My Abuela’s Habichuelas Con Dulce is a Semana Santa Tradition
Enjoy writer Johanna Ferreira's family story and recipe around this sweet & iconic holiday dish. Gracias, Abuela!
By Johanna Ferreira (@cup_of_johanna)
Growing up in a Dominican-American household in Queens, I remember one of the many traditions I’ve always looked forward to were the ones surrounding Semana Santa, also referred to as Holy Week. Every Viernes Santos (Good Friday), my abuelita Celeste would cook up a big batch of Dominican habichuela con dulce in a large caldero, that’s enough to last us until Easter Sunday. It’s a rich, and creamy bean-based dessert that’s made with red kidney beans cooked in coconut and evaporated milk, sweetened with sugar and raisins, and spiced with cloves, AllSpice, and cinnamon. Like most Dominicans, my family’s recipe also includes batata (Dominican sweet potato) and Dominican vanilla extract.
If you didn’t grow up eating this delicious dessert, you might find the idea of sweetened beans to be a tad bit unusual. But trust me when I tell you, this stuff is GOOD! Its smooth and creamy consistency combined with deeply flavorful sweetness gets me every time. Most Dominicans on Viernes Santos usually go meatless and cook up either a vegetarian or pescatarian meal. My abuela usually opts for a delicious pescado de coco (fish in coconut milk sauce) paired with arroz con guandules, and followed with habichuela con dulce for dessert. I’m usually so full and so satisfied after this meal, it’s enough to put me to sleep.
If you’re wondering where and what inspired habichuela con dulce — there are actually quite a few theories out there. According to Aunt Clara of dominicancooking.com, there is a good possibility that Dominican habichuela con dulce traveled from Turkey, where it’s referred to as ashure. This is not surprising considering there are other Turkish dishes like tabbouleh and kibbeh (in Dominican Republic it’s spelled kipe) that were brought from Turkey to the Dominican Republic and adjusted. But according to Clara, the famous dessert could have also been brought over from Haiti, where they make a sweet bean dish that actually derives from a French dish. It’s exciting to think about the different voyages and influences that could possibly be behind this postre.
Best served hot in a small soup bowl or wide mug, Dominicans love to enjoy this dessert topped with Guarina Galletas Dulce de Leche (Dominican sweet crackers). Check out and enjoy my Abuela Celeste’s Habichuela Con Dulce recipe below y buen provecho!
~ Habichuela Con Dulce Recipe ~
- 1 Pound of Dried Red Kidney Beans
- Cinnamon Sticks
- 1 tbsp Loisa Organic Ground Cinnamon
- A Handful of Cloves
- 2 Cans of Evaporated Milk
- 2 Cans of Coconut Milk
- ~1 cup sugar
- Pinch of Salt
- 1 Stick of Butter
- 1-2 boxes of raisins
- 1 Batata (Dominican sweet potato that has white flesh)
- 1 cap full of Dominican Vanilla Extract
- 1 tablespoon Allspice
- Soak dried red kidney beans overnight.
- The following morning hablandar las habichuelas (boil the beans in a large pot of water). Add a few cinnamon sticks, the cloves, cinnamon powder, and AllSpice. Boil batata on the side.
- Add two cans of evaporated milk and two cans of coconut milk and stir.
- Once the beans become nice and tender, remove the cinnamon sticks and cloves and liquify the mixture in a blender. Then strain through a colander and pour back into the large pot.
- Add a cap full of vanilla extract and a few tablespoons to taste of sugar to sweeten the beans. Add the steamed batata, 1-2 boxes of raisins, and a pinch of salt.
- Add an unsalted stick of butter and let it melt into the mixture. Stir until the mixture begins to thicken but don’t let it get too thick.
- Once it’s ready, serve hot with galleticas.