Friday, July 4, 2008

Black Beans Atitlan

I first tasted black beans, frijolitos negros, in the small villages on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, and have been cooking them in my San Francisco kitchen ever since. The indigenous people of Lake Atitlan are subsistence farmers, living almost entirely on the corn, beans, fruits, and vegetables which they cultivate themselves. Beautiful terraced hand watered gardens line the edges of the lake, and in the distance rise the blue tinted volcanoes which the people have named "Fuego" and "Agua", fire and water. The deeply satisfying flavor of these black beans always reminds me of Lake Atitlan, and the hard working people who have lived there for centuries in the shadow of the volcanoes. 

This recipe is my California influenced variation on the traditional black bean dish. Extra servings will keep well in the fridge if stored in clean glass jars, ready to reheat in minutes. Add a serving of steamed leafy greens for a complete, delicious quick meal.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup sliced leek or onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 handful parsley or cilantro, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried red chile pepper flakes
2 cups black beans, pre-soaked and rinsed
6 cups fresh water
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon oregano or marjoram
1 heaping teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tablespoons light miso paste
1 tablespoon smooth peanut or almond butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Heat olive oil in a soup pot and saute leek, garlic, celery, carrot, and parsley until fragrant and golden.
2. Add all remaining ingredients, stirring briefly.
3. Cover pot and bring to a gentle boil.
4. Allow to simmer on a low flame for at least one hour, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender.
5. Correct seasoning to taste.

The flavor of the beans improves if they are allowed to rest for an hour or so after cooking. Store in glass jars for up to several days in the fridge. There are many delicious uses for this recipe but for immediate enjoyment, serve in soup bowls and garnish with chopped fresh tomato, cilantro and lime or lemon juice. Some fresh corn tortillas go well with this dish of course!