Francisco Alejandri is old enough to change the subject when asked about his age, but when he describes the punishment he suffered on the trip to open Agave y Aguacate in Toronto, he is as vulnerable as a child. Whether cooking at resorts in Mexico or elite kitchens in Toronto, Alejandri has always received praise from above – and resentful jabs from below.
“Once,” said Alejandri, “the other guys put on a big show by giving me a new pair of running shoes to run away from them.” The incident made her cry. Alejandri continued, and the Mexican food stall he later opened at Toronto’s Kensington Market became so popular that it became a restaurant in Baldwin’s village. After working at work, Alejandri knows the importance of letting off steam. When friends come to his house, he turns off the lights, chooses some cheerful music and cooks up a simple and elegant meal. This pinto bean soup, as clean as the one his mother made, is a typical centerpiece to which he could add a salad, a ceviche and, of course, several bottles of wine.
Preparation time: Around 1h30
¾ cup of dried pinto beans
7 cups of water
1 lb Roma tomatoes, roasted until the skin is puffed and lightly browned
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped white onion
2 ancho peppers, hulled, seeded and soaked in hot water for 15 minutes
4 tablespoons lard, divided
2½ cups light chicken broth
Salt to taste 1 cup vegetable oil
1 small tortilla, cut into thin strips and left to dry overnight
Dried Mexican oregano for garnish
½ ounce queso panela, cut into ½ inch squares
1 tablespoon of cream (La Vaquita brand, if possible)
Spread the beans out on a flat surface and look for any debris, then wash them thoroughly in cold water, rubbing them vigorously against each other with your hands. Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the beans and reduce the heat to a simmer, cooking gently for about an hour or until the beans are tender (timing will depend on the age of the beans). Using an immersion blender or stand mixer, carefully puree the beans with their cooking liquid until smooth.
Using a food processor or small electric mixer, combine the blistered tomatoes, garlic, onion and an ancho pepper to form a smooth paste. Melt 3 tablespoons of lard in a saucepan deep enough to hold the soup and cook the tomato mixture over high heat for 7 to 8 minutes or until the sauce is a little dry. Add the mashed beans and cook over medium heat for about 8 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add the chicken broth and let the soup cook for another 5 minutes over low heat.
To prepare the toppings, cut the rest of the ancho pepper into strips and fry in a small saucepan over medium heat with the rest of the lard. Heat vegetable oil in a deep saucepan to about 375 F and fry the tortilla pieces in batches until crisp. Pour the soup into 8 bowls and garnish each with a pinch of oregano, a few cubes of queso panela, tortilla strips, a few strips of chilli pepper and a drizzle of cream.