Thursday, October 30, 2014

El Guiso (aka the Stew)


Guiso (pronounced gi-so) is one of those culturally loaded and often-humorous words, its several meanings depend on regional variation and context. As far as I know, it connotes positivity, such as “estas guisando” (you are stewing, but which might refer to having a gig, making money, or simply having fun) or “un buen guiso” (a good stew, which can similarly refer to a good job or to good food), and so on. Its original meaning, as far as I can tell, refers to a kind of one-pot food: the stew. To guisar or to stew is an essential cooking method widely used throughout the world; it entails bringing ingredients together and letting them cook slowly over medium-low heat. And, stew-lovers the world over know that a guiso tastes even better the day after it’s made because the ingredients have had time to sit together.   

One of my vegan specialties is the grain stew. I often make either pink beans, white beans, and chickpea, or pigeon pea stew to serve with rice. I am sharing my basic recipe here because over the years several friends have asked for it. My recipe is based on one of Puerto Rico’s national foods the habichuelas guisadas con arroz (rice and beans). The best part about this dish is that it is relatively simple to make and it is also quite forgiving. Each time you make it, it will be better than the last time – because making a good stew only comes with practice and patience.

What you need? (this is a recipe for 2 cans of the beans of your choice):
-choose your grains (you can use canned grains—such as pink beans, garbanzos, or gandules)
-olive oil (1/4 cup)
-sofrito* (or you can make a fresh and quick version of it, see below)
- tomato sauce  (1/2 can) + 1 small tomato
-sazón (2 packets)
-dried, crushed oregano (1 teaspoon)
-1/2 to 2/3 cups of water (depending on desired thickness)
-squash or potatoes or sweet potatoes (1/3 of a small squash or 4 small potatoes or 1 medium sweet potato cubed into small pieces).
-Salt and pepper to taste

[(simple homemade sofrito: crush 2 fresh garlic cloves, cut a third of a small green pepper into small pieces, add about 1/3 cup of fresh cilantro, and a third of a small Spanish onion cut into small pieces)]

What to do?
Add the olive oil to the pot let heat over low heat before adding the sofrito. Let the sofrito cook slightly over the oil for a couple of minutes (but do not let it burn or turn dark brown).  Add the water, your choice of squash or potatoes, tomato sauce and the fresh tomato (should be cut in small pieces), add the sazón, and oregano, salt and pepper to taste and cover the pot. Let it cook over low-medium heat for about 10 minutes, then add the beans and some extra fresh cilantro and let it cook for 10 to 15 more minutes. Turn off and let it sit covered for 10 minutes before serving.