My recipe for Ecuadorian menestra de porotos or menestra de frijoles, a traditional bean stew dish, made with beans simmered in a sauce of onions, tomatoes, garlic, cumin, chili powder and cilantro or parsley.
Menestras are popular dishes in Ecuador, they can be made with lentils or beans. They are usually served with rice, plantains, salad and your choice of protein: beef, pork, fish, chicken or an egg (vegetarian option). The menestra de lentejas is made with lentils and is another popular menestra that you will find in Ecuador.Jump to Recipe
My mom, with her background in New Mexican food, made menestra de porotos or beans more frequently than menestra de lentejas. She is probably to blame for my intense dislike of canned beans; once you get used to cooking beans from scratch it is really hard to eat bland canned beans. Yes, you can add spices and flavor to canned beans, but it doesn’t compare to homemade cooked beans.
In Ecuador you can find a huge variety of beans, I love going to the market and looking at all the different colors of beans. Menestras are usually made with dry beans, however one of my favorite is menestra de porotos tiernos or fresh beans. Fresh beans are harder to find here in the US, though I did see some last summer at the farmer’s market and will try a fresh bean menestra this summer.
A menestra would not be a true menestra without the essential side dishes: rice (a must – no substitutions) helps soak up the sauce that the beans simmered in. The fried ripe plantains complement the dish with a nice sweet touch. Some avocado slices and a small side salad, with onion and tomato curtido, add freshness and acidity. Finally, most restaurants will offer you a choice of fried or grilled meat, pork, chicken, or fish, with the menestra.
When I was growing up, my mom tried to limit the amount of meat we ate, so it was very common for her to serve this menestra de porotos with a fried egg instead of meat. If you are vegetarian and are ordering this dish at a restaurant you can also request an egg in place of the meat.
The beans in the menestra get their flavor from simmering the spices and vegetables that make up the refrito or base of the dish. The refrito for this menestra is made with diced red onions, diced tomatoes, crushed garlic, achiote or annatto powder, cumin (both whole and ground, and chili/paprika powder – very basic ingredients that add a lot of flavor to the beans.
The final touch is the chopped fresh cilantro or parsley that is added at the end. For extra favlor, save half of the refrito or make a double batch to add at the end for an extra touch of flavor for the menestra. This bean menestra is a very easy dish to make. It takes a couple hours to cook, depending on the freshness of the beans and type of beans. You can also cook the beans in the pressure cooker for a quicker process. The beans need to soak overnight, but the preparation is very simple.
Menestra de porotos: Ecuadorian bean stew
- 1 lb dry beans soaked overnight
- 2-3 tbs oil
- 1 red onion diced
- 6 garlic cloves crushed
- 1 cup of diced and peeled tomatoes fresh or canned
- ½ tsp achiote or annatto powder
- 1 tsp cumin seeds – whole
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp chili powder more or less to taste
- 8 or more cups water
- 2-3 tbs finely chopped cilantro or parsley
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the oil over medium heat in a saucepan or pot, add the diced onions and crushed garlic, let cook for about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the diced tomatoes, achiote powder, cumin seeds and ground cumin, chili powder, and pepper. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add 8 cups of water and bring to a boil.
- Add the soaked beans and simmer for about 2 hours or until tender. Cooking time for beans depends on the type of beans and their freshness.
- Add salt to taste, adjust any other seasonings to taste.
- Mix in the chopped cilantro or parsley. For extra flavor, you can make an additional batch of refrito with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and cumin to add in at this point.