You know what doesn’t translate well to English? Habichuelas con dulce. I was trying to explain to my non-Latino co-workers what a decadent dessert “Sweet Beans” was. Boiled beans mixed with evaporated milk and pounds of sugar was not transferring well as a dessert that anyone in their right minds might want to taste. “Sweet beans” is not the same thing as Habichuelas con dulce. Attempting to translate it to English felt nearly impossible. Even I wouldn’t feel inclined to taste something called “Sweet Beans”. I was butchering it and almost bringing shame to my culture by calling it as such. The only way to convince anyone to taste it, would be to just hand them a cupful. Details could be discussed later.
Habichuelas con dulce smell and taste so good you’ll want to kneel and thank your ancestors. Who was daring and creative enough to say “You know what I am going to do with these extra bags of red beans? Turn them into a dessert that’s what” I can just picture her saying pasame la lata de leche evaporada que quedo ahi. Ah! y también la batata que tu Abuelo trajo de la finca. Me voy a inventar unas habichuelas con dulce que va haber que lamberse los dedos. Whoever she was, changed the game forever.
Everyone has their specific way of eating them. I prefer mine cold from the fridge, with raisins, batatas, and tiny semi-soggy cookies swimming in each spoonful- minus the actual bean itself. No me gustan los granos. I don’t mind them hot but I find they taste too sweet that way. Besides, I prefer nearly inhaling them. They are just too delicious to wait for them to cool down.
Mami can throw down in the kitchen however, desserts are not her thing. Therefore, indulging in habichuelas con dulce, arroz con leche, or pudin de pan was not a regular occurrence in my house. Luckily, Dominican neighbors or family members that do enjoy making these mouth-watering delicacies also enjoy sharing the fruits of their labor. During Semana Santa, we always got our fair share of habichuelas from the vecinas or our traditionally old school Tias. “Tenga vecina ahi le traje un chin de habichuela con dulce para que no pierda la costumbre.” My mother could not shut that door fast enough so that I can take a few samples before immediately putting the rest in the fridge to devour in a few hours.
Unfortunately, I now live in the suburbs and don’t have a Dominican vecina next door. Even more unfortunate, is the fact that social distancing is prohibiting us from trooping it to the Heights to buy several jars from the infamous habichuela lady on 181st street. This year I may have to go without or take a leap of faith and make them myself.
Lisa Gil-Ventura is a Washington Heights native, born to Dominican parents who migrated in the early 1980's. Lisa is a poet who's been documenting her life stories in diaries and journals since the age of 9. Lisa is a happily married, mother of two boys, who is returning to her craft after a long hiatus. Her passions include reading, writing, and practicing yoga. IG @devalish11