Editor's note: Philadelphia food writers Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond drop by each week with Meat Lite, which celebrates meat in moderation. Meat Lite was inspired by their book, Almost Meatless.
I love beans, but the perfectly cooked legume has long eluded me. Finally, after years of trial and error, I have struck upon a system that produces the creamy, tender beans my heart desires every time. (Don't you hate it when a chef on a reality show has run out of time and calls his or her undercooked beans "al dente"? Nobody likes them that way!)
I am sharing my bean-cooking tips with you here in my recipe for Black Beans and Rice, My Way, so titled because the dish adheres to no special culinary tradition—it's just heavy on the ingredients I like. But whatever your recipe, here are the cornerstones of the bean-cooking method that works for me:
- Don't soak them; all soaking has ever gotten me is beans that fall apart before they ever get truly tender.
- Cook them with a little meat for major depth of flavor. Ham hocks with their bone and sausages with their fat work especially well.
- When the beans taste pretty much done ("al dente" shall we say—you think to yourself, "these seem cooked. I think they're done."), stir in some salt, put the pot back in the oven, and kill the heat. Let the beans cool completely in the oven before refrigerating them, freezing them, or cooking with them.
This method takes some planning, yes, but less than the soak-overnight method, and the results are nothing short of fantastic. And when you consider the fact that beans are a culinary triple threat—extremely cheap, extremely healthy, and extremely delicious—it's clearly worth the investment of time. Actually, you should cook three times as many beans and store the extra (covered with some cooking liquid) in the freezer for future meals.
- 1 cup dried black beans (3 cups cooked)
- 1 two-ounce link chorizo, diced
- 1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 large jalapeños, coarsely chopped
- 1 poblano chile, coarsely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 cup white rice
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
- 1 lime, juiced
- Chopped red onion, for garnish, if desired
Preheat the oven to 250°F. Place the beans and the chorizo in a Dutch oven and cover the beans with cold water by about 2 inches. Bring to a rolling boil, cover, and transfer to the oven. How long the beans will take depends a lot upon their age. Taste them after an hour, and every 20 minutes after that. (Yesterday, my beans took about an hour.) When they taste done, put the pot back in the oven, kill the heat, and let them cool.
Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid. Pulse the onion, jalapenos, poblanos, and garlic in a food processor until finely minced. Heat the oil over medium-high in a large sauce pan, and add the minced vegetables, salt, and cumin. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables soften somewhat, about 5 minutes. Add the cooked beans, cilantro, and 2 cups of the reserved cooking liquid. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally while you cook the rice.
Bring 1 1/2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil; add the rice, reduce heat to low, and cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes more. Fluff with a fork and then spoon some rice into each bowl.
Remove the beans from the heat and stir in the lime juice. Spoon over the rice and top with the chopped red onion and serve.