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17 April 2008

leapfrogging from food to food

black bean goodness II

When we were kids, my brother and I loved playing word games with our parents. I always loved one called The Minister’s Cat, a Victorian parlor game we learned from the Albert Finney version of Scrooge. Everyone in the room claps rhythmically and chants, “The minister’s cat is a _______ cat.” When it was your turn, you had to quickly shout out an adjective that began with the letter of that round. A cantankerous cat! A comical cat! A caring cat! And inevitably, someone would grow flustered and tongue-tied, and end the round with “…a c… c. cat?”” There was much roaring and applause, and then we began again. I loved the idea of searching my brain for adjectives that fit, fast.

Of course, we played Mad Libs until all the spaces of every puzzle were filled with slightly naughty nouns and body parts. I think that I have never laughed harder than at certain games of MadLibs when I was eight years old. There was a towering stack of word games to play: Scrabble; Boggle; word searches; crossword puzzles; hangman; jumbled letters; anagrams. We never ran out of words.

But one of my favorites was easiest in the car. Rolling the words off our tongue in time with the scenery rushing by, we played a game that piggybacked words and led us places we never expected to go. It’s simple. Start with story. The next person must say a word that begins with the last letter of the previous person’s. Story becomes yellow. Yellow becomes waning. Waning becomes giggle. And so on, round and round. Sometimes, after the first ten rounds, we were stumped. Sometimes, I just couldn’t think of another word that began with y. (Yes, Shauna. Yes.) But inside that green VW rabbit, we were imbibing words, swallowing them whole, learning how to describe our worlds.

Cooking feels like that to me these days.

The first year I was gluten-free, I wanted to try a new recipe every day. Every afternoon felt like an Adventure. I can make jam! I can create chimichurri! Braised lamb shanks are not beyond my reach! That time dazzled me, and I recorded most of it here. Without really knowing it, I felt compelled to come home and create, knowing that I would put everything up on the blog. Quickly, I began cooking for the internet. Every day, I felt compelled to seek out new ingredients and make dishes that had nothing to do with each other. The refrigerator groaned with the weight of wasted food. I lived at home, alone, and I had friends who were happy to eat my food, but really, I was cooking for you readers.

At a certain point, however, it was like a culinary game of Minister’s Cat. “The Gluten-Free Girl is cooking… ah, uh, ahhhhh, ugh.” There was no round of applause and laughter then.

And then along came the Chef.

Food flew into the house and onto the site again. He and I made veal goulash, and I had something to photograph. Everything he taught me, the techniques and the recipes, felt like fodder for this place again. We shared our love through food on this place, and we were too excited to stop. The recipes grew much, much better. (Honestly, I’d say now that you should take every recipe before May 2006 with a big grain of salt. I didn’t really know what I was doing then, not like I do now. This is why some of the recipes in the book feel like repeats from the blog. They’re not. The Chef made every one of them better.)

But after awhile, the game comes to a halt. As you have probably noticed, I post far less often here these days than I did that first year, or even the first year of loving the Chef. But now, everything is deliberately chosen. I love the ingredient posts on Mondays, because I’m not the expert. Oh my, do I grow inspired by people’s suggestions for beets, avocadoes, and Savoy cabbage. (This week? A salad of raw, julienned golden beets and carrots, with cilantro, walnuts, golden raisins, and a brown rice vinegar vinaigrette. Oh yes.) I hope you are too.

Mostly, what I notice now is that our food life feels like that leapfrogging word game. One dish leads to another, round after round of new bites that help me learn how to describe this world.

And mostly, now, I’m cooking for the three of us: the Chef, Little Bean, and me.

Man, that’s a lot more relaxing.

We pay attention to the seasons around here. As much as I love asparagus, I’ll wait until the end of May to experience the fat, green stalks of locally grown. The anticipation makes a simple roasted stalk, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and a pinch of Parmesan, the most beautiful food in the world. If we cook in season, however, we’re going to end up using the same ingredients, over and over, in every dish. By the end of June, I’ll be exhausted with asparagus again.

This way of cooking is a cozy settling in, a chance to drop into deeper muscle memory. Those quotidian foods don’t make for a scintillating daily blog entry. But they’re much more satisfying to eat.

The other day, I was at the Market with our dear friend Nina. We both, somehow, had a couple of hours to wander and talk. (Life is moving full pace these days.) Over coffee and lentil soup, we caught up in person. And then we wandered through shops, not knowing what we needed, but knowing we’d recognize it when we glimpsed it.

We walked into a little Mexican grocery store and looked up at the neat rows of dried hominy, Jarritos sodas, dangling chiles, and coconut candies. I needed a new bag of P.A.N. flour, to make more arepas. She wanted to try some too. Nina glanced over at the bottom shelf and spied something silver. “A tortilla press!” She owned one already. Somehow, even though I have been making fresh corn tortillas since the summer of 2005, I had never bought one. Fifteen dollars. That’s all it cost. I picked it up.

If I was going to make tortillas, I needed maseca. What else? I spotted Goya black beans at the other end of the store. When I lived in New York, I lived off Goya canned beans for weeks at a time. Much juicier than other canned beans, the black ones are especially flavorful. All right, dinner that night would be black beans and tortillas.

Nina had to leave, when she realized with a jolt that the meter on her car was winding down. I wandered through the Market by myself, dawdling at Sosio’s. Hm, red peppers. Glowing yellow grape tomatoes. Cilantro. Fresh garlic. A fat yellow onion, its papery skin peeling. Cumin and ginger nudged into my head, and I walked down to World Spice.

That’s how I came up with the recipe you see below. My goodness, we ate simply and well that night.

The Chef liked it so much that we ate the leftover beans, with fresh tortillas, and scrambled eggs for breakfast. He never likes leftovers.

Left the next afternoon with the makings for more tortillas, and our mouths hungry for more, I looked around the kitchen to see what we had. A roasting chicken in the refrigerator. Some grape tomatoes still in the blue pint box. An avocado growing soft on the shelves.

Tortilla soup. I just needed to make stock, and find some lard, and we had dinner on our hands.

And next? Well, some of the stock is growing richer on the stove as I simmer it again. Red quinoa is calling my name. Simmered in stock, and topped with fresh cilantro, toasted pine nuts, leftover seared chicken breast, and local goat cheese? That’s going to be a fine meal at midnight.

Tortilla and beans to tortilla soup. Tortilla soup to red quinoa. I’m sure that the rest of the goat cheese will yield something more.

The Gluten-Free Girl is eating ___ tonight?

I don’t know yet. I’m less inclined to blurt out an answer fast, these days, in order to win that round.

black bean goodness


I can hardly call this a recipe, since it came from dicing and tossing, trying and liking. Many of you already have a way with making black beans that works for you. But all I can say is the Chef sat up in bed at nearly midnight, ecstatically happy in his groans, after eating these. And this morning, he wanted the leftovers for breakfast, with scrambled eggs. That rarely happens around here.

Play with these. Make them your own. But if you hewed pretty closely to the dish these words could build, I think you'd be pretty happy too.

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 large red pepper, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh-ground cumin
1 teaspoon fresh-ground ginger
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar
2 cans good-quality black beans
1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt and cracked black pepper
1/2 cup water
10 yellow grape tomatoes (or whatever you like)
1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese

Sauteeing the vegetables. Bring a deep skillet to heat. Add the canola oil. When it swirls around the bottom of the pan like water, add in the onion pieces. Listen to them sizzle, and then give them a stir. When they have softened and become translucent (about 10 minutes), add the red pepper and garlic. Saute them all until the smells rush to your nose.

Playing with spices. Spoon in the cumin and ginger and stir. When those spices entice you with their smells, splash in the brown rice vinegar. Stir it all up.

Cooking the beans
. Add the contents of the two cans of beans into the skillet. Stir it all around. Season with salt and pepper. Let it all bubble around together.

Break it down
. If you want the final dish to be thick and somewhat dry, leave the beans to cook as they are. If you'd like a little more of a stew feeling, add some water to the mix at this moment. Stir it all up, occasionally.

Let the bean mixture simmer for a couple of hours, for full flavor. When they are done, serve them up in bowls.

Topping with tomatoes and cheese. In a super-hot pan (I use the one in which I grill the tortillas, and it's smoking hot), add a bit of oil. When it is hot, toss in the tomato halves. let them bubble and sear until they have almost melted. Throw them on top of the black beans. Immediately, grate Monterey Jack cheese on top. When it has melted, serve the beans with fresh corn tortillas.

Feeds 4.


At 3:24 PM, Blogger linuxgrl said...

Yum! I will be making this tonight!

At 3:38 PM, Anonymous La Niña said...

Words are like ingredients. Play with them and we are all enriched when we read. That is why we read your blog. It's not just the food. It's the words, too.

By the way, I'm going back to that Latin Market and getting that same tortilla press that you got. It's much more authentic than the one I have. I love authenticity as much as the food I eat and the people I love.

At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

too funny, I was just talking about Mad Lib's with my son about 5minutes before reading your blog today.

At 3:58 PM, Blogger House of Jules said...

It looks absolutely scrumptious! I'm going to try it this weekend with eggs!
Hopefully the answer to your victorian parlor game question at the end of this post isn't, "The Gluten-Free Girl is eating CAT tonight" (j/k).
House of Jules

At 4:43 PM, Blogger Zoomie said...

Yummm! And I hope you're gonna share the tortilla soup recipe, too!

At 8:24 PM, Anonymous Sho said...

It is so cool that you have so much variety in your diet. That shows the rest of us that eating gluten-free style is not boring. You remind me of that woman from the movie, "The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio." It was based on a true story, and she told her kids that intelligent people would always try new foods...or something along those lines.


At 9:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds delicious. I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but on the bags of Goya black beans (and all of the other beans as well) it says on the back "may contain wheat and soybeans." I was very sad to see this, since black beans and rice is one of my favorite foods of all time...

At 11:17 PM, Blogger KatePDX said...

Shauna, you and I are on the same wavelength today. I made arepas (ahhhhh ... so good) today and just had to top them with spicy black beans. In the midst of making dinner, I read today's post, and it made me smile.

At 8:34 AM, Blogger Mrs. W said...

I actually prefer a blog that posts less frequently. It means a well thought-out, quality post. And it means the writer has a life outside of the internet. I think that, especially, is important for all of us to keep in mind.

At 8:56 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Mmm, excellent beans. I can never get enough of beans, especially black beans. Pinto are a close second, and make a wonderful and easy refried bean dish, but black are much more savory whole.

- The Peanut Butter Boy

At 11:12 AM, Blogger Raw Food Diva said...

Do you think it is better to rinse and drain the beans or not? thanks!

At 5:29 AM, Blogger Debbie said...

I love words and word games. When we traveled, my family would play this word game: "Sally went on a trip and brought an apple." Apple is for A. The next person had to say, "Sally went on a trip and took an apple and a banana." Participants were eliminated if they made a mistake remembering what Sally took or couldn't provide her with something that started with a particular letter of the alphabet. This goes on until the alphabet is exahsated or only one person was left. Great fun!
I tried black beans when I was pregnant with my first child. I made a recipe out of Recipes for a Small Planet. I hated them. I instantly became nauseated. I refused to eat them again until many years later (when I wasn't pregnant) when I ate a black bean salad.

I will have to try this. Sounds great. I have made tortillas (I have a large bag of masa) with the back of my largest cast iron skillet, but a tortilla press would be a nice utensil to have.

At 7:14 AM, Blogger Gluten free Kay said...

I haven't been tested for legumes, but they are on my "list of suspects" at the moment. But your black beans make me want to try just a taste. I've missed them so much!

At 5:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this! I've been wanting to make more with beans but other than sticking them in burritos or chilli, I can never figure out what to do with them!


At 8:04 PM, Anonymous Stacie said...

My hubby and I just bought a CSA share here in Chattanooga, and we are going to try and buy everything that we can within a 100 mile radius possible. This feels good...choosing to eat with the season, supporting local organic agriculture, and eating with integrity. Great post, as have stirred me to welcome the fact that I don't and can't eat many more possibilities!

At 3:13 AM, Blogger Laura @ Hungry and Frozen said...

I flipping love boggle, but haven't played in ages...thanks for reminding me :) I don't know if you get Scattergories in the US, but if you should totally check it out. That recipe sounds gorgeous btw! Am newish to black beans, but looove them.

At 4:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shauna, I found your blog by accident. My daughter and I have both found out that we are 2 of the many non-celiac gluten sensitive people in the world. So a lifetime of cooking experience now needs to be replaced with gluten free recipes and ideas, while still feeding the rest of my family.
I love the familiar way you write and talk about food as if it is your friend. I love that you eat in season, something I am trying to learn to do as well. Thank you for sharing your cooking experiences with us. I have now made arepas 4 or 5 times and my family loves them!
Who is gluten free in NY and loving the spring that is in the air.

At 7:54 AM, Blogger Carrie said...

This is going on the dinner menu next week and I can't WAIT to try it!! What a great idea to serve it as leftovers at breakfast with scrambled eggs! I never think of simple wonderful idea like that Shauna!! I'm also anxiously awaiting my order of Harina PAN so I can make your friend's arepas! I bet they would be wonderful with these black beans too!!

At 9:50 AM, Blogger lollya said...

I also winced when I read the back of the Goya black bean package. :( What I did find out is that many of the black beans in the ethnic section of my store are okay. This sounds delicious Shauna, thanks.


At 11:10 AM, Anonymous EB of said...

I discovered Goya black beans while living in New York too! I can't tell you how many dinners were composed of them. I like your take on the beans though. So pretty (which face it... not easy for black gooey beans)

At 2:18 PM, Blogger Dkswife said...

Oh my goodness! I am making it this week! Sweet! Thank you Shauna, Chef, and Bean! :)

At 2:57 PM, Anonymous La Niña said...

It's me again... I have been converted to only using dried beans. No more slimy canned stuff that I rinsed until the water stopped foaming. (and those were the organic black beans)

I know it's more work, but it's so worth it. My favorite beans in the world are from RANCHO GORDO. Their website has great recipes, and it even has a short video for those who are not sure how to prepare dried beans.

The "Midnight Black" beans are delicious, but so are every single variety I've tried. They are also incredibly gorgeous, and so hip- displayed in mason jars on your kitchen counter.

And not a speck of gluten hiding anywhere!

At 3:45 PM, Blogger Sondra said...

I just happened upon your blog here and I am so excited! I was diagnosed with Celiac over two months ago. Being in the culinary field for most of my life, I was devistated and walked away from my comfort zone of the kitchen. I have turned against food :( Reading some of your blog has made me realize that it is possible for me to enjoy food again...maybe one day....soon... I hope!

At 8:15 PM, Blogger Deborah Dowd said...

These beans look outstanding- sometimes the best meals are simple comfort food.

At 8:55 AM, Anonymous FatB said...

I didn’t really know what I was doing then, not like I do now

And in 2 years what will you say?

The truth is every level is informations is useful to someone. Those recipes from 2 years ago may be better to someone who is a bit more tone deaf when it comes to cooking.

At 10:39 PM, Blogger Percy said...

Wow...great beans! We made them the star of "make them yourself" soft tacos. I put out bowls of leafy lettuce, sliced avocado, sliced tomato (we didn't cook ours, and used them in our tacos), and warm corn tortillas. Yum! Excellent veggie meal.

At 8:41 PM, Anonymous Marc @ norecipes said...

Yumm looks delicious! I've never been a huge fan of black beans, but this, I think I would like.

At 12:11 AM, Anonymous DelanyDecolleur said...

DelanyDecolleur...wonderful, I've been looking for a black bean recipe that was just a little bit different...looks delicious!

At 10:04 AM, Anonymous Beth W. said...

I made these last night. Even with cooking them only 20-30 minutes, they were wonderful. I'm looking forward to having the leftovers today -- I'm sure the flavors have melded together even more. Yum.

At 1:07 PM, Blogger ninaluna99 said...

OK, you did it! You got me out of my fear and into my kitchen. I'm not gluten free, but I have plenty of other issues... don't we all. Thank you for the recipes and the words you use to share the life we can find through our food. You spread healing in more ways than you know. Thank you.


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