Friday, October 01, 2010

Cooking with Avocado Leaves: Oaxacan Black Beans

Photo from Kathy MacKey's Flickr collection (via CC)
In recent days, a generous friend served as a "forager" for the Mental Masala blog, obtaining some leaves from a Mexicola avocado tree, one of the varieties that has a distinct fragrance, as my previous post on avocado leaves explained. Since I had first seen the leaves used to flavor black beans — and had just purchased a new bag of Midnight Beans from Rancho Gordo's stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco — I decided to debut the fresh leaves in a black bean dish, using a recipe in Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen as an inspiration.* 

I made a few changes to the Bayless's recipe, notably using Rancho Gordo's cooking method for the beans, frying the chorizo before adding it to the beans, not pureeing the beans at the end, and skipping the garnishes. The result was superb, with the anise-ish flavor of the avocado leaf complementing the rich sausage and earthy beans.

It seemed to me that the spices in the chorizo were a key factor in the dish's success, so if you don't eat pork, you might be able to craft a good approximation by incorporating some of the non-meat ingredients that go into chorizo. A recipe for red chorizo in Diana Kennedy's "From My Mexican Kitchen" is one example. In the recipe, ground pork is combined with a paste made from guajillo chiles, white vinegar, garlic, Mexican bay leaves (Litsea glaucescens, but the European Laurus nobilis make a suitable substitute), thyme, marjoram, Mexican oregano, cloves, allspice, and salt. To make the paste, the chiles are cleaned, deseeded, and soaked in warm water to soften. Once softened, they are drained and soaked in vinegar for an hour. Then the chiles and all of the other flavorings go into a blender, are pureed as smooth as possible and pressed through a sieve to remove seeds and other roughage (note that this is basically the procedure you'd use when making a mole or red chile enchilada sauce). To use in the beans, I would then cook the paste: heat oil in a sauce pan over medium-high heat, then add as much of the puree as I planned to use (a few tablespoons), stir well, and cook for a few minutes until it thickens slightly (again, like you'd do for a mole or enchilada sauce).

Ideally, my next project with avocado leaves would be a batch of tamales where I placed strips of avocado leaves between the tamale dough and the corn husk, but I probably won't have the energy for tamales in the near future, so I might instead try something simpler like the baked masa creation in Bayless's Mexican Kitchen (which is essentially a large batch of tamale batter stuffed with vegetables and baked in a loaf pan), placing a leaf or two between the batter and the pan so its magical flavors can infuse the masa and vegetables.

Recipe: Oaxacan Black Beans
Inspired by the Oaxacan black bean soup recipe in Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen

  • Cooking oil
  • 12 ounces dry black beans, rinsed, soaked (optional) and drained
  • Water
  • About 18 inch2 of avocado leaf (115 cm2), or 1 rib of fresh fennel, diced
  • 4 ounces chorizo sausage, casing removed, or chorizo chile and spice mixture
  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • Salt
(Unit conversion page)

If using a fresh avocado leaf, lightly toast it over gas burner on medium heat or on a hot griddle.

In a saucepan or Dutch oven, cook the onion in the oil over medium heat until tender. Add the beans, fresh water, and diced fennel or avocado leaf. Increase the heat, bring to a boil, and keep at a boil for five minutes. Turn down the heat, cover, and cook at a low simmer until the beans are tender (at this point, you could also transfer the mixture to a slow cooker or move the pot to a solar oven to complete the cooking).

In a small pan, cook the chorizo, breaking it up into small pieces, until it is lightly browned. Set aside.

Near the end of the bean cooking process, add the chorizo to the beans, stir, and add salt to taste. Remove the avocado leaf before serving.

* Leaves from the Hass variety, which is a hybrid Guatemalan-Mexican, do not have much flavor. Note also that while there have been reports that avocado leaves are toxic, this seems to apply only to leaves from Guatemalan and hybrid Guatemalan-Mexican varieties. Diana Kennedy, in her book "From My Mexican Kitchen," tries to clear up the confusion around the subject, noting that Mexican varieties were not found to be toxic, and in any case, "it seems unlikely that the small amounts used in cooking would cause any problems" (the full section is quoted at Gourmet Sleuth).  

Photo of Avocado leaves from Kathy MacKey's flickr collection, subject to a Creative Commons License.

Random link from the archive: Mexican Tlacoyos
Technorati tags: Mexico : Food

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When I lived in Oaxaca, my suegra taught me to use fresh epazote leaves in the black beans and not avocado leaves. The avocado leaves were steamed in a banana leaf for tamales to infuse the flavor. Although, this version sounds delicious!