Beans and Tortillas: On Making “Good Mistakes”

From “pintos and tortillas” to frijol Cargamanto blanco and arepa!  *

*I don’t want to mislead anyone. The meager portions in the image above were for the photo shoot only.   🙂

While at the grocery store — Exito Del Este — I planned to buy tortillas. From the huge variety of brands available, I picked up a package and noticed they were incredibly thick. I looked for the kind I’m familiar with, but could only find the arepa. I thought “arepa” was Colombian Spanish for tortillas. So I bought a package.

(Colombian Spanish has slight variations in word choices and inflection than the others, primarily: Spanish-as-Spoken-in-Spain, Spanish-as-Spoken-in-Mexico, and Spanish-as-Spoken-in-the-U.S. The translation apps I wrote about yesterday include these three variations.)

After I returned to the apartment, I used google and discovered that arepa is a Colombian bread that is much thicker than the tortillas we usually see in the U.S. They’re made with a special kind of precooked cornmeal called (get ready for it) arepa flour.

They’re amazingly good — more like a corn cake than a tortilla. They’re crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and loaded with corn flavor.

The already-made arepa need to be reheated: bring a few drops of oil to a high temperature in a skillet then cook the arepa, first one side then the other, till they take on browned patches here and there.

I also wanted to buy pinto beans, the dry kind in a bag. I couldn’t find any, so I bought the ones that looked the most like pintos.

I googled them once I was back at the apartment. They’re frijol Cargamanto blanco — a specialty of the Antioquia region of Colombia, where I am now. Despite the “blanco” they’re not white at all, but speckled reddish brown. I made a big pot of them this morning — they’ve cooked into the rich brown color of pintos.

The traditional approach is to cook these beans with pork hocks, and to make a guiso, a briefly cooked salsa of tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro and cumin. The guiso is spooned on top of the pinto beans just before you eat them.

I found the recipe information at I noticed her instructions begin with the advice to use a regular pot. What, exactly, is a “regular” pot?

(Apropos of nothing: the above made me think of a recipe for cooking hog back [the pork bones of the spine, cut into short lengths] that my Aunt Tommie wrote for a family cookbook that began like this: “Take you a skillet. Heat it real hot.”)

This morning I used my mom’s recipe for making pintos:

Don’t add anything — no onions nor peppers nor garlic — simply put the sorted beans into a pot (no soaking!) Cover with water till the beans are about two inches below the surface, add in “about that much oil” — she meant a glug or two from the Canola oil bottle, about two or three tablespoons —then bring to a rapid boil.

Don’t add salt (salt added early is a no-no, according to her.) Let them boil rapidly for several hours. This means you’ll be adding more water — by the cupfuls — as they boil. Set a timer so you don’t forget and end up with burned beans. Once the beans are tender, add in salt to taste.

And that’s it. My beans taste exactly like my mom’s (she gave me her recipe a few years ago.) As she says, “beans have a wonderful flavor by themselves — why add anything?”

And so tonight — when I thought pintos and tortillas were on the menu — I’m having frijol Cargamanto blanco (cooked with a Texas recipe) and arepa.

I like when I think I’m getting one thing… and it turns out to be something else entirely.

By the way, I will travel to the Amazon in eastern Ecuador in a couple of weeks with my friend Marty. On the second day we will canoe up the river to a village where we will be taught how to make a local bread. I will write about it and post it here.

¡Buen apetito!

4 thoughts on “Beans and Tortillas: On Making “Good Mistakes”

  1. Ha! You are funny about the portions part, Bart. 🙂

    I am thoroughly enjoying this! Made me hungry, too. I love getting to discover things along with you. Thank you!


  2. Your posts are so great, Bart! I’m leaving in the morning for a dance competition in Kauai and then on to Maui to stay with friends. I’m a rather nervous traveler and even the idea of making my way alone in a country where I don’t know the language is, not to exaggerate, terrifying. Thanks for helping me get a little more courageous, and excited, about my travels. Hugs, jennie


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s