Our Daily Breather: Nathalie Joachim’s Recipe For Haitian Black Bean Sauce


A series by Nathalie Joachim for NPR.

Our Daily Breather is a series where we ask writers and artists to recommend one thing that’s helping them get through the days of isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Who: Nathalie Joachim

Where: Chicago, Ill.

Recommendation: Cooking sos pwa nwa (Haitian black bean sauce)

Now, everyone knows that it doesn’t take a global disaster, but is in fact a non-negotiable requirement of every good Haitian, to stockpile their home with dried staples like rice and beans. The duo, in all of its forms, hits this ideal trifecta of culinary satisfaction: tasty, nutritious and cheap. It has sustained our people for centuries, so I’m proud to say that even my neglected pre-quarantine pantry was full of an unnecessary amount of both.

One of the first things I did to comfort myself was cook up a batch of sos pwa nwa, Haitian black bean sauce. (You can find the full recipe below.) There’s something ultra-calming and magical about how the small number of simple ingredients — beans, water, garlic, cloves, herbs, and spices — start as a flavorless bowl of nothing, then very slowly fill your kitchen with the most decadent aroma. The steam that emerges from the rolling boil as you lift the pot lid smells like home to every Haitian. Making the dish takes patience and time, and, like most slow-cooked food, is well worth the wait. It’s meant to be served over rice, but if you do it just right, you’ll be tempted to spoon it up like a bowl of soup that warms you from the inside out.

I learned to cook at the heels of my mother and grandmother, delighting in secret wooden spoon licks as each dish came together. The long hours on their feet, the sweat and elbow grease, the small adjustments until everything tasted just right: It was their way of showing love, and so it has become mine. It’s amazing how utterly necessary that is for me in this moment.

Nathalie Joachim’s Recommendation

Nathalie Joachim recommends cooking up a batch of sos pwa nwa. Here’s her recipe:

  1. The first step is making your epis (this is pretty much the base for every savory Haitian recipe). I make mine in a pilon (wooden mortar and pestle), but you could probably use a small food processor. One way or another, you’ll mash up a couple garlic cloves, 1/2 of a seeded habanero pepper and 1 chopped up scallion until it becomes a coarse paste.
  2. Then, add that to a large pot with 1-1/2 cup dried black beans (do not even think of using canned beans), about 13 cups of water, a few springs of thyme and salt. Bring to a boil in a partially covered pot (not fully covered — it will explode) for about an hour. The beans should be soft.
  3. Remove the thyme twigs. Reserve 1-1/2 cups of the bean liquid and at least 1/2 a cup of the beans and set aside for later. Then, blend what’s left in the pot. You want this blend to be very very smooth, which can take a few minutes. Once it’s done, do some container juggling so you can give your pot a good rinse. Then in your pilon (or whatever you used for step one), mash up a few more cloves of garlic and a very small handful of parsley leaves into again a coarse paste.
  4. Add 1/3 cup of oil back to your pot, then add in your garlic/parsley paste and half of a small onion, finely chopped, and let this cook for a minute. Then, use a fine strainer to add your pureed beans to the pot. You’ll have to stir and press down the puree with the back of a big spoon in the strainer so you get every last drop out. You can trash what’s left in the strainer.
  5. Lower your heat and add the reserved beans and liquid, a 2-3 tablespoons of salted butter, the rest of that habanero pepper and 3 or 4 whole cloves to the pot, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Salt to taste if needed, and enjoy over rice or mayi moulen (polenta).

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