A few summers ago, a friend generously offered me her family’s vacation condo in Mexico for a week after she had to abandon her holiday plans at the last minute. With my hubby tied up with work commitments, I grabbed a girlfriend, along with the kids (hers and mine), and off we went.
It wasn’t until we pulled up to the luxurious grounds of the resort that we realized we’d hit the vacation jackpot. The place was breathtaking, as were the prices at the resort restaurant. Since we were staying in a condo, it made sense to hit the local supermarket rather than spend our children’s college funds in the dining room.
Our cooking goals were twofold: prepare dishes that 1) were in keeping with our south-of-the-border locale, and 2) wouldn’t eat up too much of our precious pool time (this was vacation, after all). We loaded up a goodly haul at the market –fruits, veggies, herbs, and the requisite chips and salsa– as well as a couple of pounds of dried black beans, which we tossed in as an afterthought.
Back at the condo, we brewed up a delicious pot of beans that proved to be the staple of our diet for the week. We found ourselves working them into our meals at all hours of the day: underneath fried eggs at breakfast, pureed with lime and chili for a chip dip, tossed cold with corn alongside salad greens, served as a side to grilled fish with the tender, home-made tortillas we bought in town. Who knows whether it was the sun and cerveza, but somehow nobody tired of the beans.
Black beans (and other beans for that matter) are a mom’s kitchen workhorse. With just a bit of planning and very little effort, you can turn this dirt cheap ingredient into a multitude of meals. They are also enormously nourishing, loaded with fiber, iron, protein and folate, along with the highest level of antioxidants of any other bean (thanks to its dark skin).
Unfortunately, beans have a bit of a naughty reputation for, ahem, the gassiness that sometimes ensues after eating them. However, the manner in which they are cooked can help ameliorate this unseemly side-effect. Overnight soaking and cooking them with certain varieties of herbs and spices can help soften the skin of the beans, which is where much of the trouble making lies. In Mexico, we used the herb epazote for this purpose; in the recipe below, I’ve included cumin.
Although black beans take time to cook, it’s an easy task since no hovering is required. Rely on a pressure cooker or slow cooker for help if you have one. Make a big batch, a pound, or even two. Then, find ways to use them here and there throughout the week. The ideas below are a good start. If you tire of the beans, simply pack them into a storage container and stick them in the freezer for another day, perhaps in the sunshine with a cerveza in hand.
POT OF BLACK BEANS
- 1 pound black beans
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 3 large cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 whole bay leaves
- 6 ½ cups water
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped jalapeno pepper
- 2 teaspoons salt
- The juice of 1 lemon
Pick over the beans, removing any pebbles. Put into a Dutch oven or soup pot and fill with water until it is about 2 inches over the beans. Leave overnight.*
Drain the beans and rinse with fresh water. Set aside.
Into your soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium and add the onion. Saute for a few minutes until tender. Add the beans back to the pot along with the garlic, cumin, bay leaves, and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the beans are nearly tender, about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Add the jalapeno and salt and continue to cook until tender but not mushy, another 15 minutes or so. Remove from heat, add the lemon juice and stir.
*If you haven’t planned ahead enough to soak beans overnight, you can “quick soak” them by putting them in a soup pot and covering them with water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, drain the water, and rinse with fresh water. Continue with the instructions above as if you’d soaked them overnight. This method produces a tasty bean, although the thin skin is more likely to break in the process.
WEEKDAY HUEVOS RANCHEROS
Warm up a corn tortilla over your stove top flame or in a toaster oven. Top the tortilla with 3 tablespoons drained beans and gently smash them with a fork. Spoon your favorite salsa over the beans and top with a fried egg. Eat with a knife and fork, or fold like a taco. Sliced avocado makes a tasty addition.
CHEESY LUNCHBOX BEANS
Fill a thermos with drained black beans topped with a few tablespoons of grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese. You can also mix the beans with leftover cooked rice or vegetables before filling the thermos. Tuck a lidded container of salsa or guacamole, along with tortilla chips into the lunchbox. The chips shown in the photo above are made with blue corn and flax seeds and are baked instead of fried. Somehow, they don’t taste like cardboard.
CREAMY BLACK BEAN & YOGURT SOUP
The tang of yogurt pureed with the smoky flavors of the beans is a winning combination and as easy as pushing the button on your blender. Put 2 ½ cups of drained black beans into a blender. Add ¾ cup of the bean cooking liquid, 1/3 cup plain yogurt, 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, ½ teaspoon cumin, and ½ teaspoon Kosher salt. Puree until smooth. Add another 1 cup of drained beans to the soup and serve in bowls with a little dish of yogurt to dollop of top.
Note: For those days when any sort of cooking just isn’t doable, you can tackle any of these dishes with canned black beans.