In Mexico, black beans are often cooked with epazote, a pungent herb with a heady aroma that is not unlike cilantro. Like mint, it grows almost everywhere—even where you don’t want it to. We use it extensively: in soups, stews, bean dishes, and more. You can sometimes find fresh epazote in Latin American and Mexican markets. Never buy dried epazote—it is virtually tasteless. If you cannot find epazote, do as they do in Oaxaca, and add avocado leaves to the beans as they cook.
Yield: Makes about 6 cups; 6 servings
1 pound (about 2½ cups) black beans, rinsed and picked over
½ small white onion, roughly chopped (about ½ cup)
3 large garlic cloves
3 large fresh epazote stalks
1 large jalapeno
1½ teaspoons salt, or to taste
Put the beans, onion, garlic, and 8 cups water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat so the liquid is simmering and cook, uncovered, until the beans are softened but not tender, about 1 hour.
Cut a slit in the jalapeño and add it to the beans, along with the epazote and salt. Continue cooking until the beans are tender but not mushy, about 30 minutes. There should be enough liquid to cover the beans throughout cooking; if not, add warm water as necessary. Remove the jalapeño, check the seasoning, and serve.
It would be no exaggeration to say that beans are the mortar that binds Mexican cuisine, along with rice and corn. At Rosa Mexicano we prepare all kinds of beans in various ways. After the are simply simmered, drained, and seasoned, we use them in salads, relishes, and soups. A black bean puree can be fried to a porridge consistency for frijoles chinos, which we serve together with a bowl of rice with every main course. We also cook pinto, white, and red beans in similar preparations.
DON’T SOAK BLACK BEANS
Many recipes call for soaking black beans before cooking. While this reduces cooking time, I do not recommend it. Presoaking breaks down the skins, leaving them mushy, and can turn them an unappetizing gray. The beans may also develop a musty, funky flavor. If you are in a big rush, instead try good-quality canned black beans, well drained. They are not the same, but they’ll do in a pinch with the right seasoning.