Pizza and soda were the pinnacles of cuisine for Rico Torres when he was a kid. But even though his middle schooler’s palate longed for sauce-drenched dough, his curiosity was stirred by the traditional Mexican food his family prepared in his El Paso home. The chef, who now co-owns the award-winning restaurant Mixtli in San Antonio, recalls marveling at the way plump fava beans melded with chile verde in his mother’s kitchen—the variants of green complementing each other in a whirl of savory wonder.
Fava beans, which can be harvested through May in Texas, are a source of pride in Torres’s family. The crop grew rampant on his grandfather’s plot of land in Fresnillo, Zacatecas. The property, nicknamed the Rancho, was home to roughly one hundred families, but Torres’s grandfather’s plot was special. “His crops were pushed up against the foot of a mountain,” says Torres. “And so, when it rained, he got the first of the water streaming down the mountainside.” Growing up, Torres heard stories of luscious watermelons, corn that was harvested and turned into masa the next morning, and his grandfather’s pistol, which was used for hunting rattlesnakes. The chef says it wasn’t uncommon to see chiles and fava beans growing together on the Rancho in the spring. This dish, Fava Beans and Riblets in Chile Verde, is an homage to the stories of those harvests, passed down from generation to generation.
The chef has since refined the cooking techniques he learned in his youth, and today, they’re on display in the food at Mixtli. The dish below is a weekend staple in Torres’s home. “We call it Slow and Low Sunday,” he says. “Me and my wife will start the meal early in the day, and then we’ll just forget about it and let it cook away in the pot until dinnertime.” At a glance, the recipe might look long, but keep at it—the steps are easy to execute, and the final dish is worth your time.
The result is a piquant celebration of spring abundance that’s certain to delight a crowd—maybe even a young family member with a curious palate eager to step outside the realm of pepperoni.
Fava Beans and Riblets in Chile Verde
Approximately 3 pounds of fresh fava beans from the local farmer’s market or grocery store
- With your hands or a small knife, snip off the tip of the each pod and peel down the seam to “unzip.” Remove beans and collect in a small bowl. (As a rule of thumb, 1 pound of bean pods is equal to about 1 cup of beans.)
- Blanch the beans in salted boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, then quickly move to a prepared ice bath. Shocking the beans in ice water will arrest the cooking and help preserve their beautiful green color.
- Once cool, gently squeeze each bean out of its waxy shell by pinching it between your thumb and forefinger. Reserve beans until ready to use.
2 to 3 pounds of pork riblets
salt, to taste
ground black pepper (optional)
homemade chili powder (optional)
neutral oil (i.e., vegetable or canola)
½ white onion, chopped
1 to 2 garlic cloves, sliced
stems from a medium bunch of cilantro, chopped
- Season ribs with salt (pepper is optional, and a nice powder made from your favorite smoky dried chiles is optimal).
- In a heavy-bottom braising pot, heat a neutral oil on high. Working in batches so you don’t crowd the pan, carefully brown the riblets on each side (a couple of minutes on each side). Remove and hold in a separate bowl. Discard any blackened oil during the searing process and replace with fresh oil.
- Turn the heat down to medium and add onion, garlic, and cilantro stems to the pot, stirring with a wooden spoon. Make sure to scrape all the browned bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pot. Cook until onion pieces are translucent and soft.
8 small tomatillos, skin off and rinsed
1 whole head of garlic, skin on
½ medium white onion
4 poblano peppers
2 jalapeño peppers
salt, to taste
1 medium bunch of cilantro (chop bottom stems and set leaves aside for a garnish)
juice of 2 limes
1 small bunch of epazote (optional), stems removed (leaves can be torn into smaller pieces; set some aside for a garnish)
- Broil the tomatillos, garlic, onion, poblano peppers, and jalapeño peppers on high in the oven for approximately five minutes per side. They should be tender and have a nice char to them. Keep an eye on them to make sure they do not burn.
- Once cool enough to handle, remove skin from all peppers (poblano and jalapeño), de-seed, and remove stems. Remove garlic cloves from the bulb.
- Add everything to the blender, including the cilantro stems, lime juice, and epazote (if using), and blend on a high speed until smooth. Add salt to taste and add more lime juice if desired.
- Set aside until ready to use. If you make extra, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 10 days if it’s tightly sealed.
4 to 6 cups of chicken broth (or water)
watermelon radishes, sliced (optional)
1 onion, thinly sliced (optional)
garlic blossoms (optional)
queso fresco or cotija cheese (optional)
1 lime, sliced
- Return the riblets to the pot with the chopped onion and pour in the salsa verde. Add enough water or chicken broth to cover the ribs. Cover pot with lid and cook on low heat for approximately 2 to 3 hours or until the meat is tender.
- Add the fava beans to the pot and continue to cook on low, uncovered, for another 20 to 30 minutes.
- Serve in bowls and top with fresh cilantro and epazote leaves, thinly sliced radishes (watermelon radishes add a pop of color), thinly sliced bulb onions, and even garlic blossoms for a great touch. Finish with queso fresco or cotija cheese if desired. Serve with slices of lime and warm tortillas.
Chef tip: Substitute the riblets for pork butt, chicken, grass-fed beef, or chayote squash and Swiss chard for a vegetarian approach.