Mexico Life
This Black Bean Bake can be served as a hot dip or a side dish. This Black Bean Bake can be served as a hot dip or a side dish.

Healthy black beans are found in many traditional dishes

And they can even be used to replace the flour in brownies

For a while I lived in Lo de Marcos, Nayarit, one of Mexico’s most productive agricultural states. Pineapples and beans are two of its biggest crops.

During harvest time, big piles of dried beans are piled on sidewalks outside the little tiendas and battered farm pickups drive through the pueblos selling 50-lb. sacks. Frijoles negroes (black beans) and Peruanas became my favorites, and I learned that because they were “fresh dried” there was no need to soak them overnight before cooking. (Although one had to search extra carefully for rocks and grit!)

Beans in general, and black beans in particular, are extremely healthy foods, high in antioxidants, zinc and fiber. While 70% of the calories in black beans come from carbs, they’re unique in that their starch content is what’s called “resistant starch,” meaning that much of it passes through our upper digestive tract without breaking down.

Because the starch doesn’t convert into sugars, blood sugar levels don’t rise, resulting in the desired low glycemic index value. (Confused? Just remember that black beans are good for you, and eat them whenever you can!) 

With their meaty, dense texture and hearty flavor, “black turtle beans” (their formal name) are popular throughout Latin and South America and the Caribbean and a part of many traditional dishes. Elsewhere, vegetarians have used them for decades in all kinds of recipes. I like to cook them overnight in the crockpot, with just a little salt and maybe a veggie bouillon cube.

A meatless black bean burger.
A meatless black bean burger.

Black Bean Brownies

Substituting black bean purée for the flour in brownies eliminates gluten and adds extra protein. One can of black beans (or equivalent fresh-cooked) makes about 1 cup black bean purée.

  • 1 (15-oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained well
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 Tbsp. coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder (the higher quality the better )
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1½ tsp. baking powder
  • Optional toppings: crushed walnuts, pecans, chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a regular 12-slot muffin pan (not mini). With a food processor or in a large bowl with electric mixer blend all ingredients (except toppings) until smooth. If batter appears too thick, add a Tbsp. or two of water and mix again. Pour batter into muffin pan, smooth the tops and sprinkle with toppings if desired.

Bake 20-25 minutes or until tops are dry and edges start to pull away from the sides. (Middles will not rise as high as the sides.) Remove from oven; let cool for 30 minutes before removing from pan. Brownies will be tender, so remove gently with a fork. The insides will be very fudgy and moist. Store, refrigerated, in an airtight container.

Decadent Black Bean Bake

Serve as a hot dip or as a side dish. Make it on the stovetop if you want; just cover and cook on low until cheese melts.

  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1½ tsp. smoked paprika (optional)
  • ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 (15 oz.) cans black beans, drained & rinsed
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1½ cups grated cheddar or Manchego cheese

Heat oven to 475 F. In a 10-inch ovenproof skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high. Sauté onion and garlic until lightly golden, about 1 minute. Reduce heat a little and add beans, water, tomato paste, paprika, red pepper flakes, cumin, salt and pepper; stir to combine. Sprinkle cheese evenly over top. Bake until cheese has melted, 5-10 minutes. To brown the top more, place skillet under broiler for 1-2 minutes. –nytimescooking.com

Black Bean Burgers

  • 1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ green bell pepper
  • ½ onion
  • 3-5 cloves garlic
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp. chile powder
  • 1 Tbsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce
  • ½ cup bread crumbs

If grilling, preheat an outdoor grill for high heat, and lightly oil a sheet of aluminum foil. If baking, preheat oven to 375 F and lightly oil a baking sheet. In medium bowl, mash black beans with a fork until thick and pasty. Finely chop bell pepper, onion and garlic; add to mashed beans. In a small bowl, mix egg, chile powder, cumin and hot sauce. Stir egg mixture into mashed beans, then mix in bread crumbs until mixture is sticky and holds together. Divide into four patties. If grilling, place patties on foil and grill about 8 minutes on each side. If baking, place patties on lightly oiled baking sheet and bake about 10 minutes on each side. –allrecipes.com

Rice and beans
Rice and beans: easy, good, comforting.

One-Pot Rice & Beans

So easy, so good and so comforting. If you like, sauté chopped jalapeño with the onions, or add ¼ cup salsa with the stock.

  • 2 Tbsp. olive or corn oil
  • 1 onion, chopped (about 1¼ cups)
  • 1¾ cups chicken or vegetable stock or water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup long-grain rice
  • 1 (15 oz.) can black, pinto or other beans
  • Lime wedges, cilantro leaves and crema for serving

In a large pot with a tight-fitting lid, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add stock, cover and bring to a boil. Next add salt, rice and beans (including the liquid). Stir to combine, then cover. Turn heat down as low as it will go and let simmer, undisturbed, for 18-20 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 4 minutes, then fluff with a fork. Season with salt and pepper, then garnish with lime, cilantro and crema. – nytimes.com

Janet Blaser of Mazatlán, Sinaloa, has been a writer, editor and storyteller her entire life and feels fortunate to write about great food, amazing places, fascinating people and unique events. Her work has appeared in numerous travel and expat publications as well as newspapers and magazines. Her first book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, is available on Amazon. Contact Janet or read her blog at whyweleftamerica.com.

CORRECTION: The earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that bean purée could be used to replace some of the flour in the recipe for Black Bean Brownies. In fact, the purée replaces all of the flour.

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