Who needs rice with black beans when there’s sweet corn, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, Swiss chard, and if not peppers just yet, then new, sweet-tasting potatoes, in season now? That’s my summertime take on the Latin American classic, with the black beans on the bottom this time.
The dish, which is simple and easily adaptable to any manner — or season — of vegetables, evolved embarrassingly slowly in my kitchen. I’m fond of making black beans and rice, and sometimes I’d throw in chopped jalapenos while the beans cooked; sometimes I’d sprinkle the finished product with chopped scallions. Sometimes, I’d throw in a fresh tomato, or summer corn kernels straight off the cob. Then, I’d have a big, sloppy mess of black sludge, which tasted great.
But it occurred to me somewhere down the line that I could the dish look as great if only the vegetables were sauteed separately, and plopped on top.
Some things don’t change and for this, the beans cook slowly, after being soaked overnight, but it’s hands-off work for the most part until they’re ready to use. I like to keep the black beans whole, and save plenty of them for future uses (like rinsing them for a bean salad another day). The leftovers can always be cooked down into soup, too. Just remember, it’s time that makes them tender and creates a viscous sauce, not adding more and more and more water, or too many other things, like oil.
If you’re going for a lighter affair — the beans have ample carbs in them already — you can omit the sauteed cubes of fresh potato here if you like. But they taste great mixed in here and make it all the more filling, and it’s fun confusing a crisped cube of potato with juicy zucchini until biting in.
And really good, ripe, fresh vegetables like zucchini once they’ve just come into season need very little of anything to complement them, when lightly sauteed. Especially when there’s kernels of sweet corn sticking to them, all in the mix.
Swiss chard might not seem like the first go-to ingredient to add to this medley, but there was plenty of the delicate, rainbow-colored leaves in my crisper. Shredded up and tossed into the sautee pan, you could hardly tell they’d been added at all. Spinach would work well here, too, and other fresh greens with a mild taste and thin leaves.
I added fresh, chopped grape tomatoes at the end for a little more acidity rather than stirring them into the sautee. We’ve been getting some beautiful purple-bulbed scallions from my CSA, so those were chopped up for the finishing touch, too.
Generous splashes of hot sauce were doused over the whole thing once piled on a plate. The garnishes could go on indefinitely — add a dollop of sour cream, pungent cotija cheese, lime wedge or juice, or fresh cilantro as you please. It turns out that the smattering of sauteed vegetables tricked my mom into thinking I was serving her something more Chinese. When I asked if she cared for any grated cheese on top of her plate, a horrified look came over her face. Then I explained that no, it’s Mexican… sort of. Er, let’s just call it universal, and fresh.
Black Beans with Summer Vegetable Sauté
(makes 4-6 servings)
for the black beans:
2 cups dry black beans, soaked overnight
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
for the veggie sauté:
2 small red potatoes, diced
2 zucchinis, ends trimmed and diced
2 ears fresh sweet corn, kernels cut from the cob
1/2 bunch rainbow Swiss chard, stems finely chopped and the rest of the leaves chopped
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice (optional)
Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven and cook the onions over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the jalapeno and garlic and cook just until fragrant. Drain and rinse the soaked black beans and add to the pot along with about 2 inches of water to cover. Add the bay leaf and cayenne pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for at least 1 hour or until beans are soft. Check on them every now and then and add water as needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Heat a large, wide sauté pan over medium-high and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place down diced potatoes and stir occasionally for 6-8 minutes or until nicely browned on all sides and just barely cooked through. Season with salt and pepper as you sautée. Remove from pan.
Add another splash of olive oil to the pan and the diced zucchini. Cook, stirring frequently, until just lightly seared on edges, about 1 minute. (Season with salt and pepper as you sautée.) Toss in the Swiss chard, corn kernels, and return the potatoes to the pan. Season with an extra pinch of salt and/or pepper to taste, and the optional squeeze of fresh lemon or lime. Remove from heat.
Divide black beans amongst serving dishes and top each with the vegetable sautee. Top each plate with the tomatoes and scallions, and anything else you might want to add.
(for 4-6 servings)
2 cups dried black beans: $1.00
2 zucchini (at $3/lb): $2.00
2 ears corn: $4.00
2 red potatoes: $0.60
1 pint grape tomatoes: $5.00
2 scallions: $0.40
1/2 bunch Swiss chard: $1.50
1 onion: $0.25
salt, pepper, olive oil, bay leaf, cayenne pepper, garlic: $0.40
Two brownie points: Totally righteous. This recipe is the picture of good intentions for filling, everyday meals. There’s protein from the beans, filling starches from that and the potatoes, and all sorts of antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients from all the different vegetables. Just don’t be tempted to eat too much of it, as that would be defeating the health purpose (but be fun).
Eight brownie points: Once again. I don’t think an ingredient slipped by here except for the seasonings and oil that wasn’t found in my local Greenmarket or my CSA share, the black beans included. Can’t say that for rice in these parts, that’s for sure!