When the movie Come l'acqua per il cioccolato came out, I watched it and enjoyed it. I then read the book (in Italian translation) and liked it. So, when I saw that Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel, was the Cook the Books Club selection, I was glad to be offered a reason to read again the novel. While re-reading meant enjoying again certain parts of the book, I must admit that others elicited a different reaction. For example, the only thing I could see of Pedro was his selfishness. And I got a bit impatient with Tita for not seeing him the same way I did.
When I first read the book, I was not into cooking, so I viewed the recipes only as a literary device. This time, I was more sensitive to how skillfully they are woven into the narrative: "for Tita the joy of living was wrapped up in the delights of food." Much as I admire the recipes in their context, though, I had a hard time fitting them into my kitchen and my personal taste. So I decided I would prepare a Mexican-style bean dish, since I like beans and "Putting the beans on to cook was the first thing Tita did when she got up at five in the morning." But no recipe I looked at caught my eye.
What did catch my eye last fall were these organic, locally grown Flor de Mayo beans: aren't they pretty?
I saw a recipe that intrigued me in my beloved Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison: Black Bean Cakes. I know that Flor de Mayo beans are not the same as black beans, but that did not prevent me from wanting to use the pretty beans to make bean cakes. I realized that, at this point, I was quite removed from the book and its atmosphere, but what could I do? That's where inspiration had brought me.
I soaked half a cup of beans and then cooked them as I usually do (with onion, garlic, parsley and bay leaf as aromatics, based on the recipe Beans with Aromatics from the same cookbook). I mashed the cooled beans with a potato masher, then added ground cumin (cumino) to taste1. I substituted smoked cheese with my homemade Cantal cheese (3 tablespoons) and lime juice with lemon juice (to taste). I then added 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley (prezzemolo, from my little herb garden) instead of cilantro (coriandolo fresco), which to my husband's palate tastes metallic. At this point, the bean mixture needed to rest at least 15 minutes in the fridge, and I realized that I was running out of time for dinner, so I put the mashed, seasoned beans in the fridge and cooked the cakes the following day for lunch.
Of course, by now I am two days away from the deadline, so I don't have much room for making mistakes, which, in my experience, means that the worst case scenario will occur. It did occur, and resulted in the loss of three bean cakes. I will spare you the details of the disaster. Fortunately, I had two more cakes, which I was able to fry (after dusting them with cornmeal)2 and place on my husband's lunch plate (on the right in the photo below), together with two mystery patties (their identity will be revealed in a future post) and some roasted butternut squash. All the components of the plate were received well.
Disaster claimed my portion of the bean cakes I made, and I am left with the feeling that some sort of spell was cast on me to punish me for reacting differently to some aspects of the novel this time around.
I bought my copy of Like Water for Chocolate used. One thing I like about buying used books is finding handwritten notes in them. On page 5, over the word "preparation" (of Christmas Rolls) I can read: "This Book Sure is neat." How's that for a closing note?
1 The original recipe uses black beans seasoned with chipotle and tomatoes (from the preceding page) as base for the cakes, but it gives the option of using basic beans instead, in which case it suggests to add more seasoning (like paprika or mild red chile). I will try this the next time I make the bean cakes (probably adding paprika to half the mixture to make a comparison).
2 I pan-fried the polpette di fagioli in olive oil, turning them after 8 minutes, when a crust had formed, and allowing the same cooking time to the other side.
This is my contribution to the current edition of Cook the Books, hosted by Deb of Kahakai Kitchen. You can find the guidelines for participating in the event here, and here is the announcement of the current edition.
Finally, here is a roundup of the event.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the polpette di fagioli audio file [mp3].