As the daughter of two vegetarian hippies turned grownups who met at a progressive permaculture in the sixties, my diet growing up was hardly all American.
I’ll never forget the many times my father introduced me to international foods during our ritual Sunday dinners. When at eight I swooned over Indian channa masala and hot naan bread, then threw a fit months later when he dragged me to a Thai restaurant. The creamy yellow curry, tender stewed chicken, and piquant cucumber salad swayed me to the other side.
Or the healthy and delicious tofu burgers my mother formed with tamari, soft onions, and herbs and served with sautéed broccoli. Did I mention I did not try the beef variety until I was 17? I was a novelty among my friends.
Perhaps because my mother spent three months studying art in Mexico. Or because grilled burritos is all my father knew how to cook. Or because I have spent more time this year in Costa Rica than anywhere else in the world.
But the one food that pervaded all households: my mother’s, father’s, my big sister’s, and today mine, is the simple, nutritious, versatile staple of black beans.
As unglamorous as it may sound, black beans are a big part of my life. In fact I eat them almost every day. Consequently over the years I have perfected them and rarely stray from my tried and true recipe.
Two weeks ago, in Bocas del Toro, Panama, the endearing chef at my beachfront hostel excitedly taught me how to cook them, not realizing my culinary chops. I chose the path of humility and allowed him to instruct me as if it were my first time. And guess what? I learned a few things.
Now, I’m ready to share with all of you my new and improved black beans recipe. I may be biased, but I think these are the most delicious black beans in the world. They’re warm, comforting, and confidently spiced. I love them piled on a big salad with mango salsa and sliced avocado, scattered over crispy nachos with caramelized onions and spicy chipotle chicken, or eaten out of the bowl with a little brown rice, sour cream, and cilantro.
1 medium yellow onion
4 cloves of garlic
1 tbls coconut oil
½ lb dried black beans
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
Sprinkle of cayenne, depending how hot you like it
Salt to taste
Big handful of fresh chopped cilantro
Rinse and drain the black beans. Throw them in a pot and cover with two inches of cold water. Let soak overnight. This step is not essential but it makes for a much faster cooking time.
The next day drain and rinse the beans again, and cover once more with two inches of cold water, a large pinch of salt and half of the cumin and coriander. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover with a lid, and let simmer for an hour or so, occasionally stirring.
Meanwhile, heat the coconut oil in a large sauté pan or skillet and cook the onions on medium heat until they become translucent. Add the garlic and season with salt. Continue to cook until the onions are soft and slightly browned. If the pan gets too hot add a bit of the liquid from the black beans to deglaze the pan and prevent the onion garlic mixture from burning.
When the beans are tender and the onions are soft, transfer the beans with a slotted spoon into the pan with the onions and garlic. Spoon some of the liquid from the bean pot into the pan to barely cover the beans. Season with cayenne, coriander, and cumin.
Allow the mixture to simmer until most of the liquid has absorbed. The beans should still hold their form but be enveloped in gravy. Stir in the fresh chopped cilantro and serve.
P.S. These photos were taken at my jungle hostel in Pavones. I cropped out the massive beetle hanging out by the stove!! Thought that might be a little unappetizing…