I like to cook. Sometimes my daughter likes to eat.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Tony's Venezuelan Black Beans

Tony was a friend of mine back in my final years of college. He was an engineer in an agency in which I interned, a funny, creative guy who taught me how to be a passenger on a motorcycle and who smelled chronically of patchouli. He shared his family recipe for black beans, and there was a time when these were a requested feature at every pot luck.

There was a time when I went to a lot of potlucks, before the security of age and career progression brought dinner parties and nice restaurants. Some friends were famous for the potlucks they gave (?), for the scintillating and unique people and food they brought together. If you were a newbie, you were asked to bring dessert. If your dish made an impression, you'd be asked to bring an app or a main, but if you were asked to bring dessert again, unless you were a pastry chef it was a fair bet you didn't impress.

I've lost touch with a lot of those folks over the two intervening decades. I only just rediscovered this recipe a few weeks ago and decided to make it again. I suppose it fell out of favor when I was busy trying my hand at more complex flavors, but like an old friend, it's comforting familiarity is a refreshing change. And the simple hominess of the flavors means MZ is likely to give it a try, too, sometime around the 12th time I offer it. And since this makes a heap-big batch o' black beans, maybe that will happen.

But in the meantime I am happy with my rediscovery. It's lovely the next day, and when you reach the end of the leftovers, it makes wonderful balck beans and rice, just drain and mix with some cooked white rice, chopped fresh cilantro, red pepper and onions, and a few dashes of Tabasco -- you want that vinegary kick in an otherwise plain combination.

I don't know where Tony is anymore, but I'm happy to remember those days.

1 lb. dried black beans, sorted, rinsed and soaked overnight (or not, your preference)
2 medium yellow onions, fine minced
1 red bell pepper, cored and finely diced
1 jalapeno or 1/2 green bell pepper, cored and finely diced
1 T each ground coriander and cumin
1/4 t cayenne pepper
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1/2 - 3/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice (add to taste)
Salt to taste

Saute the vegetables through the jalapeno in a heavy pot over medium heat till the onions are translucent. Add the spices and garlic, stir and saute until fragant. Add the beans and enough liquid to cover the mixture by about 2 inches.

Bring beans to a simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, until the beans are soft and a thick broth forms, about 2 hours.

Remove 1-2 cups, puree and add back along with the orange juice and salt. Simmer another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve as part of a big spread that includes a braised or grilled meat and white rice, or solo with some cornbread.


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