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Beanies, Baby

The black bean is a true American original

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What’s as American as apple pie, baseball and hot dogs? I just know the first thing that immediately popped into your head was black beans! No? They should’ve popped up—not only are they mentioned in the subhead (first clue), but black beans are native to the Americas. Though they’re really Caribbean and South American (not North American), which might explain why you didn’t think of them instantly.

Why have Caribbean flavors been on my culinary radar as of late? I just happen to be the chef/owner of the restaurant Island Kitchen and, last time I checked, the Caribbean had a few islands sitting right in the middle of its warm azure waters. So with the arrival of summer and the blistering tropical heat that accompanies the season, what better region to explore than our southern neighbor?

Black beans are delicious in the Caribbean. You might also know them as Black Turtle Beans, because of their shiny black exteriors that resemble turtle shells. This simple black legume, small and innocuous, nevertheless packs a big punch, with something for everyone! For you fun-loving, light-hearted vegans, the black bean is a strong protein replacement for the real stuff (you know, MEAT). In addition to being packed with protein, the versatile black bean has carbs; made into tortillas, it’s a gluten-free bread replacement. For the diet-conscious, the black bean is low-fat and low-cal, but high in fiber—a gastrointestinal benefit!

Black beans can also help decrease your risk of developing diabetes, as they assist with blood-sugar level control. For all of us budget-conscious folks, these wee members of the fabaceae family are quite affordable. And the absolute best thing about black beans? There are oodles of ways to cook ’em!

Their flavor alone is fairly mild, and thus blends well in a salsa or other side dish. Of course, beans work well with Caribbean and South American cuisines—that’s their hometown jam. But don’t feel limited by that origin. In fact, trading among Old World and New World nations created worldwide demand for the versatile black bean. Far-flung locales enjoy variations of black bean soup, including Cameroon. Spain’s popular side dish of black beans & rice is now a worldwide standard.

And what do I like to make with the humble but mighty black bean? Well, you may think it would be good ol’ U.S. of A. chili (I do admit I enjoy chili), but I don’t use beans in my version. (I know that horrifies some of y’all!) My favorite way to use black beans is SALSA!

 

Chef Bill’s Black Bean Salsa

Ingredients

• 1 quart black beans, soaked overnight

• 1 cup mirepoix with 1 clove garlic, 1 Tbsp. ginger in sachet

• 4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced

• 1 red onion, small dice

• 2 serrano peppers, brunoise

• 2 limes, juiced

• 2 Tbsp. honey

• 3 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped

• 1/2 tsp. ancho chili powder

• 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder

• Salt & pepper to taste

 

Directions

1. Rinse black beans in cold water. Put in a pot, cover in 3 inches of cold water; add sachet.

2. Bring to a simmer; simmer for 90 minutes or until tender.

3. Strain and chill.

4. Mix remaining ingredients with chilled beans. Adjust seasonings.

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