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Frijoles Aztecas (black beans with nopalitos)

Time 3 hours 40 minutes
Yields Serves 6 to 8
Frijoles Aztecas (black beans with nopalitos)

Tomatillo sauce

1

In a large saucepan, place the tomatillos and jalapenos and add enough water to cover. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the tomatillos until they soften and turn a yellowish-green, about 10 to 15 minutes (timing will vary depending on the size). Drain the water and place the tomatillos and jalapenos in a blender with the onion. Blend to a rough puree (pulse the blender quickly, it should only take a few seconds).

2

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot. Carefully add the tomatillo paste (it will splatter). Fry the paste over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the sauce thickens and darkens a little, about 5 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning and acidity with a little salt and sugar (to balance the acidity) as desired. Remove from heat and set aside. This makes about 2 cups sauce. Cool before serving.

Frijoles Aztecas assembly

1

In a large bowl, soak the beans in at least 6 cups of water for 8 hours, or preferably overnight

2

Drain the beans and place them in a ceramic Mexican bean pot or a heavy casserole with 2 quarts of water, the quartered onion and the epazote. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and cook the beans, covered, at a gentle simmer until tender, about 2 hours (time will vary according to the age and size of the beans). The beans should be soft but retain their texture.

3

When the beans are done, strain them from the liquid (save the liquid) using a slotted spoon, picking out as much of the onion and epazote as you can find, and discarding it. Place 1 cup beans and 1 cup of their cooking liquid into a blender and puree until smooth.

4

In a large, heavy-bottom soup pot heated over medium-high heat until hot, add the oil. Stir in most of the chopped onion (reserve a little to use as a garnish) and garlic. Add the nopalitos, frying until they are heated through, a few minutes more. Stir in the drained beans and the puree from the blender, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes to marry the flavors. Measure the remaining cooking liquid from the beans, adding enough water to come to 6 cups; stir the liquid in with the beans and nopalitos.

5

Bring the liquid to a slow boil, stirring from time to time. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer and cook for 20 minutes to thicken the soup; the nopalitos will cook through and lose their bright color. Taste and add salt as desired.

6

This makes almost 3 quarts soup. Serve the soup in bowls, garnished with the sauce and a little of the reserved chopped onion.

Adapted from Pulqueria las Duelistas in Mexico City. In Mexico, nopalitos are always sold “de-spined.” If you are unlucky enough to have to buy them with the spines, you will have to carefully cut them away with a paring knife (garden gloves can help protect your hands). Hard-to-get spines can be pulled out with pliers. Epazote is generally available at Latin markets.

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