An oft-heard, anguished cry these days chez nous is “there’s nothing to bloody eat in this house except baby food!”. Never actually true and rarely even close to reality, this refrain was aired again earlier this week when, left to my own devices while Amy enjoys a well-deserved week at her family’s shore house, I returned from work and opened the fridge. Having recently watched Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland”, I was reminded that the more one looks at something the more curious it appears, and an apparently bereft fridge began to transform before my eyes into a chest of plenty.
Curiouser still, I remembered that the small, peculiar-looking plant that we’d acquired in May which now resembled a bush and was in need of a drink, was none other than Plectranthus amboinicus, known in Puerto Rico as brujo oregano, or wizard’s oregano, and not really thinking about why I was doing it, I snipped off a couple of the fat green leaves and put them in my pocket. After watering the rest of our garden, and in an increasingly possessed mood that I’m blaming on the heatwave we’re enduring rather than the medicinal herbs secreted on my person, I began ransacking the kitchen cupboards, emerging sweaty and slightly crazed with a can of black beans in one fist and a jar of Haitian piklis in the other, convinced that together it all must feature in one kind of voodoo ritual or another.
Remaining somewhat unsure of my intentions but determined to step behind the burners in spite of the stickiness around my gills, I sought counsel from Mirta Yurnet-Thomas’ “A Taste of Haiti”, opening it entirely randomly at page 50 which showed a recipe for “Zepis”, a herb and aromatic vegetable blend used for the marinading of meats. How fortuitous that a rather tough piece of steak appeared, recently defrosted, on the counter? Again, rummaging through the fridge, and convinced that amid the browning and limp assortment of chilled vegetables I spied a white rabbit peeking out, I laid my hands on an onion, some aged scallions, and a head or two of our very own homegrown garlic. Chopping these all roughly and combining them with two tablespoons of piklis plus two additional tablespoons of piklis vinegar to create a marinade, I left the steak to tenderize, and went in search of a cauldron and broomstick.
An hour later, now highly perfumed with the dense, almost skunky, aroma of the brujo oregano in my pocket, and having drawn a blank on both these two sorcerers accoutrements, I started stewing the black beans with the oregano in a plain old saucepan. Some twice-fried green plantains spirited themselves in to tostones in a matter of minutes while the now tender and spicy steak was fired to a medium-rare. Left with a bold marinade and some black beans that though wildly aromatic lacked a little punch, I combined the two while the meat rested, bringing it to a satisfyingly thick and dark hubble-bubble.
Without ear of rat or leg of toad to add to the pot, I was unable to produce a potion that either shrank me or made me enormous (beyond slightly enlarging my already distended belly), but what I produced did have a hint of magic about it. The beans were among the best I have ever made, and the steak, similar examples of which can be found throughout many countries bordering the Caribbean, was satisfyingly piquant and juicy. I can’t speak to the exact causes of the fugue-state that brought on this bout of fevered concocting, and evidence of it persisting through the plating of the beans can be found in the plantain chip in the form of a pointy hat, but I can recommend that one be careful around ones fridge lest a parallel world beckon you from within.
- 1 can black beans
- 1lb skirt, flank, sirloin, or London broil steak
- 4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- 4 tablespoons Haitian piklis
- 2 medium green plantains, skin removed, cut into 1 inch thick slices
- 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 spanish onion, diced
- 16oz (1/2 liter) vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 large leaves brujo oregano, or 1 tablespoon Mexican or Greek dried oregano
- Haitian zepis – aromatic marinade mix – see below
- 1/2 pint water
- salt and black pepper
- juice of 1/2 lime
- 2 tablespoons grated cotija cheese
- At least an hour, but preferably 6 hours ahead, marinade steak in 5 cloves chopped garlic, 4 tablespoons red onion, 2 scallions, handful of chopped cilantro, same of chopped parsley, 4 tablespoons neutral tasting oil and 2 tablespoons Haitian piklis and 2 tablespoons of piklis vinegar
- In a medium saute pan, gently wilt onions and green pepper in olive oil for 4-5 minutes or until soft.
- Add garlic and ground cumin. Stir well, and saute for another 2 minutes
- Add beans and liquid in bean can. Stir, add brujo oregano or dried oregano
- Add 1/2 pint water, bring to a boil before reducing heat to a gentle simmer
- In a medium saucepan, heat oil to around 350F/175C
- Follow these instructions to make your tostones (green plantains)
- Keep plantains crispy in warm oven, while firing grill for steak.
- When grill is screaming hot, brush marinade off steak, and grill to your desired temperature
- While steak is resting, pour leftover marinade into beans and bring back to a boil for 1 minute.
- Kill the heat, spritz beans with lime juice, turn off oven and remove plantains. Sprinkle steak with cotija cheese, then plate it all together and serve with a magician’s flourish.
12 thoughts on “Kitchen Through the Looking-Glass: Creole-Style Steak and Bewitched Black Beans (Frijoles al Brujo)”
It is way too early to be craving steak, but I want that bowl in my lap right now. Caribbean food is one area we haven’t really tried at home extensively but this looks like a good way to get those cuisines back into the mix.
You’re such an entertaining writer…love your Shakespearean flair of ‘double double, toil + trouble’ as you take us from your garden/kitchen into parallel worlds only to wind up in Haiti and Puerto Rico in ‘the new world’.
I think all cooks have a little alchemist in them.. honestly. You were operating on a high mojo level when you made this meal, I must say. What a gorgeous combo. I have never made Haitian food but I am loving the flavors. Must look into piklis… what is it???
@Joan: you’re too kind, but this was a fun one to write.
@Deana: piklis is like the Haitian ketchup in that it’s used everywhere in Haitian cooking, but it’s made with vinegar, grated carrot, grated cabbage, habanero peppers, allspice berries and black peppercorns. It’s a bit like Colombian or Peruvian aji and dead easy to make (keeps well too, because it’s a pickle), but a lot fierier. Use sparingly and wash hands after contact with it!
Fascinating assortment of ingredients and I never say no to a good steak! I’d say there was definitely an enchantement happening!
This looks great! And you make it sound so delicious. You are a gifted story teller. Looking forward to trying this.
Where did you find the oregano brujo? I haven’t seen it anywhere outside of Florida and was considering smuggling a snippet the next time I go back down. I’m in Philly now, and never see it.
The beans and steak look great by the way. If only my cupboards had such treasures in them when I considered them “empty”. Usually by the time I get to “empty” status I’m looking at a couple of boxes of mismatched pastas with eensy amounts left in each and a clove of garlic.
Wow! What I would not do for a steak right now 🙂
There’s nothing like the bachelor life, is there?
@Peter: it has its benefits for short periods, but we’re nigh on two weeks now and I’m reminded why it was I got married in the first place
I’m making black beans for our hacienda dinner tonight. Wish I had that brujo…