Frejon with Pepper Sauce

A bowl of frejon, topped with pepper sauce.

Frejon (From Feijão, which is the Portuguese word for beans) is a coconut milk and bean soup which is eaten especially during Holy Week by a selection of Christians, mostly Catholics, across the world. Countries where Frejon is popular include Brazil and Nigeria (especially among Yoruba who returned to Nigeria from Brazil at the abolition of the slave trade, and settled in what is known as the “Brazilian Quarters” in Lagos Island), and also Sierra Leone on Good Friday, or for functions such as weddings. Because dairy foods and flesh meat (beef, pork, goat) are strictly forbidden on Good Friday, this dish is a suitable accompaniment to non-dairy foods such as fried fish and peppered snail.

Frejon is a soup or pudding made of beans and coconut milk, served especially during Holy Week in a number of, lagely catholic, countries around the world. It seems to have a similar, although less widspread, path to Feijoada, originating in Brazil and spreading from there, this time mainly through former slaves who returned to Africa. My recipe is based on Nigerian recipes, mostly, with a few American websites that seem to also be based on Nigerian recipes. Really, the only evidence I found that this dish actually originated in Brazil (besides the name coming from the Portuguese word feijão, for beans), is that fact that multiple recipes from Nigerian authors (who mostly seemed to be just discovering this dish themselves) stated that “this dish is usually made with black beans, but I couldn’t find any, so I sustituted ____ beans”. As we know from Feijoada, black beans are quite popular in Brazil, and as a New World variety of bean it doesn’t seem like they would be the traditional bean for something that originated in Africa.

Given that black beans don’t seem to be readily available to the average Nigerian, I followed the lead of the New York Times and found some Nigerian honey beans*, which appear to be some type of cow pea, based on their smell. (Try smelling some black eyed peas vs say black or kidney beans. You’ll see what I mean.)

This dish is often served with peppered fish or peppered snail. I chose to keep the dish vegan, and made the pepper sauce without any other protein in it this time. I wrote the recipe intending four to five servings, but I think that you would need the extra protein for that to be realistic.

The frejon is a paste the consistency of thick hummus (I probably could have added more coconut milk, but I didn’t have any more in the house), and is fairly bland by itself, but it’s an absolutely delicious base for the spiciness of the pepper sauce. I’m no spice wimp, but I also prefer that my food taste like something besides burning. Despite containing three habaneros, I though this had the perfect balance. Spicy enough to taste it, but not so hot that I needed anything else to cool my mouth down. Feel free to adjust the amount of hot pepper to your taste.

Garri* is coarse, roasted cassava flour. I believe it’s the same as the product I should have ordered back when I was making feijoada, and failed at farofa. It adds a nice crunch when sprinkled over the dish.

Frejon with Pepper Sauce

Serves: 3-4
Prep 15 minutes
Cook ~1:15
Total 1:30 plus soaking time (different types of beans may require longer cooking)

½ lb. Nigerian honey beans
½ lb. black beans
Water to cover
2 15 oz. cans coconut milk (you may not use the entire second can)
Salt to taste
3 ¼ teaspoons sugar

1 ½ Tablespoons olive oil
2 small yellow onion, diced
3 habanero or scotch bonnet peppers, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
5 scalliions, finely sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 Roma tomatoes, diced
Salt to taste

¼ cup gari

10 sprigs fresh thyme and1 fresh bay leaf (boquet garni, cook with beans)
6 bouillon cubes (split between the beans and the sauce)
½ lb. pinto beans (in place of other beans)
1 teaspoon ginger
1 pinch ground cloves
5 whole cloves

Optional additions to the sauce:
1 Tablespoon crayfish powder or dried shrimp
14 oz. can whole peeled tomato (in place of fresh)
1 Tablespoon red palm oil (to finish)
¼ cup fresh mint
¼ cup fresh cilantro
zest of ½ lime
¼ cup water
lime wedges for garnish
¾ cup crushed tomato
4 cans of sardines
1 ¾ Tablespoons vegetable oil (in place of olive oil)
⅝ teaspoon curry powder
½ Tablespoon black pepper

Soak beans in cold water for at least 4 hours. Drain, cover with cold water by at least 2 inches, bring to a boil and cook until very soft. Allow to cool slightly.

Once beans have cooled, Drain them and place in a blender or food processor with one can of the coconut milk and puree until very smooth. Pour into a fine mesh strainer over a heavy bottomed pot. If it is too thick, push it through with a spoon until only the dry chaff is left.

Add addtional coconut milk to the bean puree to reach desired consistency. Season with salt and sugar and cook over low heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until desired consistency is reached. The coconut should be the primary flavor.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, and saute onion, garlic, scallion and peppers until soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomato and cook 5-10 minutes until soft and flavors come together. Add salt to taste.

To serve, top frejon with pepper sauce and sprinkle with toasted gari. 

*I receive no compensation for mentioning this product.

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