Our Daily Breather is a series where we ask writers and artists to recommend one thing that's helping them get through the days of isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.
Who: Nathalie Joachim
Where: Chicago, Ill.
Recommendation: Cooking sos pwa nwa (Haitian black bean sauce)
Now, everyone knows that it doesn't take a global disaster, but is in fact a non-negotiable requirement of every good Haitian, to stockpile their home with dried staples like rice and beans. The duo, in all of its forms, hits this ideal trifecta of culinary satisfaction: tasty, nutritious and cheap. It has sustained our people for centuries, so I'm proud to say that even my neglected pre-quarantine pantry was full of an unnecessary amount of both.
One of the first things I did to comfort myself was cook up a batch of sos pwa nwa, Haitian black bean sauce. (You can find the full recipe below.) There's something ultra-calming and magical about how the small number of simple ingredients — beans, water, garlic, cloves, herbs, and spices — start as a flavorless bowl of nothing, then very slowly fill your kitchen with the most decadent aroma. The steam that emerges from the rolling boil as you lift the pot lid smells like home to every Haitian. Making the dish takes patience and time, and, like most slow-cooked food, is well worth the wait. It's meant to be served over rice, but if you do it just right, you'll be tempted to spoon it up like a bowl of soup that warms you from the inside out.
I learned to cook at the heels of my mother and grandmother, delighting in secret wooden spoon licks as each dish came together. The long hours on their feet, the sweat and elbow grease, the small adjustments until everything tasted just right: It was their way of showing love, and so it has become mine. It's amazing how utterly necessary that is for me in this moment.
Nathalie Joachim is a Haitian-American composer, flutist and vocalist. She released her debut album, Fanm d'Ayiti, in 2019.