I don’t cook from recipe often but I own and read a lot of cookbooks. I brought two new ones home as Christmas presents and as I slowly made my way though each it seemed I was being begged to make beans from scratch. Cal Peternell in Twelve Recipes told me that slow cooked beans could be, “So good, in fact, that you may just want to eat them plain from a bowl with two glugs of your best olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.” In Deb Perelmen’s Smitten Kitchen (I know that just adding this cookbook to my collection is embarrassing because, like so many, I have been a long time fan of Deb’s blog) there was a recipe for black beans on toast. Deb shared that she used to “advise people to pick up a can of black-bean soup” and “drain off a few spoonfuls of liquids” until discovering that only by using dried beans could she replicate the black bean sides of her favorite Tex-Mex restaurant.
And then just in the last week, after a two week stretch of chilaquiles obsession, I decided to purchase Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen. Rick encouraged me to “cook enough beans for several meals” and to think of a beans as a finished dish, not just something that fills a taco or as a side dish to a meat main.
And given that my new years resolution was minimalism, a humble big ‘ol pot of beans seemed the perfect thing to make last weekend. So I caved, heeded all their advise, and made the most simple yet delicious pot of black beans.
I use canned beans a lot. They are convenient and when beans are just one component of a bigger dish the consistency in texture and shape can be preferable to making your own from scratch. Sometimes we’re just looking for a high fiber and protein rich component to bulk up an already flavorful meal. Wrap black beans in a tortilla and smother them in cheese and gooey enchilada sauce – those canned beans will work just fine.
But other times we need to ask beans to do more than just add on to another dish. When you cook beans slowly over low heat with aromatics and spices they’re infused with so much flavor that you want to eat those bean entirely on their own. They’ll need little more than a squeeze of acid and a light sprinkle of toppings to feel like the best healthy comfort food you’ve ever tasted.
There’s been a lot of talk in the bean world on whether to soak or not soak your beans. Check out this article if you want more information but I can quickly summarize.
1. You don’t need to soak your beans. Actually it may be detrimental to the flavor so let’s all stop soaking our beans!
2. Beans do cause flatulence (sorry, this had to be addressed) but most of it is due to the high fiber AND we should force our bodies to adjust to eating more fiber (it’s good for us). If you eat beans regularly then you shouldn’t see any side affects.
3. You should cook your beans soon after bringing them home from the grocery store. They don’t improve with age. You should salt your beans before you cook them. And cooking in a oven is good way to ensure constant low heat.
I kept this recipe super simple because I wanted to taste all that good bean-y flavors. We often forget that beans have a flavor all their own that deserves to be celebrated. When we cook dried beans we can really taste all that so I didn’t want to cover it up with ton of spices. I made a simple paste with chipotles and roasted garlic cloves and once it dispersed through the entire pot of beans they had just the slightest smoky, spicy note. I made this recipe twice and the first time used my mortar and pestle, the second time just used a knife. Either way works just fine.
Roasting your garlic cloves whole may seem odd for the first time but its common in Mexican cuisine and actually much easier then mincing fresh garlic. The garlic becomes soft and shrinks while cooking so the clove will slip right from its peel with no effort.
A big 'ol pot of black beans
4-5 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
3-4 chipotles in adobo sauce (including ~1 tablespoon of liquid from the can)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (or use bacon fat or other dripping)
1 medium onion diced
1.5 lbs of black beans
12 cups water
2 -3 teaspoons of salt (I recommend starting with 2 teaspoons and adding additional salt at the end to taste)
<em>Special Equipment Needed:</em>
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Roast the garlic cloves, whole in their peel, until they begin to blacken and become soft. Remove from heat and the cloves should slip easily from their peels. Using a sharp knife or a mortar and pestle, blend the chipotles and garlic together until they form a uniform paste.
Measure your fat of choice into a large (5 to 6 quart) dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until the onion is a deep golden color about 10 minutes. Add the garlic-chipotle paste and cook until fragrant 2-3 minutes longer. Add the beans, water and salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer and then transfer to the oven. Cook for 1 hour, 15 minutes to 1 hour and half. Taste the beans to confirm they are done (they should be creamy and soft throughout but not becoming mushy). If you pull the beans from the oven and they are no where close to done (can happen with older beans) ensure they are covered with at least an inch of water and return to the oven. They will eventually cook through but some may lose their shape. They will still be delicious.
The beans can be eaten as is with some of my favorite toppings: diced red onion in sherry vinegar, avocado, and/or a squeeze of lime juice. They are great on a piece of good toast or inside a tortilla with roasted veggies or carnitas. They can also be entirely or partially blended to make the best black-bean soup. Last but not least, I turned the last of my batch into homemade refried beans. If you’ve only had refried beans at home from a can (as I had up until this point) you are in for a real treat. I couldn’t stop eating them straight from the pan.