From time to time when reading what others write about food — whether printed on paper or published on the web — I’ve come across a person here and there who comments about what they describe as pretentious food. It always causes me to stop and wonder what that might be, knowing that everything is relative. Pretentious to one person may be another’s idea of food heaven, and I’m not sure that I consider anything pretentious about food. To me, food is somewhat like art or music, its connotation different depending on the artist, the style, and even the time and place it was first enjoyed.
As much as I can say that I may not enjoy all varieties of any of the above-mentioned types of creative expressions, I do appreciate that someone created it, and that others consider it a favorite whether I like it or not.
That philosophy is most likely what allows me to enjoy eating occasionally at restaurants that serve small amounts of food perfectly displayed on large plates that cost more than I should be able to afford. If anything bothers me, that would. The price. But I’ve learned over many years, that excellent food has often been prepared with finely honed skills, and superior products. Who am I to do anything other than savor the experience when I can?
I appreciate those opportunities even more because I was raised on very simple food that was comfortingly flavorful. We were skinny little waifs growing up, well, except for my sister, who ironically is the thin one now. So my mother fed us food that others describe as something that would stick to our ribs. As my dad would say, “For dinner tonight, we’re having hundreds of wonderful things.”
We quickly learned that meant beans. Pinto beans cooked slowly in a very large pot. Definitely anything but pretentious! The recipe most likely came from the bag the beans came in with a touch of this and that from my mother or grandmother. The meal usually included coleslaw, rice, and biscuits if we were lucky. It was heavenly.
Now, when I make a pot of beans, it includes my own touches, of course. And most often, we have some sort of meat or barbeque alongside. It’s not quite as satisfying as my mother’s, but you know how memories are. They sort of improve with age.
Courtesy of Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, I’ve adapted his “Chile-Glazed Country Ribs” or Costillas Adobadas recipe for you here, as well as a rendition of our family’s Pinto Beans.
My Pinto Beans
1 lb. dried pinto beans
1 lg. onion, quartered
3 lg. cloves garlic, peeled
3 pieces thick bacon
2 green chilies, roasted, peeled and seeded
garnish of cheese & cilantro
- Rinse and examine beans to remove any small stones. Pour into a large pot and cover with boiling water by about 2 inches. Let sit for at least an hour to soften the beans. It’s fine if they soak longer.
- Pour off water. Cover beans with fresh water. Add onion and garlic and bring to a boil before turning down to a low simmer. Cover and cook for about 1 hour. After that time, check the consistency of the beans by tasting one for texture. You want the skin firm, but there shouldn’t be a crunch.
- Add the bacon and the green chilies, and season with salt & pepper. Replace the lid and continue cooking over a very low heat, making sure the beans are simmering for about 30-45 minutes.
- Correct seasoning and serve with your choice of cheese and a sprinkle of chopped cilantro.
- While the beans are soaking before you’ve begun to cook them…
Make the marinade for the ribs.
Chipotle Glazed Pork “Ribs”
4 lbs. pork shoulder “country ribs” (boneless slices)
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
5 chipotles in adobo
3/4 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. pepper
pinch ground cloves
two pinches ground cumin
2 T white wine vinegar
1/4 c. water
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1-1/2 T honey
- To make the marinade, roast the garlic in the skin by heating over medium heat in a skilled until blackened in spots. Let sit to soften, then peel.
- In the bowl of a food processor, place chipotles, peeled garlic, oregano, cinnamon, pepper, cloves, cumin, and vinegar. Process, and add 1/4 water as you go, until the mixture is a smooth puree. Strain through a strainer for a finer texture if you wish.
- Brush pork with marinade, reserving about half. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably as long as it takes for the beans to cook. Bayless suggests that overnight is fine. To the reserved sauce, add 1-1/2 T honey and mix well. Set aside.
- To cook the ribs, preheat oven to 325 degrees F. When the oven is hot, transfer the meat to a large oven proof dish, juices and all. Pour in 1/4 c. water, cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, baste with the reserved sauce and put back in oven for an additional 10-15 minutes uncovered.
- Pour off excess juices, turn oven up to 350 degrees F, and brush with sauce. Return to oven for an additional 10 minutes until meat is dark and glossy with the sauce.
- I was going to put these on the grill and cook them very, very slowly. Alas, the propane tank was empty, and no, nothing will get me to drive down to The Home Depot if I don’t have to. My oven works just fine!
- These “ribs” are so moist and tender, the sauce not too spicy, and are well worth trying. I love this particular cut of meat. It’s usually not expensive, and lots can be done with it. It’s perfect for this dish.
- With respect to the beans, they turn out a bit differently each time I make them. Sometimes they’re more soupy, and others, they’re firm and in a cloudy thin broth. No matter. They’re beans. Have fun playing around with them. And if you’ve never made a pot of pintos, you should try. They’re hundreds of wonderful things good for your body!