Black Beans Get a Second Chance


The chief attraction is that the bean is black and contrasts nicely with other food colors.

Beans have been a vital link in the Southwestern USA food chain since the beginning of recorded history. Beans that date back 6,000 years have been found in a cave in Peru.

Most of the American Indian cultures had beans as a central part of their diet. When agriculture became fashionable, the Big Three -- beans, squash and corn -- were grown together as the three plants worked well together. Eaten together, they made up a healthy diet. The biggest attraction was that the crops could be dried and stored in large quantities for hard times.

There are hundreds of types of beans. For now, we are going to talk about beans popular in Texas and the Southwest.

  • The pinto bean is king in Texas. You will never meet a Texan who does not profess a love of pinto beans. The pinto in its refried version is the foundation of many of our favorite Tex-Mex dishes.
  • The black-eyed pea is best known for bringing good luck at the beginning of the new year and for Cowboy Caviar.

  • The beloved butter bean has many fans. Cooked just plain with a bit of fatback or a ham hock, it is very good. You can get fancy and go to a butter bean soup that is delightful on cool spring and fall evenings.
  • A lot of folks in Texas make frequent use of the red bean or, as it is known elsewhere, the kidney bean. This bean is used in making red beans and rice and ranch-style beans. You seldom find them just cooked plain on the table.
  • A few years ago we were invaded by the now ubiquitous black bean. These beans are a staple in the southern Mexico, Central and South America. Soon the upscale food designers began to incorporate black beans into every recipe. You can find things like Mango-Black Bean Salsa. The chief attraction is that the bean is black and contrasts nicely with other food colors. It is more decorative than nutritional.

Up until a few weeks ago, there had been black beans in my house only one time. Some time ago, a friend whose wife was a missionary in Guatemala gave me a sample of Guatemalan dried frijoles negro. I put them in a fruit jar on my counter to look attractive until it was time to cook them. After a couple of weeks, I noticed something moving in the jar of beans. Apparently the beans had smuggled in bug eggs, and there were a lot of bugs crawling around among the beans. That set my timetable for black bean experiments back many years. Later, someone gave me a can of black beans, and I think I finally threw it away.

To make amends for my harsh treatment of the black bean, I bought a pound of dried ones several weeks ago. As I detected no signs of life in the package, I put the beans in a pot with water and cooked them. I forgot to soak them overnight, so I just started cooking right off. In the short span of a couple of hours they were tender. I cooked them using my pinto bean recipe, ham seasoning and a little chili powder and garlic.

The beans were good. It wouldn't bother me a bit to serve some to the preacher. I still prefer the pintos, but that is a cultural thing.

I thought we would look into a couple of Texas things we can do with black beans.

Texas-Style Black Beans

  • 1 pound dried black beans
  • Ham seasoning (can be ham hock, bacon or ham seasoning ) to taste
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed, or a good sprinkle of garlic powder
  • Salt to taste

The traditional method is to soak the beans in cold water overnight before cooking them. I have found black beans cook quickly without soaking. Just put them on the stove, bring them to a boil and then cut back the heat to simmer for a couple of hours.

When the beans begin to simmer, add the ham seasoning and chili powder. Simmer until beans are tender. Add garlic and some salt, simmer a few more minutes and correct seasoning.

The beans, cornbread, sliced tomato and onion and a few canned jalapeño peppers make a hearty meal.

Black Bean Hopping John

  • 1/2 cup uncooked rice
  • 2 cups cooked Texas-style black beans (recipe above)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped bell pepper
  • 1 small serrano pepper (stem and seeds removed), minced
  • 1 small tomato diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cook rice according to package directions.

In a suitable stew pot over medium-low heat, sauté the onion, bell pepper and serrano in a small amount of oil until tender. Add the tomato and stir a few minutes until the tomato is tender.

Add the black beans and bring to a simmer. (You may want to add some of the liquid from the black beans.) Add the cooked rice and mix all. Check for salt and pepper, and add if necessary.

Serve with your favorite peasant bread. (Note: You can add a cup of diced, cooked ham or sausage to the above for a heartier dish.)

Cowgirl Caviar

  • 4 cups fresh cooked black beans (unseasoned)
  • 3/4 cup salad oil
  • 1/4 cup wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fine sliced onion
  • 1/2 clove garlic, smashed
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Combine the above and store covered in refrigerator overnight. Keeps well.

Your use of the black bean is limited only by your imagination. They can be turned into refried beans the same as the pinto. Also, black beans can be used like green peas for decoration -- anywhere you need a bit of color. Salads and salsas are especially receptive to the addition.

Eat hearty and go look at the bluebonnets.