When I first moved to Dallas 16 years ago, the refried black beans at Veracruz Cafe in the Bishop Arts District blew my mind. They had the richness of mashed potatoes made with sour cream and butter, the silkiness of chocolate pudding, and a beautiful earthiness that could only be provided from a bean that has made its home in the Americas for more than seven millennia. I think before that I had only ever had Old El Paso refried beans from a can. This was something else entirely. I immediately became a black bean convert.
Note: Veracruz Cafe is not only offering curbside pickup and delivery from 5 to 9 p.m., you can also order margaritas to go. Call 214-948-4746 for more info.
Black Bean 101
Some people want you to think that cooking dried beans is hard. They’ll talk a lot about soaking the beans overnight, and tell you that salting the beans will destroy their texture, and that they have to be boiled at the barest of simmers. None of that is true. These beans are hardy. Just try to hurt them.
You don’t even have to cook them if you’ve got the canned kind. Take a can of black beans and drain them in a colander under cold water. Put the beans in a bowl with some veggies you have on hand: a can of corn or hominy, diced tomato and some red onion, some sliced scallions or cilantro, maybe a diced jalapeño or serrano chile. Got some jicama, a red pepper, a leftover radish, or something else with crunch? Toss that in, too. Drizzle some olive oil over it all, salt to taste, and squeeze in some lime or a dash of vinegar. For more spice add some cayenne pepper or a splash of hot sauce.
If you started hoarding early, you probably snagged plenty of canned beans. For the latecomers, don’t fear the dried. You may want to avoid the self-serve bins at this point, but grab a bag or two from the bean aisle at Fiesta or El Rio Grande.
Slow vs. Quick
You’re working from home, so you’ve got time for the classic slow cook if you want. Soak a pound of beans in 12 cups of water in a stockpot overnight. In the morning, add a whole, halved onion; two bay leaves; and three cloves of peeled garlic. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to keep the pot just barely bubbling. Cook until the beans are tender, about 90 minutes, topping off the liquid as needed to keep the beans covered. Discard the seasonings and add salt to taste. Now you can use them however you want.
If you have less patience, I swear by Rick Bayless’ quick-start method. Begin with the same ingredients in the paragraph above, but throw them all in the pot at once and turn on the heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer. Without the soaking, it takes a little longer, but not much. Cook for two hours or until the beans are tender.
Black Bean Hummus Tacos
This recipe is inspired by a slightly more complicated one found in Tacos by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman. The original recipe calls for ayocote beans, which I love—they are extra big and meaty and don’t get mushy—but the main supplier of ayocote beans in town is Patina Green and Market in McKinney, and they are limited to curbside takeout at this point. So here’s a simplified version with the easy-to-find black bean.
3 cups of cooked black beans, or two 15-ounce cans of black beans
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 jalapeño, diced
1/4 cup tahini
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 cup crumbled cotija cheese
Crema Mexicana or sour cream
1/2 a medium white or yellow onion, minced
Toss 1/2 cup of the black beans with a little drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Set aside.
In a large saute pan, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the jalapeño and minced garlic, and saute them for 2 minutes (don’t let the garlic brown). Add the remaining beans and tahini, and heat through for about 3 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to a food processor along with 1/2 cup of the cotija cheese and lime juice. Process until smooth. Add salt as needed.
To assemble the tacos: Heat the tortillas (I heat my flour tortillas from El Rio Grande in a flat skillet over high heat until puffed on both sides) and set aside. Lay a warm tortilla on a serving plate, and top with a generous spread of the bean mixture. Add a slice or two of avocado, some of the reserved whole black beans, a sprinkle of the minced onion, and a dollop of Crema Mexicana or sour cream. Top with the remaining Cotija cheese and some cilantro leaves. Squeeze some lime juice over the top. Enjoy!
Variation: If you can’t have tacos without meat, fry up some bacon and crumble it on top.