From Too Many Chefs -

October 4, 2006
Full of Beans

This is a lot of black beans. Six cups dry, and I don't know how many cups after cooking. Why on earth would I make such a huge pot of beans?

Partially to prove a point. Beans are an amazing and versatile food, and with a little creativity, a pot of beans can feed you and your family in many different ways. I chose to use black beans because, in addition to being cheap and delicious, they are very nutritious. Black beans have lots of protein, iron, B-vitamins, folate, and fiber, all of which are good for growing boys and girls, and black beans may even help fight cancer and reduce your heart attack risk.

From this master pot of beans, I'm going to make dinner for two for five days, and not once will we resort to a typical taco or burrito treatment. Most of the ingredients I'll use are readily available at your local supermarket. I'll use a couple of Mexican ingredients like queso fresco or chihuahua cheese that should be available in most urban markets, and will certainly be available in any Mexican grocery store.

You can always make a pot of beans and eat them as is with a little salt and spice. I start with a pretty bland batch of beans, refraining even from using much salt until I cook the prepared beans a second time in recipes you'll read over the next week or so.

I hope you'll try all these recipes and learn to enjoy one of the healthier foods our there.

Big Pot of Black Beans
6 cups dried black beans, picked over, rinsed
2 small or one medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 package dried or 3 leaves fresh epazote*
scant pinch of salt

*see recipe for caution on using epazote.

Start by heating the oil in the Dutch oven over medium heat. Introduce the chopped onion and pinch of salt which will help draw out some of the onion's juices. Sautee until the onions are softened and translucent, but before they take on color.

Add the beans to the pot and stir. Add enough water to cover the beans by about 2 inches.

At this point you can add the epazote. Be careful with this. In large quantities epazote has been used by herbalists to intentionally induce miscarriages. If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, weigh the risks and be careful using the herb. Its primary benefit in this preparation is to help take some of the toot out of this magical fruit, which it does well. It also adds a nice flavor, but you can substitute cilantro/culantro or do without if you have concerns.

Bring the beans and water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Check beans every twenty minutes or so and make sure they are covered with water, adding water as needed, but reducing the amount they are submerged gradually. By the end of an hour, there should be about half an inch of water over the beans. From that point, only add enough water to keep the beans wet. They do not have to and probably should not be completely submerged. You do want some "bean juice", however, that we will use in our upcoming recipes. Continue for about an hour and a half until the beans are nice and tender.

If you taste the beans now, you'll find them very bland. Rick Bayless in his Mexican Kitchen book recommends against using much salt when cooking beans because it leads to an uneven texture. If you want saltier beans (and you will), add the salt only after cooking.

Right now, use a ladle to dip into the pot, pushing aside the beans to collect some of the liquid. Set a couple of ladles of the liquid aside. We'll use it tomorrow in our first recipe. If you leave it in the pot, most of it will be reabsorbed by the beans, which is good for them, but not so good for our plans for them.

If you'd like to enjoy a simple bowl of beans right now from the pot, dish some up out of the master pot, add salt, pepper, cilantro, chopped onion, and maybe even a little hot sauce and enjoy.

Put the rest of the beans in a large container and refrigerate them for use with the rest of our black bean recipes. And again, I promise, no tacos or burritos.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at October 4, 2006 7:54 AM

Just out of curiousity (and because I figure Dr. Redhead might know) is folate the same as folic acid??

Posted by Meg in Paris on October 4, 2006 at 9:07 AM

i'm doing grocery shopping on friday, maybe i'll do a bean week if i like the recipes.

Posted by Jen on October 4, 2006 at 9:46 AM

Nice post, Barrett.

We go through a lot of black beans in my house--healthy, filling, tasty, versatile.

I'd recommend getting a pressure cooker. I received one as a gift last year and it has changed the way I cook. You'll shave 75% of your cooking time off of a pot of beans, with no degredation in quality or taste.

Posted by eatchicago on October 4, 2006 at 10:20 AM

Meg, according to this link, folate is related to folic acid, but is not as readily absorbed. They calculate that 2 mcg of folate are as effective as 1 mcg of folic acid.

So they aren't the same, but they are related and if I read this right, you can get what you need from folate.

eatchicago, thanks for the nice words. I have considered getting a pressure cooker. It keeps showing up as a necessary tool when making many Indian dishes.

Posted by barrett on October 4, 2006 at 10:42 AM

Pressure cookers are also essential if you like artichokes! In fact, that is about all I use mine for... (I cook my dry beans in a Crock Pot - dump them in the pot in the morning and by evening you are ready to use them!

Posted by Meg in Paris on October 4, 2006 at 11:42 AM

Is there nothing more delicious than a pot full of steaming beans. =) But in all seriousness, keep these articles coming! yay to beans!

Posted by Chef Taryn on October 5, 2006 at 1:39 PM

Is there nothing more delicious than a pot full of steaming beans. =) But in all seriousness, keep these articles coming! Yay to beans!

Posted by Chef Taryn Wa - The Savoury Chef on October 5, 2006 at 1:42 PM

Barrett - great idea for a series of recipes. I love black bean soup and your black bean cakes look intriguing. I've never used Espazote - where do you get it. Also, you said to use one package...but how much is that?


Posted by Karen on October 13, 2006 at 8:55 AM

Karen, I've only seen epazote sold two ways - fresh in Latino markets or in these cellophane envelopes dried. The envelopes are always the same size, so I don't usually take note of the measures in a more sophisticated manner.

Crumbled, it's probably no more than 2 teaspoons or so, maybe a tablespoon.

I'd try your local Mexican market, or apparently, Spice House has it for sale by mail. link

Posted by barrett on October 13, 2006 at 10:36 AM