When I was in college in Texas, many years ago, my off-campus house was often the gathering place for friends. And when friends gathered, we made food – lots of it. As students we were on a strict budget, and many folks were vegetarian (for both political and budgetary reasons!) so we had to be creative. Of the many favorites during those days, which have carried through to my adulthood, one of the stand-outs was making a big pot of savory-sweet black beans.
Nothing irks me more when you order black beans at a restaurant and all you get is an unseasoned pile of starchy blandness. (Ok, well, plenty of things irk me, but come on....all it takes is a little salt and spices to jazz up beans.)
My friends and I came up with this recipe, which hasn’t morphed much in the (ahem) number of years since college, and I still love serving it at big gatherings. It would be a great addition to an alternative Mexican-inspired Thanksgiving spread alongside Mexican rice and chile-rubbed turkey with mole gravy. But it’s just as festive when served up over a bowl of white steamed rice with a pile of warm, fresh tortillas, the way we did it back in Texas so long ago (if you are really feeling fancy, top it with fresh tomato pico de gallo, shredded Jack cheese, and a dollop of sour cream.)
Be sure to soak your beans the night before as it helps plump them up, gives them better texture, and makes them cook a bit faster.
Recipe: Savory Black Beans
Makes 10–12 servings
- 1 lb dried black beans (about 2 cups), soaked overnight in cold water to cover by a few inches
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 small red bell pepper, trimmed, seeded, and finely chopped
- 1 small yellow or orange bell pepper, trimmed, seeded, and finely chopped
- 1 small green bell pepper, trimmed, seeded, and finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup dry red wine
- 2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
- Hot pepper sauce, to taste (optional)
- Drain and rinse the beans. Add the beans, garlic cloves, and bay leaves to a large, heavy saucepan or pot and add cool water to cover by about 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover partially, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 1 hour (this is highly dependent upon the age of the beans so it could take less time or more time, so keep an eye on them!). If the beans start to dry out, add a little boiling water to keep them moist and slightly soupy. (If, at the end of cooking, there is too much liquid in the pot, skim some of it out.)
- Meanwhile, in a frying pan, warm the olive oil. Add the onion, bell peppers, oregano, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are really tender, about 8 minutes. When the beans are tender, add the vegetables to the beans. Stir in the wine and sugar. Let simmer for 15 minutes longer, then taste and adjust the seasonings with salt, pepper, sugar, and hot sauce. Serve.