Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Building with Black Beans
Some of you may be happy to know that black beans are medicinal in many interesting ways. One of those ways is something I've mentioned here before and will likely keep mentioning, they are good for your blood. I feel like I may need to explain this whole "good for your blood" thing a bit more as it is becoming a common thread and it may seem a bit vague and possibly vampiric. I've mentioned it in the beef noodle soup, beet, and mochi postings. As you may recall in the beet piece I touched on how Aphrodite was the goddess of beets and that it was said that this was because beets were good for beauty, well blood is your beauty in essence. In fact, it is your essence, and just so happens to be a very important thing to nourish. This does not mean you have to be blood deficient (ie. anemic or anything along those lines) in order to take care of this blood thing. Rather, it's something that you maintain always so that you keep your bases/building blocks stable, healthy, and yes, beautiful (for men & women!) for as long as possible. In TCM blood is considered one of the essential building blocks (in fact, it is likewise in western/modern medicine as well) and it is not just the stuff that oozes out when you cut yourself, but it is the body's sustenance. Your body's daily culinary feast is blood. Therefore, I'd say you need to make that blood pretty good in order for your body to be happy. I won't get too technical beyond this (though it would be fun for me to), but if any of you want more details and more technicality, ask/comment away! Now that we're done with the good for your blood thing..
Back to black beans. They are a part of the legume family and legumes are considered drying and diuretic in general. Each bean has it's separate characteristics within this. The black bean while diuretic, is also warming and sweet in nature, builds fluids and blood in the body, and is supportive of your kidney and reproductive function. Some examples of situations to eat lots of black beans: (during times of blood loss) pre and post menstrual cycle, post-partum, post-surgical; for lower back pain (you would have to eat them for a long while, 3-4x/week minimum); anemia; and infertility. Separately, black bean juice can be used for hoarseness, hot flashes, kidney stones, and urinary difficulties. There are more situations but this is a general outline which should be a good start. You can simply eat black beans to give your blood a boost once in a while, and just because they are tasty!
Black beans are thought to be native to Mexico and appeared some 7,000 years ago. There are a million ways to prepare them and many things to likewise pair them with. I cooked a simple version of black beans last night and paired them with a slow stewed piece of osso bucco (you can pair them with chicken, steak, fish, up to you!). Here is how I did it:
1. Ingredients: 1.5 lbs of dried black beans (this will feed 10 people!), onion, garlic, powdered cumin, fresh oregano (excellent digestive and consequently much like garlic, an anti-microbial), cilantro, bay leaves, salt, pepper, chile morita (you can use serranos, jalapenos, dried chili flakes, up to you), vinegar, 1-2 tomatoes
** I was missing celery and some cured pork fat in my opinion, I strongly suggest you add them (if you do add cured pork fat or celery - you should at the beginning so they stew slowly with the beans)
2. Rinse the beans a few times and make sure there are no pebbles or straggling bits of earth. Soak the beans for a minimum of 4 hours or overnight (covered in 2 inches of water). I soaked them 4 hours and they turned out fine but overnight will likely give them that extra flavor. The idea is to rehydrate them so that they remain intact and therefore nutritious during a slow boil.
3. Since I used dried chile moritas, I had to soak them in water while the beans soak too.
3. Once the beans are done soaking you will notice that the water has turned a beautiful dark color. This is where many cooks/chefs will diverge on theory. Do you throw the water out or not? Some say yes in order to avoid the flatulence factor. The rest (and I am with those) say no, that's hogwash, and the water has harnessed a beautiful dark color and flavor for a reason. I kept the water. Here is how it looks:
4. Next, you start this bountiful bean feast boiling, put the pot on the stove with the soaked beans AND their juice (if the water line is below one inch, please add so there is at least one inch above the bean line), add all the ingredients: crushed garlic (I put in 4-5 cloves, you can add more/less to taste), 2-3 bay leaves, 1 tspn cumin, 1 chopped up onion (it cooks down so it can be a rough chop), 3-4 cilantro stalks chopped up with the root and the leaves, 1 tbspn or more of oregano leaves, salt, pepper, I added a chicken bouillon cube (if you have cured pork fat, no need to add this), 1 chopped up tomato, 3 rehydrated chilis, approx a tbspn of vinegar. Bring to a high boil for 5 mins then reduce to a simmer for at least 2 hrs (3 is a good amount however). Recipes are very hard to translate into what your water is like, your stove is like, etc, and also what your taste is, so please please just play with this, taste, check, then taste and check again! The beans should not get dry ever so add water when they start sucking it all up. You want it somewhat brothy but this is not a black bean soup, it's a black bean dish. Moist but not dry.
5. Your beans should be done in 2-3 hours, you can let them simmer for longer if you want. TASTE them and decide for yourself. Some people like them beanier (more bean roughness), some like them mushier like peas. Up to you. At this point you will want to make what is referred to as the sofrito, which consists of what you started with at the beginning. There are many variations on sofrito much like most recipes, so you can play with this as well. They even sell it in bottles in the Mexican or Latino-catered stores. If you are making it from scratch, mince up 4-5 cloves garlic, 1/2 - 1 onion, 1 tomato, cilantro, a green pepper, olive oil, salt, pepper, and blend - you can add as much as you deem necessary (to taste) to your black beans. If you have leftover sofrito you can freeze it and use another time. Here is a link to a few more recipes for this:
6. During this whole bean thing you should have cooked what you chose to accompany the beans, I cooked rice, a slow simmered osso bucco, and I also added a garnish and sliced avocado. I like a good garnish to bring out the flavors of a dish sometimes using what was originally in the dish. A quick digression here, I am currently reading Bill Buford's book Heat and he mentions that Mario Batali calls this type of garnish a "high note", I quite like this reference as it is indeed the high note of the dish bringing out all the other notes. In Thailand they often do this, adding a bit of raw to a cooked dish whether that is vinegar or a garnish. For this dish, I prepared a garnish of cilantro, vinegar, onion (minced), and sea salt. I added a dollop of that to each plate on top of the beans, along with the rice, bit of meat, and sliced avocado. Oh and of course, I served a hot sauce on the side (Franks, which is vinegary and not so hot).
Other ideas for black bean dishes: black bean salsa in the summer, black bean hummus (I'll definitely do that one next), black bean and corn soup, and on and on. I hope you enjoy some black beans next time you're feeling the need to build yourself up a bit. I woke up feeling great today post black bean feast.
**Medicinal note: some signs and symptoms of "blood deficiency" as per TCM are brittle nails, dry skin, scanty menses (for women), brittle hair, thirst/dry mouth
After cooking with the black beans, a few weeks later, I decided to go for it again but this time I did it with Flor de Mayo red beans (similar medicinal value to black beans), I added two smoked pork hocks, corn, carrots (towards the end so they didn't disintegrate), celery, Thai chili's (instead of chipotle since the pork is smokey enough and I wanted more kick) and extra onion - otherwise the recipe is exactly the same as above and you should follow those steps. This I must say turned out amazingly well and I liked it even better, you have to cook the hocks in the beans for at least 3 hours so they get soft (and they impart a lovely smokey flavor), take them out and slice up and place back in the beans, served with sliced avocado and a dollop of yogurt (in lieu of sour cream).