Saturday, September 24, 2005

Dinner Beans

Ugly picture; good meal.

This is real workhorse of a recipe: a cheap, virtually instant supper that is yummy, nutritious, and, if short of thrilling, at least well tolerated by everyone. Plus (I promise I won’t yak on and on again about my sordid vegetarian past), I have always felt profoundly nourished by an honest plate of beans and rice, even back in the day when canned beans was a luxury in which we almost never indulged, and I had to spend my whole life sorting, soaking, and boiling vast quantities of dried legumes until I felt like I was the unwitting star of an anthropological documentary about the passing of gas.

But tonight: just pop open a can. We happened to have leftover brown rice last night (I always make double quantities of rice, and I can proselytize, unbidden, about the value of investing a rice cooker), but maybe you have that newfangled frozen precooked (wait—does precooked actually mean raw?) brown rice you can buy from Trader Joe’s, or maybe you just want to make the beans and scoop them up with warmed tortillas or wrap them up with cheese into plump little burritos. Whatever you do, keep it simple.

But, here’s what I can’t recommend highly enough: that you add a smoked seasoning to these beans. I am suggesting smoked paprika here, which is also called “Spanish Pimenton." . It’s not spicy, but it adds an addictive smokiness to any dish you stir it into, and it makes everything taste like it’s been barbequed or like it has bacon in it—which are two qualities that are deeply appreciated by my children, who would happily bite into a ceramic bookend provided you smoked it first. If your children can tolerate spiciness, then another wonderful choice is chipotle peppers, which are smoked jalapenos. You can buy them in powdered spice form, but I much prefer juicy, tangy “chipotles in adobo” which you will find in 7-ounce tins in the Mexican foods aisle for two or three dollars (brands to look for include Embasa, San Marcos, Herdes, and La Costena). You want to puree the entire can in the blender, and then store it in your fridge in an impeccably clean glass jar where it will keep indefinitely. A little puree goes a long way, so add it gradually, tasting as you go. And then praise your children for eating such spicy, spicy food! Good spice eating, spice eater! Wow, that’s sure spicy and you’re able to eat it, I can’t believe that! My children love to be praised for this particular achievement, as if tolerating spice is a sign of their moral superiority and psychological fortitude.

Of course, if you need to make these beans this minute and have no smoked anything in the house, you can add cumin and/or regular paprika and they will still be very good.

I need to make a note here about the fact that I often add greens to these beans, usually kale that we keep parboiled and chopped in the freezer. It’s true that the dark color of black beans somewhat conceal this particular addition, and I do not go out of my way to advertise it. But I don’t want to seem like a hypocrite on account of the fact that I once, in a certain article, poked a tiny bit of good-natured fun at the in-vogue practice of sneaking veggies into kids: I am not advocating that you stir pureed favas into your crème brulee—only that if an obvious vegetable opportunity comes knocking, I’d be a fool to scowl through the keyhole at it. On that note: you’ll see cucumber salad in the photos on the right here. This is the bonus recipe: a shrink-wrapped cuke, cut in half, the seeds scooped out (it’s the seeds that cuke haters hate, on account of their simulation of rotten melon—try removing them), sliced thin and dressed simply with seasoned rice vinegar (the kind that already has salt and sugar in it). That’s it. I add fresh dill or mint if I have it, but here it’s just the cukes and vinegar, and it is strangely more delicious than the sum of its meager parts.

Dinner Beans
preparation time: 10 minutes; total time: 25 minutes

If you’re in a rush, skip the greens, drain the beans, and reduce the simmering time to 5 minutes. I’m sure those ten minutes are really going to help.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, smashed, peeled, and finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ teaspoon smoked paprika (or chipotle puree)
1 25-ounce can black beans (or 2 14-ounce cans) undrained
1 cup prepared greens: kale, spinach, collards, already chopped and partially cooked (microwaving them is a good option, as is skipping them altogether)
1 teaspoon cider vinegar (or lime juice)

Warm the oil and garlic together in a medium pan over medium-low heat, until the garlic is sizzling and fragrant but still nice and pale. Add the tomato paste (remember how you already have some in the freezer?) and paprika or chipotle puree, and fry for a few seconds, then dump in the beans with their liquid and add the greens. Cook the beans uncovered, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes, until everything looks united, and the liquid has mostly cooked off. Now season them with the vinegar and taste for salt: this will depend on your beans. I tend to add about a teaspoon of kosher salt (which is the equivalent of ½ teaspoon regular), but you may need less: the beans should be saucy and highly seasoned, since you’ll be mixing them with bland rice or bland tortillas.

Serve with grated cheese and sour cream (and extra chipotle puree or hot sauce for thems that like it).


  1. These beans make me so happy. (That sounded less weird in my head.) 😊

  2. Here I am, making these beans as I type this, fifteen years later because my now college aged daughter requested them. If this isn't a legacy I don't know what is. Thank you.