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Aug. 23 2009 - 7:13 pm | 141 views | 1 recommendation | 3 comments

Meatless Monday: Black Bean Believer

Black Beans 2

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I’ll eat beans any which way –  hot, cold, refried, pureed, lapped from a bowl, tucked into a tortilla, over rice — for breakfast, lunch or dinner, no matter the time of year. One could say that my love for the Fabaceae family (which includes beans, peas, legumes and pulses) is steadfast and unconditional.

A few years ago, my world (or was it my heart?) expanded exponentially when I heard  about Rancho Gordo, the line of heirloom beans getting a second chance thanks to Napa Valley grower Steve Sando. (My 2007 interview with him here.) With Sando’s freshly harvested dried beans (which can be ordered online if you don’t live in northern California),  I learned the nuances of flavor and texture, characteristics that are nearly impossible to detect from supermarket beans sitting on shelves for who knows how long.

When I moved to Seattle, my bean fortune got even bigger.   Now when I shop at any number of farmers’ markets, I’ve got access to locally grown dried beans, as fresh as they come.  If you live in a state with such agricultural riches, I urge you to buy early and often.

But let’s cut to the chase — when forced to choose just one, I am hopelessly in love with the black bean, a variety of Phaseolus vulgaris, aka the common bean.  It is one of the few things I could happily chew on for the rest of my days (garlic, hot sauce and pineapple are a few others) and still find interesting.

Nutritionally, it steals (or rather saves) my heart, too,  as it’s chockfull of fiber and  disease-fighting antioxidants, with plenty of  folate, magnesium  and protein to boot.

No matter how I serve my black beans, I always start them the same way, soaked for a few hours (not necessary but I like the results), covered with water, brought up to a simmer and cooked slowly with a few whole cloves of garlic.  Salt, seasoning and all the fixins come later.  For 90 minutes or so, I want my beans to be beans, a methodology that has served me well over the years.

In the summer, they’re served cold, as I did last weekend, with kernels of sweet corn, sweet bell pepper, scallions, summery herbs, cumin,  cayenne and plenty of lime.   Good in the fridge for a few days, black bean salad easily morphs into Sunday breakfast, warmed in a skillet, with a fried egg and a corn tortilla.  It also plays nicely with a variety of fruit  –  mango, peaches, cherry tomatoes and avocado, for starters.

As the days get shorter and the skies moodier, I pair my beloved with sweet potatoes  and canned tomatoes for a hearty chili or team up a  few reheated spoonfuls with rice or quinoa for one of the fastest dinners on earth.

With a little patience (90-ish minutes) and some salt, it’s hard to screw up a pot of black beans.  If you believe in the bean, the bean will take good care of you.

A Pot of Black Beans
1 pound black beans, soaked for a few hours
a few garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

Have enough water to cover beans, plus another inch or two. Add garlic. Over medium-high heat, bring beans up to a hard boil and cook for five minutes.  Reduce heat to medium-low and cook at a simmer until desired tenderness, about 90 minutes. Salt to taste.

Jazz up beans with any number of seasonings, including oregano, a chopped chipotle chile in adobo sauce, cayenne, sauteed onion and peppers, corn kernels, scallions, herbs, lime, cumin and sour cream.

An unadorned batch of black beans will keep in the fridge for up to a week in an airtight container. Can be frozen, thawed and reheated.


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  1. collapse expand

    Here in the southwest, our bean of choice is the pinto, although there are a few local growers who also do black beans. Where I live, freshly dried pinto beans are always available.

    Kim’s basic cooking strategy is mine also, with two exceptions: I add an onion as well as the garlic and salt, and instead of soaking and boiling, I cook them in the pressure cooker. I find the flavor to be less “boiled out”.

    We’re also lucky here to have several home-grown salsas on the grocery shelf. They make great toppings, hot or cold. You can also make fresh salsa in the food processor, using jalapenos and/or green chiles, tomatoes or tomatillos, garlic, onion, salt and lime juice. It keeps in the fridge for about four days, but it always gets eaten before that at my house.

    To Kim’s bean salad, I would add my favorite South Mountain Dairy herbed feta crumbles, but if you can find some local feta of your own, go for it.

    Happy trails… L

  2. collapse expand

    Freeze?!? I love you. What an awesome idea. What with this crazy cooking for two thing I find I have tons of leftovers too often. Some things are just hard/strange to cook in itty bitty batches. It never occurred to me that beans would freeze well. Time to make some beans. Of course, now you have me craving the fancy ones from the Rancho Gordo stand at the farmers market too.

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