Last year when Emma and I went up to Ithaca to film with Eve’s Cidery, we discovered Cayuga Pure Organics, a farm specializing in the cultivation of a variety of dry beans and whole grains. I bought two hefty bags of black turtle beans to have on hand for Winter. It was not long after that I discovered the magic of local beans. You might think a bean is just a bean, but an organic local variety is of much higher quality than a regular store-bought bean. I cannot explain that difference, because it is something quite subtle and visceral, but you are more than welcome to see for yourself.
This year Cayuga Pure Organics is selling their beans and some spelt at the Greenmarket here in New York City, and I am pleased to be able buy the beans in smaller quantities as I need them. The other day my cousin, who is visiting from Mexico, was quite homesick and wanted quesadillas. I decided to pair up the quesadilla with some black beans and try my hand at making this Mexican household staple. I think I came up with a great recipe, because her response after having tried them was “te la volaste”. Which is a good thing.
The secret to good black beans is a good base. I used local lard, local dried epazote, and some chile ancho powder. I used to be opposed to eating lard until I read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. I also had to adjust my opposition to pork fat while in Tuscany, where they eat lard drizzled with olive oil. What I discovered with cooking with local lard is that it makes whatever you are cooking turn into something like crack, or any other addictive drug. I say this lightheartedly, because I have never tried it, but if crack were to taste like something, it might taste like my black beans.
Anyway, I figure that a little fat to melt the onion and give it some flavor can’t be bad, and I still would call these beans healthy. We ate these with Ezekiel sprouted tortillas and some goat gouda grated on top. Delicioso!
1 cup black beans, soaked for 1 hour (soaked for 4 hours or longer if not local)
½ white onion, small dice
1 tablespoon lard
½ teaspoon cumin (for eliminating gas)
Hefty sprinkle of epazote (for flavor and for eliminating gas also)*
Pinch of chile ancho powder (for a hint of smoky sweet flavor)
4 cups water
Splash of apple cider vinegar (to stop the cooking)
Melt the lard in a medium-sized pot. Add the onion and cook through, stirring gently. You don’t want to give the onions much color at all, just cook them until they are translucent.
Drain the black beans of their soaking liquid and place in the pot with the onion. Add the water and bring to a gentle boil. If you boil the water too vigorously it will harden the beans. Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the cumin, epazote, and chile ancho powder.
Cook until the beans are soft to the bite and have a nice pool of rich liquid around them (you might have to add more water if they get too dry).
Add a small splash of apple cider vinegar to stop the beans from cooking, remove from the heat, and serve with warm tortillas and shredded cheese.
Makes 2 cups.
*Epazote is a Mexican herb often used in black beans. I found some at the farmers market, but I have also seen it cold dry in the Mexican section of grocery stores.