This weekend, a few teachers and I had the joy of learning how to cook some Haitian dishes from Mirlande, a wonderful lady who works in the kitchen at the school, who eagerly took us under her tutelage. “I like to make ladies cook good!” she declared with a smile, as she launched into the lesson.
One of the many delicious dishes we made was diri kole ak pwa, Haitian style rice and beans. This is one of the classic foods of the country, and one which you can see people eating anywhere you go. Back in the US, rice and beans was an easy weeknight meal that I could throw together in 20 minutes or so. Here in Haiti, it’s a lot more involved than dumping some rice into a pot with a can of beans and some spices. Everything starts completely from scratch, and here’s a whole tradition around how to cook this dish, with a delicious and flavorful result.
First, we prepared a green spice mixture which is commonly used in a number of Haitian dishes. The first step was to prepare a bunch of spring onion by thoroughly washing them, trimming yellowing leaves, and cutting into 3 inch lengths.
In a deep pot, we combined the spring onion, a dozen garlic cloves, a couple small green chili peppers, 2 Maggi bouillon cubes, a teaspoon of whole cloves, and a cup of oil. Since we had a school kitchen handy, we used a big submersible blender to thoroughly blend these ingredients into a thick sauce that resembled guacamole.
Of course, in most homes across the country, this task of blending is manual, using a big mortar and pestle—an essential tool in any Haitian kitchen.
Once the spice mixture was prepared, we started on the actual rice and beans. As usual with dry beans, they must be cleaned and sorted. Then we brought a small amount of water to a boil in a big pot. We added the beans to the water, waited for them to return to boil, and let them cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. Then, we added additional water, nearly filling the pot, and let the beans continue to cook until they were soft. Mirlande said that this procedure made the beans cook much faster. When the beans were cooked, we removed them from heat, drained the beans, and reserved the bean liquid.
In the same big pot, we then heated about half a cup of oil, and added about a cup of the green spice mixture. We let this cook until it turned from its original lime green to a medium brown color.
In the meantime, Mirlande prepared a couple hot peppers by sticking 6 whole cloves into each.
Into the big pot went the beans (which had been set aside), a chopped green pepper, the two cloved hot peppers, a handful of parsley and thyme (not chopped), 3 crushed Maggi cubes, half a stick of butter and the reserved bean water.
This mixture was returned to a boil and cooked for a few minutes.
Then, Mirlande removed the hot peppers, parsley, and thyme.
She rinsed several cups of rice in water, and then added it to the bubbling mixture. At this point, she let it cook uncovered until the rice came up to the top.
Then, she put the lid back on, and continued to cook it until it was done.
And then, voila! It was ready to serve. What a feast!