Black beans and rice. Tasty, certainly. Economical, yes. But kid-friendly? I hedged my bets and went for it recently, inspired by my husband reminiscing about how much he enjoyed us making this dish in our pre-kid days.
It didn’t take me long to realize that this is a perfect dish for this time of year since so many of the ingredients are at the height of freshness in the waning days of summer. Onions, garlic, bell peppers, carrots, tomatoes…all fresh and in our refrigerator right now. Of course, come fall or winter those same ingredients are quite easy to pick up at any grocery store, the exception being fresh tomatoes…but even then, a can of whole peeled tomatoes, chopped, can be substituted with very little of the quality compromised.
Plus, this dish can easily be prepared as vegetarian/vegan with one simple swap and the omission of the optional garnishes.
Normally our girls raise their eyebrows (something at which they are surprisingly good) at any ingredients that touch one another, so I was a little nervous when we plated dinner since every veggie had cooked down with the others into a lovely, rich amalgam of south-of-the-border goodness…but to our surprise and delight they not only gobbled up the beans but MIXED them with the rice and sour cream and cheese garnishes as well as the roasted chicken we served alongside into big personalized casseroles. SUCCESS!
This is also an easy dish. The only trick, if there is one, is to let it simmer on low for a good long time — an hour or more — until all the flavors meld nicely together. Keep an eye on it and stir it frequently during that time so the beans don’t burn. If it’s looking a little dry, just add more stock or beer – quantities in this dish are very forgiving.
Perhaps the best part about this dish is its versatility. We had it the next day in chicken and black bean quesadillas which the girls gobbled up with the same excitement. With the addition of even more stock and a whiz in the blender it would make a nice black bean soup too (garnish with a little diced avocado and a dollop of sour cream).
Like your beans spicy? Add a diced, pickled jalapeño while it simmers, or some chilpotle peppers in adobo sauce. Make it mildly spicy by substituting a problano pepper for the green bell pepper. And definitely serve some hot sauce on the side.
Now, in my mind it’s the beer that brings the “cowboy” to this black bean dish (or cowgirl…hey, I enjoy a good beer too!). Otherwise maybe we’d call them “ranchero style” or something. The long simmering cooks out most alcohol but if cooking with beer isn’t your thing, use more stock or even water as a substitute. We normally use an ale (we used Sierra Nevada Pale Ale this time) but you could also use a rich but neutral lager, like Anchor Steam, if you want. Or try something dark, like a stout, if you like more subtle and bitter undertones. Just make sure that whatever you use has some body to it – skip the light beers for this dish.
Black Beans Cowboy Style
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced (use up to a full pepper, depending on your taste…or add some diced problano or jalapeño for heat)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped
2 very ripe tomatoes, chopped (no need to peel and seed unless that’s your thing)
2 15.5 ounce cans black beans, drained and well rinsed (or one large can…you’re looking for about 30 ounces of beans)
2 bay leaves
1 cup chicken stock (or vegetable stock, if you want a vegan/vegetarian dish)
1 cup beer (ale or lager)
3-4 cups cooked white rice (basmatti or another long- or medium-grain, fragrant rice) for serving….FYI: 2 cups uncooked rice will provide approximately 4 cups cooked rice
2 tablespoons chopped parsley for garnish
Sour cream for garnish
Shredded cheddar cheese for garnish
Hot sauce to taste
Begin by heating oil over medium heat in a large dutch oven. Add onions and cook to soften – 2-3 minutes. Add carrot and bell pepper and cook for another 2-3 minutes being careful to soften but not to burn the veggies. Add the garlic, salt, cumin, cinnamon, oregano and stir over medium heat for another minute, until garlic softens and the spices are fragrant. Add the tomatoes and stir well, cooking for another minute. Add the black beans, bay leaves, and chicken stock. Reduce heat to medium and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently.
When the tomatoes have begun to break down and the beans have incorporated with the other ingredients, add the beer and continue to simmer over very low heat, stirring occasionally to keep the beans from burning to the bottom of the dutch oven.
Meanwhile, cook the rice if you’re serving this over rice.
The beans are done when the cooking liquid is reduced and is thick and flavorful, but the beans still have a slightly soupy consistency — approximately one total hour of cooking time. You can continue to cook the beans even longer over very low heat, but make sure to add more liquid as needed (you’ll have some beer left in the bottle…unless it “disappeared” somehow as you tended the pot). Cooking this dish for up to two hours is fine as long as it doesn’t get dry. The beans will get quite soft and the flavors will meld nicely in that amount of time, and if you’ve used jalapeños or problano peppers, the heat will be well incorporated into the entire dish.
Serve the beans over rice, sprinkled with parsley. Pass the shredded cheese, sour cream and hot sauce separately.
Great as a meal in and of itself, or as a large “side” complemented with little grilled meat (think chicken, or a couple of sticky BBQ ribs).
Serves: 6 – 8
Parent rating: four-and-a-half stars. I loved this most recent batch of beans. The cinnamon came through nicely with a subtle hint of flavor that didn’t overpower. The tomatoes from the farm share worked nicely with the other veggies, and the carrots added a really nice, sweet component. My husband wanted a bit more…something. Heat/spice/depth. The addition of a pickled jalapeño would have been perfect, or I could have added a spoonful of the adobo sauce in the fridge, and maybe some stout instead of the ale. But both he and I ate every last bite!
Kid rating: five stars. It amazed me to see clean plates both times the beans made an appearance at the table. The fact that this wasn’t too spicy worked well for both girls, and I was thrilled they consumed so many veggies in this one dish. Daughter 1 even went so far as to call this dish “delicioso!” So there you have it…dinner and a foreign language lesson all in one.