Black Beans

This is my basic bean recipe, which is great eaten as soup with a slice of peasant bread or a good tortilla.

All you really need to make black bean soup is garlic, dried black beans, salt, cumin, some form of grease and, yes, an onion. Oh, and time. You need some time. Ideally, you will also have chilies, chipotle powder, cilantro or parsley, sour cream, cheese, epazote, bacon grease or chorizo, chicken stock … The list goes on, but you really can make a good pot of beans with the first six ingredients I listed. Cooking time varies depending on soaking time and the quality and freshness of the beans; it should be between 3 and 5 hours, but requires very little supervision. Just don’t add salt until the beans are already soft, because salting the beans early will slow down the cooking process and can ruin the experiment entirely. For maximum flavor, cook beans the day before, store in a cool place, and then reheat. Leftover black beans make a nutritious anchor for at least a dozen other simple dishes, including nachos, tacos, burritos, bisque, spread and gallo pinto.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of dried black beans
  • 10 cups of water
  • 4 cups of chicken stock (optional, can be replaced with water)
  • 4 cloves of garlic (chopped)
  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons of cumin
  • 2 teaspoons of chile powder (preferably chipotle)
  • 2 dried chiles or 1 fresh chile (slit the fresh chile and put it in the pot whole)
  • 2 tablespoons of bacon grease (you can use olive oil instead, or substitute the grease with actual bacon or chorizo)
  • sour cream and chopped red cabbage for garnish
  • salt
  • ½ cup of cilantro or parsley (optional)

Directions

  1. Soak beans for a few hours or overnight and drain. (You can do without soaking the beans, but the cooking time will be longer.)
  2. Put 10 cups of water, garlic, cumin, chile powder, chiles, the onion and the bay leaf in a large pot (preferably cast iron).
  3. Bring water to a boil, and then turn down to a low simmer. Simmer until the beans are soft. If fluid runs low during this time, add a little more hot water.
  4. Add bacon grease and/or meat, and stock. If you have parsley or cilantro, add that now, saving some for the garnish. Simmer for another hour or so.
  5. Salt to taste, and purée if desired.
  6. If you have time, let beans cool down for several hours or overnight, and then reheat to serve. Serve beans in broth, topped with sour cream and garnished with chopped red cabbage and parsley or cilantro.
(This recipe is by Felisa Churpa Rosa Rogers. It was first published at Salon.com, but is now the property of its author.)

3 Responses to “Black Beans”

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  1. Carl Franz says:

    I just want to add some emphasis to the importance of “quality and freshness” when cooking beans. Packaged supermarket beans can be two or three years old and will probably never reach an agreeable tenderness no matter how long you cook or soak them. It is worth the effort to find a source that sells more than an occasional bag of beans. Try to buy your beans from a food coop or natural foods store, or a higher-end supermarket — or even online. Organic beans are a good choice and even though the price is probably higher, so is the likelihood that you’ll get a choice, tender bean.

  2. -El Codo- says:

    I’ll approach a timid campesina and beg “Señora, can you possibly help me choose the correct frijol negros?” I’ve been ignored the fewest of times. Sometimes they yell at the owner of the tienda “Get me some of the beans that I like”. This dismisses all of the “regular beans that seemingly have been on the shelf since de La Madrid was president. A baggie of beans swings across the counter top.

    There is something about cooking beans over glowing hardwood coals in an olla de barro, a clay pot. The fired clay does something to the flavor as does lots of wood smoke. Mesquite is great, as is encino (oak) but my favorite is guisaxche a hardwood found on the slopes of the Sierra Madre de Sur.

    A large pinch of fresh comino (something else to ask la señora about), and a spray of fresh epasote added the last 15 minutes of cooking are la sazón, the cook’s touch.

    I like my beans when they have formed a thick crust. Cooking over a wood fire creates hot spots beneath the olla, something that cannot be duplicated on a gas stove or electric stove.

    The flavor is incomparable. Utterly different than “modern” prepared beans. The wood smoke is a major component.

    Now, if you can get your hands on some honest-to-goodness handmade tortillas made from scratch right from the milpa, you will see why millions of Mexicans lived happily for centuries on a diet in which beans and tortillas made up a majority of los alimentos,

    Anything less is like comparing a masterpiece from Maxim’s of Paris, to a TV Dinner!

  3. churpa says:

    Agreed regarding quality of beans. So important. It always pisses me off when I buy dry beans here in the states and they are slightly rancid to start with.