AT THE START of my food writing career I was a bean hater, not an attribute I was particularly proud of. A week into my first job at the Washington Post Food Section, I was tasked wth testing a Black Bean Paté from the menu of a hot-hot-hot Adams Morgan brunch spot. The thing that wasn’t so hot-hot-hot was my enthusiasm for this dish. The recipe turned out just fine, but I couldn’t believe the result was really what the chef had in mind. I called and asked if I could stop by the restaurant to see his version. As you can probably predict, there was nothing wrong with his recipe, or his dish—the problem was all me. Embarrassed by the whole incident, I decided to put aside my instinctive distaste and try to like beans. In no time, I did a complete 180. I love beans: cannellini beans with sautéed greens, white northerns mixed with chunks of pork or beef in a stew, black bean salsa, mixed bean salads and more.
It’s been a great turn-around as not only are beans on the good-for-you list (I love when that happens) but canned beans are an easy item to keep in the pantry for last-minute meals. I make bean salsas to spoon over grilled meats in the summer, bean salads to take to potlucks, and bean stews during the winter, because in addition to bringing texture and helping cut down on the meat, the beans naturally thicken the stew. Sometimes I start with dry beans, but I most of the time I rely on the convenience of canned beans. One thing I still can’t quite come around to is the black bean paté, but luckily there are so many other options.
Black Bean Tropical Salsa: Mix rinsed canned black beans with diced pineapple or mango or a combination of both, add any fruit juice that has accumulated on the cutting board. Add some combination of diced red or sweet onion, diced jalapeño, diced red bell pepper, and a spoonful of honey and a tablespoon or two of olive oil. If you have fresh herbs such as cilantro or parsley, go ahead and chop some up and add; if not, no big deal. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the salsa over sliced grilled pork loin, chicken breast or turkey tenderloins. Or just eat as a side salad.
Black Bean Salad Primavera: I love the term “primavera”: It can mean whatever combination of vegetables you like. I’m partial to diced celery, carrots, bell peppers, sweet onions and corn with black beans, but you could add diced zucchini or even winter squash; just cook the cubed squash until tender before adding. Add some apple cider or white-wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper and mix to combine. Once again, chopped fresh herbs are nice but not necessary. Chopped fresh chilies can add a nice kick if you have any on hand.
Black Bean Sauté: This is a go-to meal for me. Take leftover grilled or roasted chicken or pork and dice it up into bean-size cubes, or remove and discard the casing from a few links of highly flavored sausage, such as fresh andouille or chorizo. If you’re starting with the sausage, sauté the sausage meat, breaking it up, in large sauté pan with a tablespoon or two of oil until cooked through. Transfer the meat to a paper-towel-lined plate, then, if necessary, soak up any excess fat in the pan with another paper towel. In the same pan, sauté the diced vegetables, again whatever you have on hand, until just tender. From then on in, it’s the same no matter which meat you’re using. Add the meat to the pan and cook for a few minutes over medium heat. If you have concentrated tomato paste, add a teaspoon or two here. Add black beans, salt and pepper and enough chicken broth or water to moisten. Let it all cook for about 5 minutes over medium-low heat. Serve over rice or top with a fried or poached egg for your own hot-hot-hot brunch dish.
—Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
LittleBird Stephanie Cooks presents ideas for dinners every Monday.