I was going to title this, ‘How to Cook Black Beans’, but I really feel like that might just be the most uninspiring title for a blog piece ever written! I have also taken a few photos, which makes a change! I really remember to do this more often-hard when you are inherently greedy like me-food needs to be eaten not photographed! I need to change my priorities!
Anyway, you hear a lot about the health benefits of eating pulses-we should be doing more of it, good for the heart, very cheap etc, etc. I do think that it is pointless to push something as healthy and then not really suggest a really tasty way to enjoy it. If it’s not good to eat, you won’t eat it again. I am not going to pretend that eating black beans, or any pulses for that matter, is in any way enjoyable without a bit of effort. Without correct handling and flavour, they can be mealy, dry, tasteless and, let’s be honest, a bit worthy.
This black bean odyssey started when I bought some amazing buffalo mince (could do a whole post about this amazing meat, but will save it for later) and wanted to make a chilli, as a change to Bolognese and general Italianate influences. My other half had a morbid fear of any pulses when we met, but I have managed to wean him onto them quite successfully. I have, however, failed on all accounts to get him to like kidney beans. However well I think I have disguised them, they are subtly relegated to the side of the plate. I do think beans are necessary for a chilli, from a texture and flavour perspective. So, strategically I turned to black beans.
I have cooked with black beans for years, but was quite chuffed when Nigella used them for her Mexican Lasagne a few years ago, as they became a bit easier to get in tins. This is the easy option. I, being an occasional masochist, continue to use dried. This is not the easy option.
I am going to openly admit to the use of dried black beans here, but I am not advocating it. Every time I cook with them I think to myself that I must remember that the hassle is too great and to just go an buy a bloody tin! then when I come to cook with them again, I realise I have no tins, but have a huge bag of the dried buggers in the cupboard. Oh well, onwards.
The hassle comes from the preparation, which unfortunately is absolutely essential if you want to be able to eat them without either breaking your teeth or get chronic indigestion. These are the rules for dried pulses in such as chickpeas, borlotti beans etc. Wash them, sort them for grit (it always amazes me how many stones there are), cover them with water and leave overnight. (Yes, this does require planning in advance-reason number fifty seven why tinned are easier). In the morning, or after about 12 hours, drain and put in a big pan and cover with water. bring to the boil and simmer for 2-3 hours. It may actually be longer depending on how old your beans are. I have been known to leave them all day on the lowest heat-going out to work and returning to find them perfect. This is one advantage-it is easy to overcook tinned beans so they fall apart or go wooly; it is almost impossible to overcook dried beans. I know, I have tried! Your best test is to try one-it should be easy to bite on, but with a good texture. Not watery, just yielding.
So now you are ready. This chilli is thick, unctuous and very suitable for October evenings. If you are doing something as domestic as hosting a Halloween or Bonfire Night party, this recipe doubles or triples very easily. By the way-I always prepare double the amount in this recipe of beans, just because they are useful in salads, wraps and soups. Also because of the fact I am ready to never cook dried beans again by the time they are ready. Or you could just buy a tin.
400g of mince (beef or buffalo are best for this, but you can use turkey)
200g of dried black beans (or 1 tin drained and rinsed)
2 medium red onions, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
1 red pepper, chopped
2 green chillis, finely chopped-you can add more or less according to your taste
1 tablespoon of cumin
1 tablespoon of dried coriander
1 teaspoon of sweet paprika
1 teaspoon of chilli powder or to taste
1 lime, zested and juiced
salt and pepper
handful of chopped coriander
natural yoghurt to serve
Start by browning the mince-you will need to do this batches. Add a little olive oil to the pan and fry about a third of the mince off until it is dark and crunchy-please do not skip this bit, it makes such a difference to the flavour of the end dish. Tip the mince onto a board or plate and continue until all the mince is browned. it will take a little while so do be patient.
Without cleaning the pan, add a little more oil and fry the onion and garlic until they start to colour. Add the fresh chilli and then all the spices, except the chilli powder. Tip the mince in and mix so the mince is covered in the toasted spices and oniony juices.
Tip in the tomatoes and pepper and mix. Season with a little salt and pepper and finally add the beans. Mix together and leave on a gentle simmer, covered. or you can stick it in a low oven. the beauty of this dish is that you can leave it for as long as you like, as long as you check is doesn’t dry out-if it does, you can add a little water. It will need at least an hour and a half to really bring out the flavours. it should look dark, thick and very tempting when it is ready.
Check the seasoning and adjust to taste, adding the fresh lime zest and juice when you are ready to serve-it will give a nice zing to the dish. At this point you can add more chilli powder if you want.
Serve with natural yoghurt and the chopped coriander. I like to have it with brown basmati rice, but you can just eat it straight from the pan, congratulating yourself as you go.