Dalai Mama Dishes

by Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman cooks for the family

Dalai Mama Dishes

Catherine Newman cooks for the family

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Dinner Beans

Posted December 15, 2008
Find more about dinner , recipe , beans , dalai mama
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Luckily none of us even remembers any more what airplane food looked like. I swear this picture seemed appealing at the time.

Can you picture me assembling and then photographing this little scene? I don't get out much.

A special friend of ours who came to dinner, if you catch my drift.

Eventually I will publish a coffee table book called "Ben's Happy Little Tasks."

Birdy can make that face without ever having even seen a picture of Elvis Presley.

Canned beans-is this festive or what?! Are you with me here, O holiday revelers?


Okay. I understand. But here's why I'm posting such an ordinary recipe this week: I keep finding that my merry holiday spirit includes many things-the playing of Frank Sinatra records, the cracking of nuts, the recycling of Salvation Army sweaters into lumpy, oddly appealing gifts, the admiring of the tree from the coziness of piled-up kids and blankets on the couch-but one of the things it does not seem to include is basic everyday dinner. In fact, come dinner time, all there seems to be is caramel popcorn, eggnog, candy canes, and cookie dough, and really-how many nights in a row can you feed your kids that particular meal?

And so I am picking this very week to post this real workhorse of a recipe: a cheap, virtually instant supper that is yummy, nutritious, and, if short of thrilling, at least well tolerated by everyone. Plus (I promise I won't yak on and on again about my sordid vegetarian past), I have always felt profoundly nourished by an honest plate of beans and rice, even back in the day when canned beans was a luxury in which we almost never indulged, and I had to spend my whole life sorting, soaking, and boiling vast quantities of dried legumes until I felt like I was the unwitting star of an anthropological documentary about broke, flatulent hippies.

But tonight: just pop open a can. We happened to have leftover brown rice last night (I always make double quantities of rice, and I can proselytize, unbidden, about the value of investing in a rice cooker), but maybe you have that newfangled frozen precooked (wait-does precooked actually mean raw?) brown rice you can buy from Trader Joe's, or maybe you just want to make the beans and scoop them up with warmed tortillas or wrap them up with cheese into plump little burritos. Whatever you do, keep it simple.

But, here's what I can't recommend highly enough: that you add a smoky seasoning to these beans. I am suggesting smoked paprika here, which is also called "Spanish Pimenton," and which is now available from Whole Foods. It's not spicy, but it adds an addictive smokiness to any dish you stir it into, and it makes everything taste like it's been barbequed or like it has bacon in it-which are two qualities that are deeply appreciated by my children, who would happily bite into a ceramic bookend provided you smoked it first. If your children can tolerate spiciness, then another wonderful choice is chipotle peppers, which are smoked jalapenos. You can buy them in powdered spice form, but I much prefer juicy, tangy "chipotles in adobo" which you will find in 7-ounce tins in the Mexican foods aisle for two or three dollars (brands to look for include Embasa, San Marcos, Herdes, and La Costena). You want to puree the entire can in the blender, and then store it in your fridge in an impeccably clean glass jar where it will keep indefinitely. A little puree goes a long way, so add it gradually, tasting as you go. And then praise your children extravagantly for eating such spicy, spicy food. Good spice eating, spice eater! Wow, that's sure spicy and you're able to eat it, I can't believe that! My children love to be praised for this particular achievement, as if tolerating spice is a sign of their moral superiority and/or psychological fortitude.

Of course, if you need to make these beans this minute and have no smoked anything in the house, you can add cumin or regular paprika or both, and they will still be very good.

I need to make a note here about the fact that I often add greens to these beans, usually kale that we keep parboiled and chopped in the freezer. It's true that the dark color of black beans somewhat conceals this particular addition, and I do not go out of my way to advertise it. But I don't want to seem like a hypocrite on account of the fact that I once, in a certain article, poked a tiny bit of good-natured fun at the in-vogue practice of sneaking veggies into kids: I am not advocating that you stir pureed favas into your crème brulee-only that if an obvious vegetable opportunity comes knocking, I'd be a fool to scowl through the keyhole at it. On that note: you'll see cucumber salad in the photos on the right here. This is the bonus recipe: a shrink-wrapped cuke, cut in half, the seeds scooped out (it's the seeds that cuke haters hate, on account of their simulation of rotten melon-try removing them), sliced thin and dressed simply with seasoned rice vinegar (the kind that already has salt and sugar in it). That's it. I add fresh dill or mint if I have it, but here it's just the cukes and vinegar, and it is strangely more delicious than the sum of its meager parts.

Dinner Beans
preparation time: 10 minutes; total time: 25 minutes

If you're in a rush, skip the greens, drain the beans, and reduce the simmering time to 5 minutes. (Thus saving yourself ten whole minutes! What a lame suggestion.)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, smashed, peeled, and finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ teaspoon smoked paprika (or chipotle puree)
1 25-ounce can black beans (or 2 14-ounce cans) undrained
1 cup prepared greens: kale, spinach, collards, already chopped and partially cooked (microwaving them is a good option, as is skipping them altogether)
1 teaspoon cider vinegar (or lime juice)

Warm the oil and garlic together in a medium pan over medium-low heat, until the garlic is sizzling and fragrant but still nice and pale. Add the tomato paste (remember how you already have some in the freezer?) and paprika or chipotle puree, and fry for a few seconds, then dump in the beans with their liquid and add the greens if you're using them. Cook the beans uncovered, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes, until everything looks united, and the liquid has mostly cooked off. Now season them with the vinegar and taste for salt: this will depend on your beans. I tend to add about a teaspoon of kosher salt (which is the equivalent of ½ teaspoon table salt), but you may need less: the beans should be saucy and highly seasoned, since you'll be mixing them with bland rice or bland tortillas.

Serve with grated cheese and sour cream (and extra chipotle puree or hot sauce for thems that likes it).

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Dinner Beans

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About Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman is the author of the memoir, Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family, available online and in bookstores nationwide.

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