This recipe brings to me sweet memories; remembrances of my childhood, the kind of innocent memories that you think are lost, but suddenly, comes alive with a simple and uncomplicated dessert as is the Habichuelas con Dulce- Sweet Cream of Beans. Perhaps unknown to most people, it is a distinctive and emblematic dish of the people of the Dominican Republic. I know it is hard to think of beans as a dessert in this part of the world; however, in China, Japan, and other Asian countries sweet bean desserts are nothing new. In the Dominican Republic sweet creaming beans are served during lent (Easter). This dessert is part of a tradition of the holy week which has been passed on to us from our ancestors. Of ambiguous origin, but nevertheless mixed with various ingredients just as our people, its components are fingerprints and characteristics of a race that is mixed with; sweet potatoes to represent the Tainos (aborigine of the island Hispañola); the beans and spices to represent the Spanish settlers; and coconut milk symbolizing the African slaves.
When I was growing up, I waited impatiently for the holy week, not necessarily for the self-imposed penitence or fasting mornings that came with it, but much more for my mother’s delicious sweet beans. My mother was a great cook; she would wake up early on Good Friday, clean, and wash the beans, then cook them without rush until they were tender and soft. She would grate the coconut in an old grater while waiting for the beans to cook. In the quite silence of the morning she would continue her chores around the house until the time came to mash the beans, a task she gladly did manually- I cannot remember how she did it, we did not own a blender. Thank goodness for modern conveniences.
To be truthful, I lost the liking for this dessert for many years. I grew out of it mainly because I was away from my family and I never felt motivated to make it for anyone – a pot of sweet beans for an individual is an awful lonely idea.
In the Dominican Republic every household cooks extra servings of Sweet creamy beans because “Sweet beans” are cooked to be shared among neighbors, friends and family – and not to be eaten alone.
And in time my enthusiasm for this dish took off with the arrival of my sister Carmen who is the contributors of my family Sweet dream – “oh I am sorry, I meant sweet bean”. She’d rather clean than cook, but when it comes to cooking Dominican food there is not one better than her or Ana, my other sister to take the lead.
See for yourselves how good Sweet beans can be. It costs little to prepare it; it is a dish without opulence, which is normally prepared in big batches to feed your family and share with your friends or neighbors. They are eaten cold or hot, but I prefer them warm. Enjoy it!
- Ingredients: (if this seems too much for you, make only half of the recipe)
- 2 lbs. of red or pinto beans
- 3 cups evaporated milk or (2 cans)
- 1 can coconut milk
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1½ cups sugar or to taste
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 18 sweet cloves
- 2 lbs. sweet potatoes
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 1 cup of raisins
- 1 package sweet Dominican vanilla milk cookies or cassava bread
Soaked the beans overnight. To cook place beans in a big pot and cover with cold water (make sure the beans are always submerged in plenty of water as the juice is needed to blend them later). A pressure cooker can be also used. Cook the beans until they are tender approximately 1 ½ hours in a regular pot or 30 minutes in a pressure cooker.
Once tender remove them from the heat and let them cool down. In a blender, mix the beans with their cooking liquid and then sift them through a colander. Return the beans pulp to the blender and repeat the process until all the beans are done.
In the meantime peel the sweet potatoes and dice them. Boil them in a little bit of water with the cinnamon until tender.
Return the cream of beans to the pot and add the evaporated milk, coconut milk, salt, sugar and vanilla extract. Bring the mixture to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes stirring occasionally. Add the raisins and the boiled sweet potatoes with the cinnamon and the cloves wrapped in cheesecloth 20 minutes before it finished cooking.
If at the end of the cooking process the sweet beans are still to liquid or loose cook a little more until you get a medium consistency or the right consistency. If they are too thick add a little more milk. Adjust sugar and salt. Add the vanilla milk cookies or the cassava bread. Remove from heat and serve them hot, warm or cold. Garnish it with extra milk cookies. Enjoy it!
Dominican vanilla milk cookies = tiny round milk cookies engraved with a cross
Cassava bread = a flatbread made of yucca
This post is also available in: Spanish