Meet Me in the Bean Aisle

By Sarah Mohan, last updated 7/30/14 08:00am

Peppers thrive in Rockville gardens, if you can keep the deer and groundhogs away. Here's a quick and tasty recipe with peppers, onions and black beans.

Photo credit Helen Triolo  

Since moving to Baltimore a few years ago, I’ve come to appreciate some of the things Rockville does well that I took more or less for granted while I lived here. One of those things is bringing people together from all around the world. My children went to Beall Elementary in the ‘90s, where one of the highlights every year was International Night. Families dressed in traditional clothing, if they had any, and prepared food to share from their countries. We all walked around the big room, stopping at every table, sampling the cooking and chatting with each other. There were dozens of different cultures represented! It was very disappointing to be just an “American” on those nights. I don’t remember what our family contributed in the way of food. Probably we wore our old jeans and cowboy hats.

One day, when I was still fairly new in town, I was in the grocery store staring at the cans of black beans on the shelf, thinking my own thoughts, which mostly centered at that time on: What’s for dinner? Are there any clean diapers left? And, wow I’m tired! A very short woman standing unnoticed to my right said, “Do you want to know how we make these beans in my country?”

Surprised, I turned towards her and said, “Yes! What is your country?”

“Cuba,” she said, and went on to describe black beans, Cuban style! She was definitely a beginner in English, and I had to keep asking questions to clarify what she meant, but the gist of it went like this:

Empty the whole can with the liquid into a pan. Add some green pepper and some onion, cut up. Simmer it covered until the onions are soft. At the end,stir in a little olive oil and red wine vinegar.

“And that’s it!" She smiled.

“Okay, thanks,” I said. “I’ll try it.”

And then we went our separate ways, never to meet again. If she only knew how many meals I’ve made of her black beans, how many important people I’ve impressed with them, and how many times this story has been told and her recipe shared, she would be amazed for sure. I think I went home and tried it that very night. Although deceptively easy, this dish does not taste canned, or bland, or boring, but is very satisfying and comforting. You can top with hot sauce if you want a little more kick, but I prefer it the way it is. Beware of eating too much – I keep on wanting just one more bite! Kids like it too, at least mine all did. I can’t explain it – how can a few simple ingredients combine for such a great taste?

I always serve these slightly soupy beans over white rice, which seems to mingle much better than brown, and anyway, you get plenty of fiber from the beans. For a 15 oz. can (2 generous servings) I use half a green bell pepper and half an onion, chopped, two tablespoons of olive oil and maybe one tablespoon of red wine vinegar. Too much vinegar spoils it, so sprinkle in a little, stir, and taste – you want it savory, but not really sour. For a large 28 oz. can of beans use a whole onion, a whole bell pepper and more oil and vinegar (this amount could feed our family of five).

Make a tossed salad while the beans and rice cook, and you’ve got a yummy dinner for a few dollars in 20 minutes -- all thanks to the friendly lady from Cuba I was lucky enough to meet in a bean aisle in Rockville, Maryland.

Filed under Home & Garden, Food: organic, local, sustainably produced

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