Let’s talk about borlotti beans. Great opening for an article, right? In the pantheon of my many articles, I’m not sure I’ve picked a less exciting opening, at least at first glance. But borlotti beans have amazing potential, and are the key component of this month’s classic dish, Chilean Porotos Granados.
Variously called borlotti, Roman or cranberry beans, these are the pock-coloured green and red delights (when opened, they can be all manner of colors and combinations, making them a sort of aesthetic grab-bag of mixed jelly beans) that can be found piled high at farmer’s markets, provided you’ve hit the right season (which is just about now).
And while we may associate these beans with Europe, they were in fact first bred in Colombia, and cultivated by the Mapuche (the indigenous ancestors of Chileans and Argentines, of which some 1.7 million descendants live today), so it is apt that we feature them not in Italian, Greek or Portuguese recipes, but in one from South America.
What is Chilean Porotos Granatos?
Show up one morning at the rural home of a Chilean family, at least in summer (when the ingredients are freshly-harvested), and there’s a good chance that hospitality will extend to a hearty bowl of this vegetarian traditional specialty, Chilean porotos granatos, which features squash, potato, onion, corn kernels and the aforementioned beans (in Spanish they are called cargamanto), herbed with cumin, oregano and basil. It doesn’t get much more basic and primal, and it’s vegan heaven.
How to make Porotos granatos
The word for the dish, poroto is likewise indigenous to the region, deriving from the Quechua word for “bean,” purutu. Get the ingredients fresh, throw them all into a pot with some oil, and brown them lightly. Then add vegetable broth (in most cases this can just be water, since the veggies you’re cooking will release flavour into the liquid). The beans go in at the end, and the best is to use just-picked, ripe beans (pochas).
All sounds good and, amazingly, even living in the Alps, I can get borlotti beans. In fact one of my neighbours, Francel, had just given me a giant bag of them and I was trying to figure out what to make, when I hatched the plan to make this the subject of the column. Sure, Chileans sometimes use bayo, tortola or coscorron beans instead, but it’s frankly a relief to write about a dish from a far-flung location and actually be able to get all the ingredients locally.
You may well say, okay, but this is so simple, it’s almost… boring. I disagree. The ingredients are everything here. There’s nowhere to hide. It will not be very good if you use frozen or poor ingredients. Let the freshness sing, unburied beneath béarnaise and Baked Alaska.
Well, if you want to make it one step more elaborate, we can add mazamorra, a puree of corn, to thicken our Porotos Granados, but that’s as elaborate as we’re gonna get. Slide this alongside a Chilean traditional salad, a popular summer accompaniment of equal simplicity (just sliced tomato and onion, sometimes soaked in salt water to reduce its bite, olive oil, coriander and chili peppers), and you’ll make any vegan, vegetarian… or even an enthusiastic meat–eater like me, very happy indeed. I’d just add some olive oil with chili peppers floating in it, because why not add some chilli to this classic from Chile?