It all began to come together at a luncheon with one of Southern California’s trendiest restaurateurs, his wife and a well-known restaurant critic. To no one’s surprise, the subjects discussed kept drifting back to food. Who was doing what differently? What new foods were surfacing? Which would disappear quickly and which would make its mark in Southern California’s always interesting but eternally restless search for the very latest “in” food?
And what kept turning up as an entry in the competition for a spot on that elusive list of currently chic foods? Nothing more unlikely than good old black beans. That’s right, earthy, plebeian, yet ever-tasty, black or turtle beans seem to be making a bid to upgrade their lowly status in the food chain.
The critic had sampled a fish dish at the New York restaurant One Fifth that proved intriguing. Chef Leslie Revsin (who has since left the restaurant) served grouper on a big pool of “quite peppery black beans.” A lot of spicy beans, whole beans . . . not a sauce, the critic stressed. And no, the recipe had not been requested, but the decidedly unusual combination “tasted wonderful.”
The restaurateur wasn’t at all surprised. He, too, had come across black beans being served in other than traditional fashion at some of the more upbeat, popular trend-setting dining spots. Some he liked; others, well. . . .
So does all this mean that black beans are truly destined to turn into glamorous, sought-after menu enhancers? Maybe--but more likely they will simply begin to appear on fashionable tables in some unusual--for them--forms.
All of which caused the old creative juices to begin perking. Just what are the possibilities of utilizing as simple a food as black beans in unexpected ways? Nothing bizarre, mind you, but in reasonable and realistic recipes that would expand the use of this dry bean that has always been more popular in Latin America than here.
As happens when such a subject is, forgive the pun, tossed into the pot around The Times’ Food department, suggestions were rapidly forthcoming. “How about . . .” and “what if we. . . .” quickly became very familiar words as innumerable possibilities were mentioned. Some suggestions elicited nothing more than a derisive snort or giggle. Others were obviously well worth pursuing. So we did . . . with results that definitely remove black beans from the “soup only” category.
Black beans tend to lose their intense blackness when cooked, becoming a deep purple color. Puree the cooked beans and you end up with a mauve-colored sauce that may taste wonderful but needs some outside visual assistance to be appetizing in appearance. That was something that had to be taken into consideration as recipes were developed.
Another factor that had to be considered is that, as with most dried legumes, the unseasoned cooked beans are somewhat bland in flavor. This was easier to manage, however, as a broad array of spices, herbs and flavorful foods such as citrus could be combined with the beans to provide any missing flavor.
Keeping these basic attributes in mind, we chose what seemed to be a representative group of non-traditional recipes for these beans. The results were delicious, upscale and quite honestly fun and practical. Far from ordinary, the following recipes should fit very nicely into both everyday and party menus for those looking for “something new.”
POACHED CHICKEN WITH BLACK BEAN SAUCE
4 chicken breast halves, boned
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 (16-ounce) can black beans
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Dash cayenne pepper
Remove skin from chicken, if desired. Bring chicken broth to boil in skillet over medium heat. Add chicken breasts, white wine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes or until chicken is tender.
Puree undrained black beans in blender until smooth. Place in saucepan with vinegar. Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently until heated through. Season to taste with cayenne. If sauce becomes too thick, stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons chicken broth used in cooking chicken breasts.
Place black bean sauce on individual plate or serving platter. Arrange drained chicken breast on center. Spoon over Salsa. Garnish with tomato rose, if desired. Makes 4 servings.
Note: In place of chicken, sole, halibut or other fish may be substituted. Salsa
1 large tomato, finely diced
1 serrano chile, minced, optional
1 small red or yellow onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
Combine tomato, chile, onion, garlic and cilantro in bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. BLACK BEAN POT STICKERS
1 pound lean ground pork
1 (16-ounce) can black beans, drained and chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped water chestnuts
1/3 cup chopped green onions
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced ginger root
1 1/2 packages (about 75) won ton wrappers, preferably round wrappers
Chicken broth or water, about 2 cups
Combine ground pork, black beans, garlic, water chestnuts, green onions, soy sauce, sesame oil and ginger. Mix well. Place 2 scant teaspoons filling in center of wrapper. Moisten edge of dough with water, then fold wrapper in half over filling to form semicircle. Seal by pinching together. (If using square won ton wrappers, cut off corners to make round wrappers.)
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large heavy skillet over medium high heat. Fry pot stickers, about 8 or 9 at a time, until bottoms are golden brown, about 5 minutes. Pour in 1/3 cup broth and immediately cover pan tightly. Reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking over medium heat until all liquid is absorbed.
Remove to heat-proof platter, browned side up, and keep warm in 200-degree oven. Repeat with remaining dumplings, oil and broth. Serve with Dipping Sauce. Makes 50.
Note: For crisp won tons, deep-fry uncooked filled won tons until golden brown. Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
Combine rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and lemon juice. Makes about 1/2 cup. BLACK BEAN-FILLED SUGAR COOKIES
2/3 cup shortening or half shortening and half butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons milk
Sweet Black Bean Filling
Cream shortening with 2/3 cup sugar until light. Beat in egg, vanilla and almond extract. Stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir into creamed mixture with milk. Chill dough at least 1 hour before rolling.
Using pastry cloth and rolling pin cover, roll dough on lightly floured board, about 1/8 inch thick. Cut into 2 1/2-inch circles. Cut out center of half of cookie rounds with small round cutter to make about 3/4-inch hole. Place on lightly greased baking sheet, about 2 inches apart and bake at 400 degrees 6 to 8 minutes. Sprinkle tops of cut-out cookies with sugar. Cool.
Spread black bean filling on whole cookies. Top with cookies with hole, pressing lightly. Makes about 1 1/2 dozen filled cookies. Sweet Black Bean Filling
1 cup cooked black beans
1/4 cup bean liquid
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1/3 cup shredded coconut, optional
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Mash black beans and bean liquid to paste. Stir in sugar, sesame seeds, coconut, vanilla and lemon juice. Cook in saucepan over medium heat until thick and pasty, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Makes about 1 cup. STEAMED BLACK BEAN-PORK BUNS
1 recipe Basic Bread Dough
1 tablespoon oil
Black Bean-Pork Filling
Roll dough into cylinder about 2 inches in diameter. Cut cylinder into 12 equal pieces. With cut side up, press down with palm of hand to flatten. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons filling in center of dough. Gather up edges of dough around filling in loose folds. Bring folds together at top and twist securely to make small stem. Place each on square piece of parchment and let rise in warm place 10 minutes.
Line rack of bamboo steamer with wet cheesecloth. Arrange buns on steamer rack. Cover and steam over boiling water 12 to 15 minutes or until buns are puffed and springy. To reheat, steam buns 10 minutes over high heat. Makes 12. Basic Bread Dough
1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1/2 cup warm milk (about 110 degrees)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 package dry yeast
3 to 3/1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Combine together water and milk. Add milk (temperature should be about 110 degrees). Stir in sugar and yeast until dissolved. Set aside until mixture begins to bubble.
Slowly add flour, mixing well. On floured board, knead until smooth and satiny, about 5 minutes. Shape into ball and place in greased bowl. Cover with damp cloth and let rise in warm, draft-free place about 1 hour or until doubled.
Turn out onto lightly floured board. Flatten slightly and sprinkle surface with baking powder. Knead about 5 minutes until smooth. Black Bean-Pork Filling
1/2 pound Chinese barbecued pork, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 cup cooked black beans, chopped
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dry Sherry
1/4 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
Few drops sesame oil
Dash black pepper
Combine pork, oyster sauce, green onions, black beans, soy sauce, sugar, Sherry, 5-spice, sesame oil and pepper. BLACK BEAN DIP
2 tablespoons shortening, preferably lard
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup cooked black beans
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon MSG, optional
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, optional
1 tablespoon sugar
Heat shortening in skillet over medium heat. Saute onion until completely brown but not burned. Add beans, garlic salt, celery salt, pepper, MSG, Worcestershire, hot pepper sauce and sugar. Mix in blender until smoothly pureed.
Place in saucepan and simmer 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt. Add milk if puree becomes dry or until it has consistency of dip. Serve hot or cold with potato or tortilla chips, crackers or vegetable crudites. Makes 6 to 10 servings. BLACK BEANS AND PORK
1 cup (1/2 pound) dry black beans
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cup sweet red pepper, finely chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 teaspoon ground oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1 pound cubed lean pork or bulk pork sausage, made into small balls
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Wash beans. Place in large saucepan with 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to boil and cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let stand 1 hour.
In separate pan, heat olive oil with garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, red pepper, onion, oregano and cumin 10 to 15 minutes. Drain beans and add water to cover. Add bay leaf and garlic mixture. Simmer, covered, 1 1/2 hours or until tender, adding more water if needed.
Season pork to taste and fry in small amount of oil until browned and well done. Add to bean mixture with sugar and simmer, covered, 1/2 hour or until done. Before serving stir in red wine vinegar to taste. Serve with cooked rice, if desired. Makes 4 to 5 servings. BLACK BEAN TARTS
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
2 to 3 tablespoons cold water
Sweet Black Bean Filling
Candied cherries, sliced
Combine flour, sugar and salt in bowl. Cut in butter until mixture is like coarse meal. Stir in vanilla and enough water until dough holds together.
Line 12 small tart pans (2 1/2 inches in diameter) with pastry. Fill with Sweet Black Bean Filling. Place on baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees 15 minutes. Cool. Garnish with whipped cream and candied cherries if desired. Makes 12 tarts. Sweet Black Bean Filling
1 cup cooked black beans, drained
1/2 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup chopped slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash ground cloves
Dash ground nutmeg
Puree black beans until smooth. Blend in condensed milk and eggs. Stir in almonds, orange peel, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Makes 1 3/4 cups.