Black Bean Bonanza
By Neil Zevnik
Black bean varieties have been a staple of South and Central American cuisines for over 7,000 years.

Black Magic, Blackhawk, Domino, Nighthawk, and Valentine…. No, it’s not a roster of code names for the next G.I. Joe movie or the names on the door of a trendy legal firm. These are just a few of the varieties of the nutritional powerhouse that is black beans, a staple of South and Central American cuisines for over 7,000 years. Feijoada in Brazil; platillo moros y cristianos in Cuba; pabellon criollo in Venezuela—these national dishes would be unrecognizable without the shiny black turtle bean.

Known as the “poor man’s meat,” black beans offer a dense, delicious, and inexpensive alternative to animal flesh. Combined with a complementary grain, such as rice or corn, black beans provide a low-calorie protein source that is essentially fat-free and loaded with a wide range of nutrients.

In Chinese medicine, the black bean is a “warming” element that tonifies the kidneys, nourishes the yin, and strengthens the blood. The intersection of those effects with Western medicine is easily seen: the magnesium in black beans improves the flow of blood and oxygen throughout the entire body, and a generous dose of polyphenols helps to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol, thereby warding off atherosclerosis.

But that’s only the beginning of the benefits to be derived from this lowly legume. The black bean has the highest concentration of cancer-fighting antioxidant compounds of any bean, 10 times that found in an equivalent amount of oranges. Its heart-healthy aspects are numerous: its high fiber content aids in preventing heart disease and helps avoid digestive disorders as well; and significant amounts of folate and magnesium guard against heart attacks.

The black bean’s soluble fiber helps to stabilize blood sugar levels—especially helpful to those with diabetes, hypoglycemia, or insulin resistance. And in addition to those slow-burning complex carbohydrates, a generous dose of iron provides a further increase in energy levels. Throw in the trace minerals molybdenum and manganese, and you can see that these tiny beans are a huge storehouse of essential nutrients.

Bringing Home the Bean
Black beans are available dried or already cooked and canned; there is little nutritional difference between the two. Canned organic low-sodium beans are convenient, though it’s cheaper to start with dried.

If you go with dried, you’ll need to go through several steps. Lay out the beans and pick through them, removing shriveled beans and bits of debris. Rinse them thoroughly under cold running water. They then need to be soaked one of two ways before cooking: cover the beans with 2 inches of water in a large pot, and refrigerate overnight; or bring the water-covered beans to a boil, let boil 3 minutes, and let stand 2 to 3 hours. Rinse thoroughly. Cover again with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 11/2 to 2 hours, until beans are tender but not losing their skins. If you’re using canned, just rinse thoroughly and they’re ready to use—so much easier!

black bean soup

Serves 8

This hearty soup makes a perfect first course, or a satisfying luncheon all on its own.

1 small brown onion, peeled and chopped

2/3 cup diced celery

2 Tbs. olive oil

3 cloves fresh garlic, minced (1 Tbs.)

1 tsp. ground cumin

5 cups cooked black beans, divided

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup fresh orange juice

4 cups organic chicken broth

1 Tbs. finely grated orange zest

1 cup finely diced carrot, lightly steamed to just past crisp

1/2 cup cilantro leaves

1/2 tsp. minced jalapeño chile

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup organic low-fat sour cream

  1. Cook onion and celery in oil in large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat,
    until softened, aAbout 5 minutes. Add garlic and cumin, and cook 1 to 2 minutes more.
  2. Add 4 cups black beans, bay leaf, orange juice, and broth; bring to a boil, reduce heat,
    and simmer 15 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat, remove bay leaf, add orange zest, and purée in batches in blender or
    food processor.
  4. Return blended soup to pot, add remaining 1 cup black beans and carrot. Bring to a simmer,
    and keep warm until serving.
  5. Purée cilantro leaves, jalapeño, and lemon juice in food processor or blender; add sour cream, and briefly process to blend. (This can be made in advance and refrigerated for several hours.)
  6. Divide soup among 8 shallow bowls, garnish each with 1 Tbs. cilantro-sour cream (use tip of knife to make a nice pattern).


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