Here’s another of our slow-cooker favorites, one I forgot to mention the other day. We got hooked on black beans at Mamalu, a kids-oriented café in our neighborhood—they’re amazingly delicious there (though I’ve been told they use—don’t tell Bittman—canned beans!). Back when Harry was smaller we spent a lot of time there, and it was a relatively inexpensive and quite filling lunch for both of us—he gobbled those suckers down like they were made of chocolate. (Now there’s a lovely image, no?)
When I got the slow cooker (and the only cookbook I own for it, Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook) I thought black beans seemed like an easy enough thing to try. The recipe that seemed closest to Mamalu’s was Vegetarian Frijoles Negros, which called for a jalapeno, cumin, and canned tomato sauce or salsa.
The first time I made it (with plain tomato sauce) was a resounding disappointment, bland and boring, and with an unpleasantly acidic, vinegary aftertaste. So I did what I always do: I fiddled. Out went the jalapenos, in went a chipotle in adobo. Tomato sauce: gone. In its place: half a jar of prepared sofrito (I live near a Puerto Rican neighborhood, so this was pretty easy for me to find). Upped the cumin, and added garlic and dried oregano. And for good measure and a nod to Jessica Seinfeld (or is it Missy Chase Lapine?) I decided to add some vegetables–carrots and/or zucchini, both grated, have made their way into the dish with no noticeable difference in taste. As Harry’s gotten older he’s become much more resistant to the entire food group, so this is a good way to get some into him without him really knowing it. (Not sure how I feel about that in general, and I’d certainly never put spinach in brownies, but in this case it seems fair to do.)
End result: entirely inauthentic, and yet pretty darn yummy. Filling, easy, and over brown rice it’s exceptionally healthy and fiberiffic. They were a huge hit with junior up until recently—these days Harry the toddler is so deeply into his “I don’t like dat” phase that he won’t even touch them. Sigh.
Vegetarian Frijoles Negros
Inspired by Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook
One 1-lb package black turtle beans
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 medium-sized red or yellow pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 chipotle in adobo, seeded and minced
2 large carrots, grated (optional)
1 medium or 2 small zucchini, grated (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup prepared sofrito
6 cups water
2 T. red wine or cider vinegar (I usually leave this out)
salt to taste
Pick over, rinse, and soak the beans. (I use the quick method: put in a large pot with cold water to cover by a few inches. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, turn off heat and let sit for at least an hour.) Drain and transfer to slow cooker. Add everything else except the vinegar and salt, cover, and cook on high for 4 to 6 hours. The beans need to be covered with liquid at all times, so look in on them occasionally (I’ve never needed to add more water). Check at 3 hours to gauge doneness—they’ll be tender and hold their shape, and won’t fall apart. (In my cooker, with quick-soaked beans, it’s usually 6 hours. A bit less with an overnight soak, which requires the kind of advance planning I’m usually incapable of.)
Remove the bay leaf, add the vinegar if using, and season with salt. Serve over brown rice.