The German language really gives and gives. There's schadenfreude, of course, but there's also backpfeifengesicht (a slappable face) or fremdschämen (secondhand embarrassment). And then there's kummerspeck. It literally means "grief bacon," but also refers to that extra weight you carry around when you've been doing your share of sad eating.
My bacon as of late is grief bacon. My eggs are mourning eggs. My cake is bereavement cake. In the span of less than 12 weeks of each another, my mother and mother-in-law recently ended their journeys with dementia and died. I've spent a lot of time crying across various Cheesecake Factory locations in the Tri-state area. At home, I've catatonically made many meals, one of which really spoke to me. It's not quite grief bacon. It's piggy beans.
As described by Pati Jinich in her "Treasures of the Mexican Table," frijoles puercos are a popular appetizer in Jalisco that you can easily recreate at home and "make as piggy as you desire." Soft refried beans get combined with meat and cheese and kicked in the pants with green olives and pickled jalapeños. My German side loves the briny zing the olives and peppers bring to the whole dish to cut through the fatty richness — it's basically grief bacon with pickles.
Jinich makes her piggy beans with homemade beans, bacon and chorizo. I heeded her simplifying tip and used canned beans. For the "Quick & Dirty" version, I also omitted the chorizo. You can add or substitute freely here — ham, cooked pork, sausage, you get the gist.
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Any way you make them, these beans come together in less than 30 minutes in a single pan — and they're the epitome of comfort food in any language. Though traditionally served an appetizer, you can enjoy them as the main course with a green salad and a perfectly balanced margarita. So, gather your loved ones at the table, remember those who aren't present and keep passing the chips.
Recipe: Piggy Beans (Frijoles Puercos)
Inspired by Pati Jinich's "Treasures of the Mexican Table"
- 2 cans refried pinto beans
- 1/2 pound thick-cut bacon, coarsely chopped
- 2-3 green onion stalks, chopped
- 1⁄3 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives, chopped
- 1⁄3 cup chopped pickled jalapeños, plus 1 tablespoon brine
- 1⁄4 cup grated Cotija or Añejo cheese, or crumbled Queso Fresco
- Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
- Heat a large Dutch oven or skillet over medium heat.
- Add the bacon and cook until just crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and reserve. (I put it on the platter I use to serve the dish.)
- Add the onions to the bacon fat and cook until soft, about 3 minutes.
- Add the refried beans and cook with the ingredients already in the pan, stirring until everything comes together. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (You may want to add a little water to loosen the mixture up. It should be thick but not stiff.)
- Stir in the olives, jalapeños and brine.
- Spoon the mixture into a bowl or onto a platter. Top with the crisped bacon, your choice of cheese and additional onions and peppers, if you like.
- Serve with corn chips and a green salad, if you're feeling in need of a vegetable. Definitely finish things with some popsicles.
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