Here’s how to cook up the most easy, basic, super cheap, flavorful meal you’ve probably ever made–and it’ll taste so good you’ll eat seconds and thirds and forget that what you’re eating is so darn good for you. Beans are probably the most under-celebrated foods, but they are one of the best foods for you on the planet. Here’s my Basic Black Beans recipe that I use as a base for making my Easy Vegetarian (Vegan) Chili, simple bean bowls, tacos, burritos, simple sriracha-chili (pictured here), refried beans, tortilla soup, and black bean dip. It’s also the base for my all-time favorite meal last year, This isn’t a snack, it’s a situation.
With a single one-cup serving of these savory dealibobbers sans toppings, you’re packing your body with a walloping 15 grams of fiber, 15 grams of protein, 20% of your daily iron, 30% of your daily magnesium, almost 40% of your daily maganese, nearly 65% of your daily folate (vit B9), and almost 30% of your daily thiamine (vit B1). Beans are a low-glycemic food, making them great for a diabetes-prevention diet, and when paired with rice, they reduce the rise in blood sugar typically associated with eating rice alone AND together with the rice they form a complete protein that is easy for your body to absorb. Um, that’s just really, really, really good stuff.
You can find black beans in the bulk foods aisle or in the packaged dry goods section of your grocery store. You can buy them canned, too, but then you’re dealing with BPA packaging and aluminum cans and much higher costs. Buying them in bulk means you’re paying about 10 cents per serving. Yes, that’s a dime per bowl o’ beans. You really can’t beat that.
So here’s how you make ’em. I always soak them to make them easier to digest. When I was living in Italy years ago, the sweet old landlady that I rented a room from used to give me basic cooking lessons in her kitchen and she explained that adding a bit of baking soda to the water while the beans soak make them easier to digest and drastically reduce all the gassy qualities that give beans a bad rap. So do like my old Italian lady friend: Soak the beans, add baking soda if you have it, and cook them up often.
Ingredients for soaking beans:
- 2 cups dry black beans
- Water to cover
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
Rinse beans and quickly scan for rocks or dried, marred beans; remove and rinse again. Cover beans with about 5 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Turn off burner. Add 1 teaspoon of baking soda. Let sit for at least an hour. You can also soak these overnight if you have the time. This reduces the cooking time and further increases digestibility. If you soak them overnight, make sure you add more water before you go to bed, keeping the water about 5 inches above the beans; beans have an amazing ability to soak up liquids quickly, and you want to make sure your beans have plenty of water to absorb.
Your soaked beans will increase in size dramatically in just one hour–in fact, one cup of dried beans yields about 3 cups of cooked beans.
Now, here’s the secret to making your beans easy on your stomach: Rinse, rinse, rinse and rinse some more. There is a common misconception that you are removing the vitamins from your beans when you rinse them after soaking. This is not the case. You are simply removing the gas-producing elements of your soaked beans, especially when you use baking soda in the soaking water–and you’re actually increasing the nutrients your body can absorb! Your first few water rinses will be nearly blue-black in color; I rinse my beans about 7 times before the water is clear. If you’re like me and like to nerd-out about all the cool nutritional value of beans and how to enjoy them, I love this easy-to-read comparison of cooked vs. soaked-cooked beans from Plenteous Veg.
Ingredients for Cooking Basic Black Beans:
- Soaked beans
- Water to cover soaked beans by 2 inches
- 1 heaping teaspoon cumin seeds
- 4 whole, peeled cloves garlic
- Optional: Salt to taste after beans are cooked (don’t add salt while cooking; this will slow the cooking time and tighten the skins of the beans, which thereby makes them more difficult to digest).
Bring beans to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and stir periodically to ensure the beans don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Add water as necessary to keep the beans covered with water while they cook, about an hour. (If you have a pressure cooker or InstaPot, these will take 12 minutes.) When beans are nearly tender, you can stop adding water to allow the final savory gravy to form. When beans are fully cooked, they’ll look like this–the garlic will smash easily when beans are stirred, the cumin seeds will be soft, and you’re ready to add salt to taste, unless you want to keep unsalted beans for future recipes, like my Easy Vegetarian (Vegan) Chili.
When I am just making a big pile of black beans for tacos, bean bowls, or dip, note that none of us are on a sodium-restricted diet so I just go for it–salt is the key to pulling together all the simple savory flavors and making this taste done just as it is:
Stir to incorporate and let cook an additional five minutes so salt will fully dissolve: Now you can serve these up and you’ll have beans to last days–simply pile ’em in a glass container or big ol’ jar and store in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freeze into individual servings for up to 8 months.
Here’s one of my favorite, easiest-in-the-world way to eat freshly made black beans. Pile a few scoops in a bowl. Add about a third to a half of a chopped avocado. Sprinkle red pepper flakes over the whole situation. Then add a dollop of mayonnaise. I know, I know–what? Mayo, not sour cream? It’s true. Here’s why: It’s packed with the kind of savory flavor your tongue will recognize as a finishing condiment; it’s oily and fatty and has a hint of tartness from the lemon and vinegar that will bring out all the other flavors, and it’s a perfect way to add a creamy dairy component to a meal without adding a heavy cream. Plus, c’mon, you might not have sour cream sitting around in your fridge, but you probably have some mayo. Finally, top with a big squeeze of sriracha or any other favorite sauce–habanero, green tomatillo, chunky pico de gallo, Tapatio, or a smoky chipotle. If you have fresh cilantro or green onions, add those too. Grated cheese and fresh ground black pepper optional.
Enjoy your week ahead of healthy, savory, easy bean-based meals!