Friday, December 05, 2008

A Bowl of Frijoles

One week to the day after a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner at the home of our friends in Tzurumútaro, the DuBosques, we were invited to another comida. Yesterday's meal was at the Las Cuevas home of una amiga, María de La Luz. She'd invited us to share a simple meal, along with two VIP guests from the local Vo-Tech School. We arrived on time, but the Vo-Tech people, traveling independently, were delayed by other matters for several hours.

We chatted and sampled the food as it simmered in clay cazuelas.
We stepped outside to take in the warmth of the sun and to admire the newly acquired chickens. We looked out over the beautiful valley and surrounding, still green clad mountains.

Finally, hunger caught up with us
at 4:00. Susan and I went inside and sat down at the kitchen table, covered with a lacy tablecloth protected by a plastic cover. The kitchen is sparsely decorated with cups and mugs hanging on the walls, but well ventilated. There's a false ceiling of plywood below the tiled roof, with openings to the area under the sloping, tejas covered roof. The floor is concrete.

The meal consisted of pinkish-brown beans cooked with salt and a little chile güero, a relatively mild yet sufficiently picante addition to gringo palates. I didn't notice any herbs or meat or spices.

On top of the frijoles were nopalitos cooked with tomatoes, onion, garlic, chiles and salt, which added their tangy flavor to the mellow beans. Bowls of a rather picante salsa verde were on the table, as well as a small wheel of queso fresco for crumbling onto the frijoles or for making tacos.

Essential to this meal were the tortillas hechas a mano, cooked on a comal over a wood fire. Many homes in the area where we live have kichens attached to or detached from the house, where smoky fires lend savor to otherwise simple daily foods. These are where to roast chiles, cook moles, and make tortillas. The flavor of foods cooked on the comales sobre el lumbre cannot be duplicated on a gas range.

An added benefit, according to María de La Luz, is that it's a good place to be on cold mornings, close to the wood fire. Moreover, the making of tortillas by hand has a soothing effect on the maker. I think the repetitive and
tactile work connects la cocinera with her mamá y abuelas who are no longer living.

The proof of the frijoles is in the eating. They were simple, tasty and satisfying. The tortillas were infused with the smoke of tradition.

We gave gracias to our amiga and when we left, the anticipated VIPs still had not arrived.


GlorV1 said...

That sound so delicious. Frijoles de olla. Mmmm and of course tortillas, hecho a mano. Wow, the nopales I love too. Well, I do all of that as well and have my own nopales, but I bet what you had was so much better. Thanks for sharing, now I'm hungry. Great post. I guess the vip's lost out. Take care.

La Familia Lopez Robinson said...

Meals like this - delicious, simple yet hearty and in some way connected to the earth - are what I so miss about eating in Mexico (and they are the reason I was in better shape when I was there ;) My mother in law and many other women I befriended while in Morelia would not agree that they felt connected to their ancestors or in any way enjoyed jobs around the house like making tortillas. I think life in the rancho is much different, but most city women I met were resentful of their "que hacer" at home. One of the many differences between city and down home living?

Don Cuevas said...

Could be, Rooster. I don't know. Any way, this is what life has handed her, and María, at least, makes the most of it.

I prefer this simple food to much of what we have eaten at fiestas. There's no diplomatic way to critique that food, so I'll refrain from doing so.

She wants to learn how to make pizzas as I do. She and her relatives have had it several times at our house. There are challenges therein. We see how this pizza thing plays out.