There are many dishes that remind me of my childhood – twice baked potatoes, burgers off the grill, and pastrami and swiss grilled cheeses with grainy mustard, to name a few – but perhaps the one that has made the largest imprint on my culinary psyche is something that my family called “curry.”
Totally indiscernible as such by anyone who has ever had what I consider now to be a “real curry” (that is, a thick and creamy Thai or Indian coconut milk based stew that is heavily spiced and served with thinly sliced meat or seafood and lots of veggies), our version of curry was sort of a 1970′s style Americanized amalgamation of things that you would never find in what I now know to be the more traditional type.
Our curry consisted of lamb that was spiced, roasted, and shredded, and then accompanied by the most exciting part of all: a dazzling array of condiments nestled into tiny glass bowls that from which we were able to pick and choose ourselves. There was always a heaping bowl of white rice, and of course that lovely lamb, but then in these smaller bowls that dotted the table there was canned crushed pineapple, chopped hard boiled egg, crumbled and crisped up bits of bacon, shredded coconut, plump raisins, shelled salty peanuts, and, my favorite treat of all, mango chutney.
As a child, the actual lamb was perhaps the least exciting part – I could barely wait to saddle up to the table and start customizing my plate with whatever my little heart desired, usually leaning towards a lot of rice, pineapple, raisins, and huge scoop of that sweet and sour chutney.
But it didn’t matter; it was curry night, and no one was about to tell you exactly how you had to eat yours, thankyouverymuch – that was the whole point. A couple of weeks ago while I was on one very long flight, traversing the Pacific Ocean, traveling back to the States from Sydney, I was thumbing through a special issue of Gourmet, and came across the idea for these black bean bowls.
I was temporarily removed from my cramped-up and desperately uncomfortable (upright) position and transported back to my childhood, reminded instantly of that “curry” we used to eat so long ago. I love rice and beans, but generally don’t find myself ever sitting down to a plate of just that – save for those few and far between nights when I find myself at a Mexican restaurant, drinking margaritas and eating way too many helpings of chips and salsa (always, always, guilty).
Dried beans – which hold their shape and texture much better than their can-imprisoned cousins and have a taste that is worlds apart – can be tricky for me; though it’s as simple as can be to soak them in water overnight before using them, I can never seem to have the wherewithal to remember to do so, and often find that my poor dried beans languish in my pantry.
I was drawn even more to this recipe as these black beans not require an overnight soak at all – just a nice, long, relaxing bubble bath in water spiked with a bay leaf and some spices. After the beans simmer away for close to two hours (and presumably while you vacuum/fold laundry/attempt to bathe your kitty….just kidding, don’t try that), they emerge tender but still with a bite, and ever-so-lightly spiced.
From there, the fun begins; just when your beans are almost finished, you fix up a whole slew of fun and healthy toppings that each person can use to top to their little rice’n'bean lovin’ heart’s desire. Though the recipe I found suggested radishes and roasted squash, I went all out, fixing up colorful bowls of halved yellow tomatoes, cubed avocado, sprigs of fresh cilantro, salty and crunchy pepitas, and diced jalapenos.
Instead of sour cream I set out some 2% Greek yogurt, and pulled out the Cholula (Mexican hot sauce) for drizzling. These bowls are fabulous; not only are they super healthy (and could be made more healthy with brown rice), they are insanely fresh tasting and full of great texture and flavor. It’s like a big fresh salad over rice and beans, and is made so much more fun with the customization aspect. This was something I can’t wait to make again for a crowd; it would be the perfect vegetarian entree for an afternoon spent playing baggo in the yard (margs in hand!), but also works wonders as a healthy weeknight supper, with the leftovers sustaining you (and happily so!) for at least a few nights to follow.
Black Bean Bowls
Makes 4-6 dinner sized servings
bean recipe adapted from Gourmet
The best part about these bowls is that they are infinitely customizable; once you make the rice and beans, you are free to let your imagination run wild as far as toppings are concerned. I offered the variety listed below, and felt like they perfectly complemented each others flavors, while all adding a healthful jolt, making this rice and beans dish more like a rice and beans salad. Feel free to experiment!
You could use sour cream instead of yogurt here, but it’s really not necessary; 2% yogurt adds a wallop of protein, has (much!) less fat and calories, and also has the added benefit of probiotics. Trust me, you will not miss the sour cream! Go with the yogurt, and feel good about piling it on!
for the beans
1 lb dried black beans picked over and rinsed (but not soaked)
1 medium onion, grated
3 tablespoons olive oil
7 cups water, plus more as needed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 Tbsp cumin
1 to 2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
for the bowls
1 avocado, cut into a small dice
1 jalapeno, cut into a small dice
1 acorn squash, cut into small pieces and roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper till tender (15-20 minutes at 425F)
1 small jicama, peeled and cut into a small dice
3-4 radishes, sliced very thinly
a handful of fresh cilantro sprigs
1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 cups 2% greek yogurt
roasted salted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
hot sauce (such as Cholula)
5-7 cups of cooked long grain white rice (I aim for about 1 1/2 cups of rice per person)
To serve, mound a pile of the fluffy white rice in the center of a bowl, top with a heaping scoop of the hot beans, and let your dinner guests top their bowls with their favorite toppings.