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Puerto Rican Habichuelas


 Potato and bean stew in a serving bowl with rice

We've been following Illyanna Maisonet for years. She's an excellent food writer with a natural curiosity. Her articles for the San Francisco Chronicle were legendary. She's an odd and appealing mix of honesty, integrity, vulnerability, and maybe a touch of confidence now and then. She knows her subject, but she's never patronizing or pedantic.

We asked her to produce an e-booklet a while back (download it here), and it remains one of our favorites. There are many great recipes in her book Diasporican: A Puerto Rican Cookbook (10 Speed Press, 2022), but this remains a staff favorite. The sofrito recipe calls for culantro, a delicious indigenous succulent that can be hard to find. The flavor of cilantro is similar.

We served this with rice and very cold beers.

(Makes 2 cups)

  • 2 Roma tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 yellow onion, quartered
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 green bell pepper, quartered
  • 1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 1 bunch culantro, coarsely chopped

(Makes 2 cups)

  • 2 cups manteca, canola oil, or vegetable oil
  • ½ cup achiote seeds


  • 1 pound dried Rancho Gordo pinto, mayocoba, or yellow eye beans
  • Achiote oil (see above) for sautéing
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, coarsely diced
  • 8 garlic cloves, coarsely diced
  • 1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into medium dice
  • 1 to 2 cups sofrito (see above)
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sazón
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup water

Serves 4 to 6


  1. In a blender, process the tomatoes until finely chopped. Add the onion and garlic and process until finely chopped and incorporated. Add the bell pepper, cilantro, and culantro and process until the mixture is well combined and mostly smooth. You can use the sofrito immediately, cover it and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 day, or pour it into an ice-cube tray and freeze for up to 6 months.


  1. In a small saucepan over high heat, melt the manteca. Set a mesh sieve over a bowl and place near the stove. As soon as the manteca has melted, carefully add the achiote seeds; they will sizzle. Heat the seeds for 30 seconds to 1 minute, extracting as much of their color and flavor as you can. Never take your eyes off them— they will burn in a blink! When the oil has reached the desired redness, pour it and the seeds through the sieve. Trash the seeds.
  2. If you’re using manteca, the achiote oil needs to be used right away. If you’re using canola or vegetable oil, pour the cooled achiote oil into a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Store at room temperature for up to 1 year.


  1. Spread out the beans on a baking sheet and pick out any rocks and impurities.
  2. Place the beans in a large pot and add water to cover by 3 inches. Place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil for 5 to 10 minutes, then turn the heat to low and let simmer, uncovered, for 2 to 4 hours.
  3. Check the beans and stir them every 30 minutes, adding more water to cover as needed. The pot should always have 2 to 3 inches of liquid in it, so the beans don’t burn
  4. In a separate large pot, combine the achiote oil and onion, place over medium heat, and sauté for 2 to 4 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes more. Add the potato and continue to sauté for 5 to 7 minutes. Then add the sofrito, tomato sauce, sazón, bay leaves; season with salt and pepper; and mix to combine. Add the beans and their cooking liquid and the water, then cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the potato has softened. Ladle the into bowls and serve immediately.


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