casera tucked away in the corner diligently shelling the white and pastel green-colored beans which you can buy shelled, saving significant prep work. The great asset of these edible treasures is their short cooking time (a mere 30 minutes) plus a lovely toothy and creamy texture. Sweet corn is also a summer time treat. Many cooks like to grate the corn into the soup so its “milk” thickens the broth. Personally, I like the sweet bursts of flavor from the kernels.
Simplistic, mouth-watering, and a veritable vegetable patch in your soup pot, this quintessential stew can be easily recreated in most kitchens by substituting fresh cranberry beans with other canned tender white varieties like navy or cannellini. And, need I underscore, it is not only vegetarian, it is 100% vegan. Rejoice! Enjoy! And while you’re at it, pop open a bottle of chilled Chardonnay if it’s summer time in your part of the world. I will be drinking a Carmenere.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 1/4 pounds (1 kilogram) or 6 cups cranberry beans, shelled (substitute: canned cannelloni or navy beans)
3/4 pound (325 grams) or 2 cups fresh, raw pumpkin cut in one-inch cubes (Substitute: butternut squash)
1/2 pound (225 grams) or 1 1/2 cups fresh sweet corn kernels (approximately two large ears of corn)
¼ cup packed basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped chives
Sprinkle of Merkén (substitute: cayenne pepper)
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for three minutes. Add the garlic and tomatoes and continue to cook for 5-7 minutes until the tomatoes start to come apart and look “creamy”. Stir in the paprika, salt, and pepper and then the beans and pumpkin cubes folding to thoroughly coat with the oil mixture. Cover the beans with water (roughly 1 1/2 quarts (1 ½ liters) and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. Note: if you are using canned beans, the cooking time here will be reduced to about 15-20 minutes.
When the beans are tender, add the corn and whole basil leaves. Using the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher, break the pumpkin up against the sides of the pot. Simmer for an additional 15 minutes. The soup should thicken slightly from the mashed pumpkin. To serve, garnish each dish with chopped herbs and a sprinkling of Merkén.
Thanks to Juan Nosé for the second pic of unshelled cranberry beans from a veggie stand in the country town of Olmué.