Black bean enchiladas with zucchini in spicy tomato sauce

black bean enchiladasI came up with this recipe for my father. The photo doesn’t look so appetizing, but trust me–these enchiladas are seriously amazing. Thanks for the idea, Dad!!!

A couple of days after I posted about cooking black beans in the slow cooker (, my father emailed to say he was making them and did I have any ideas about how he could make enchiladas that tasted like Amy’s brand vegetarian black bean enchiladas. I have never had this particular frozen delight. But, because everything you need to know is online, I quickly found the ingredient list and typed out a sketch for him of what I would do. Since then, I’ve kept coming back to the idea and thinking about it more. I’ve made enchiladas in the past, but it’s been a very long time, and I’ve never made them with black beans.  The more I thought about it, the more delicious it seemed. And also super affordable. Which is a priority right now, as I slowly adjust to my single life with my single, public interest attorney income. So it was decided. I would make black bean enchiladas. But I didn’t want the Amy’s version. Which meant that this morning, after I put the black beans in the slow cooker, I pulled out my favorite Mexican cookbook, Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen. I was not disappointed. He had a recipe for plain enchiladas, just tortillas dipped in tomato sauce, which wasn’t quite what I was thinking. Yet it was much closer. I decided to use that as my starting point, adding and subtracting as made sense.

Here’s what I did. And I recommend you follow suit at your earliest opportunity. Because these are incredible. Seriously. Be warned, though: they’re spicy. If that’s an issue for you or someone you’re cooking for, maybe use fewer peppers.

Sauceblack beans, zucchini and onion
1 T. olive or other neutral oil
1/2 yellow or white onion, thinly sliced
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
3 or 4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, coarsely chopped
1 c. liquid from cooked black beans or vegetable broth or chicken broth
salt to taste

1 T. oilve or other neutral oil
1/2 yellow or white onion, diced
1 med. zucchini, med diced
2 c. cooked black beans

12 corn tortillas
queso fresco, crumbled
cilantro (optional–I forgot to pick some from the garden, so didn’t have any today)

1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a dutch over or other heavy, medium sized pot. When it’s hot, add the onion and cook until brown, approximately 8 minutes. Turn the heat to medium-high. Add the tomatoes and peppers once it’s hot. Stiir for about 5 minutes, until the sauce glistens, then add the bean cooking liquid or broth. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

2. While the sauce is simmering, heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion. Cook, undisturbed, for about 3 minutes, then stir and add the zucchini. Cook for another 3 minutes or so, stir, and add the black beans. Cook for another 3-4 minutes then turn off the beans, zucchini and onion

3. Heat the tortillas, either by steaming them in a kitchen towel (Rick Bayless method) or wrapping them in a couple of paper towels and microwaving for 30 seconds (my cheater method). One at a time, dip the tortillas into the sauce so that both sides are covered. Fill with about 1/4 cup of the bean zucchini comb,, sprinkle with queso fresco, roll, and place in a baking dish. Continue to fill the tortillas until the filling is gone. Sprinkle additional cheese and, if using, cilantro, over the top, and serve. If you like this as much as I do, thank my dad.

The Animal Lover’s Dilemma

I am in awe of this post about the author’s thoughtful decision to raise and eat animals. Food is a complicated thing in today’s world. While I know from experience that one can think about it too much, this is a great argument for why one must think about where our food comes from, what it costs, and how we can make better choices. Which, in my life, includes a lot of beans…. “These and other experiences revealed to me that attempting to escape death in eating was a futile goal – the ultimate animal lover’s dilemma. I came to the sobering and humbling conclusion that I was dependent on other life, including animals, no matter what I ate. “


Today’s guest blog by Elizabeth Vandeventer of Davis Creek Farm, Nelson County, Virginia.  She holds a PhD in Anthropology from Univ. of North Carolina.


When Green Mountain College, a sustainable agriculture school in Vermont, recently decided to slaughter their two aging oxen and serve the meat in the dining hall, the decision unleashed a flood of angry emails, Facebook posts, and protests from animal rights activists around the world.  From the point of view of the college, consuming beef produced from animals raised humanely on their own farm, rather than from unknown origins elsewhere, fits squarely with their sustainable food production philosophy.

However, to animal rights advocates, killing the oxen was simply wrong—regardless of the fact that one of the animals would have to be euthanized for leg injuries anyway. Activists threatened local slaughterhouses, leaving the college nowhere to take the cattle, so in the end, they…

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Perfect slow-cooked black beans

Finally the weather has broken in Chicago. Today’s high is expected to be a silky 76 degrees, temperate, sane. This comes after what feels like a lifetime of mind-numbing heat that left my long, sun-drenched apartment stuck on high. I couldn’t cook, not really. And, while I tried to write, I had no energy, no creative spark. There was only languor, and longing for something else. But I had to eat. So, at the start of one of those days, before the kitchen became unbearable, I spent five minutes cooking a pot of black beans.

There is no photo for this because I never intended to write of something so plain. Indeed, this simple pot of beans is not a recipe. You simply wash and pick through however many dry beans you wish to cook (I used one pound, a single bag of Goya brand), place them in the insert of a slow cooker, add a 3″ piece of kombu (a sea vegetable that tenderizes the beans and thickens the cooking liquid), and cover with about three inches of cold water, ideally filtered. Cover, turn on the machine, and cook for 10-12 hours. Salt liberally and allow the beans to cool in their cooking liquid. Then use them however you wish. One evening I used the beans as a filling for tacos with sauteed strips of poblano peppers. Another day, I had them for lunch over rice. And once, when I got home late at night, tired after rehearsal with my young ensemble, I had them plain, in a bowl all by themselves. Each of these variations were delicious and surprisingly satisfying.

I decided to write about this non-recipe recipe because, while simple, this method of cooking brings black beans to perfection. The result is tender, yet perfectly intact beans with an abundance of flavorful cooking liquid that is delicious in its own right. Infinitely better than a can of beans. And, at $1.69 plus water and electricity, far more economical. You just need a slow cooker. And time.

A slow cooker and time. That combo feels like some sort of metaphor right now, directions for how to live a good life. Slow down, let things happen, trust that it’s all going to work out. Despite my best efforts, I cannot seem to learn this lesson. I constantly find myself pushing to do, to be something more, something else. And I wind up in struggle. Anxious, afraid. Winding up with (metaphoric) under or overcooked beans, beans so hard as to be indigestible or soft and mushy, completely devoid of character. I do this even though I know better.

So what’s the answer? I think it’s practice. I just need to create a new pathway, a new habit. The essential difference between the now version of me and the me of a year ago, is that now, when I find myself in struggle and overcome by anxiety, I notice. If I find myself in an old pattern of self-laceration, berating myself for being anxious, for pushing too hard, I simply notice and try to breathe. It’s true that my breath often gets stuck in my chest in these moments. Which is not all that helpful. But I’m slowly learning that if I simply notice, without getting frustrated or angry, my body opens up. Eventually my breath moves down, reaches the lower abdomen, and my heart rate slows. Life ceases to be an emergency. It’s not suddenly perfect, of course. It takes time. Patience. And perfection only comes in moments. But those moments are everything good.

Vegan Slow Cooker Baked Beans

My love affair with baked beans began as a child, well before I understood–or cared–about the connection between food and health. I just liked them because they tasted good. Simultaneously sweet and savory, a necessary accompaniment to grilled burgers and chips, the tastes of summertime.

As a kid lucky enough to be given free rein in the kitchen from age eight or so, I used to make them from a can of Campbell’s pork & beans, which I poured into a square Pyrex baking dish before carefully picking out every trace of the white salt pork and adding ketchup, mustard, and brown sugar. This concoction, a classic “recipe” comprised of various processed foods, was baked at 350 for about an hour, until it was bubbling, brown, edges starting to caramelize. It was so delicious that sometimes I made it even without burgers, using it as dip for chips.

Later, as an adult, I discovered Bush’s baked beans. Full of sugar and all kinds of savory spices, they, too, are delicious. And I will definitely eat them in a pinch. But I’d rather not. I’d rather make my own. So, yesterday, I did. baked beans version one

I’ve actually made baked beans from scratch before, a little over ten years ago. The rehearsal dinner for my wedding was a big bbq at my oldest sister’s house. One of her friends smoked a pork butt, and my sister made a bunch of other awesome food. She drew the line at baked beans, though. Which was reasonable. We could have bought canned beans, of course. But I was trying to save money. Plus I wanted it to be special. And vegetarian. I was on my own.

Back then, the first time I made baked beans from scratch, I came up with something good after weeks spent scouring the internet and making several test batches. My former husband was a great test subject, enthusiastic and appreciative, but unafraid to say when something wasn’t right. In the end, what I made was spicy and rich and perfectly cooked. But I kept no record. Which is just as well, maybe. After all, that was another lifetime. I’m moving forward as this new and improved version of myself, alone. There’s plenty of good from my past that I’m taking with me into this new life. But the baked beans that I made for my wedding party? Like the paint choices in my condo, which I seriously loved, there are some things that should be left behind.

So. Starting over. Yesterday morning, I sat down over coffee and thought about what I wanted to achieve. I realized that my goal was simple: a vegan slow cooker version of baked beans without any refined sugar products. After looking at several recipes, I settled on three from these cookbooks: How To Cook Everything VegetarianMark Bittman; Southern Sides, Fred Thompson; and Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufman.

All of the original recipes I looked at contain at least one refined sugar product (molasses, brown sugar, ketchup), two out of three call for chicken broth, and Fred Thompson’s drool-inducing recipe includes bacon. But I was undaunted, in part because of Mark Bittman’s directness about the absence of bacon being a problem, which he resolves by using kombu. As he says right at the start of his recipe, “[i]t’s tough to find a vegetarian version of baked beans with bacon, with that creamy texture and delicate balance of sweet and smoky flavors. Enter kelp, also known as kombu…. Kelp contains a natural acid that tenderizes the beans as the seaweed itself melts away, leaving behind a luxurious sauce with complex flavor.”

Armed with this promise from the trusted Mr. Bittman, as well as various other tips and ideas from the two other recipes, I got started. And I was happy, chopping onions to Jeff Buckley and  singing along with the New Pornographers while I sauteed the onions and watched the tomato paste begin to caramelize. By the time I finished and left to go about my day, I was totally excited, anticipating the aroma that would fill my apartment when I got home, eager to test what could only be the best beans ever.

But no. I’m sorry to say that even today, after the flavors have had a chance to develop, the end result is almost pallid,  lacking in character and borderline mushy from the baking soda. On the upside, I’m pretty sure the baking soda cut the cooking time considerably. I used older grocery store beans that were not presoaked, yet the dish took less than six hours, start to finish. And these beans are not a complete failure. They taste fine and are quite healthy. I think they would be terrific for kids. But they are not special. Not what I’m looking for. Work remains to be done. More research. Testing. For now, here’s what I did in round one.

2-1/2 c. navy beans
1 5″ piece of kombu
1 dried red chili
1/4 c. grapeseed oil
2 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. tomato paste
1/2 c. maple syrup
1/4 c. brewed coffee
2 t. dried mustard
3 springs thyme
pinch of baking soda
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T. apple cider vinegar

1. Pick over the beans and discard any that are seriously discolored or broken. Rinse, drain, and place in the insert of your slow cooker.  Crumble the chili into the beans, add the kombu, and cover with 1-1/2 or 2 inches of filtered water. Cover and turn the heat to high.

2. Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and saute for 5-7 minutes, until lightly browned. Add the garlic, stirring, for another minute. Then add the tomato paste and cook for another 5-7 minutes, until deeply aromatic and shiny. Add about 1/4 cup of water, stirring to get any stuck parts off the bottom of the pan, and add to the beans together with the remaining ingredients except salt. Turn the heat to low and cook for 4-6 hours. Add the vinegar and salt to taste (I used about 1-1/2 teaspoons).  Turn off the heat and let the beans cool for a bit so the salt can sink in. Serve with chips.

French lentil salad with sherry vinaigrette

The sun is finally out after a series of rainy days. It feels like one of those childhood summer days, long and lazy, full of possibility. I am not going to work or do anything productive. My only plan is a bbq/birthday party with some of my most beloved friends. Maybe I’ll go to yoga. Or maybe not. We’ll see. I’ve been exploring the not doing lately, practicing what it means to live in a space of breath, open and not trying. Morning walks to my garden, listening to birds, beginning to recognize neighbors on morning walks, without or without dogs, children, with or without eye contact, smiles. It feels good. Easy. Ease.

The downside of this new approach to life has been a vast reduction in productivity. I don’t get very much done. But I think that’s okay. I am not in a race. This fact is underlined by the absence of panting, a form of breath that used to be my norm. Now, at worst, I sometimes find myself holding my breath. Old habits. They take a long time to die, particularly when you’re trying to replace them kindly. Again, ease. That’s my summer theme. Which translates well to food, if not to prolific blogging.

lentil saladI first made this salad a few years ago, when it appeared in Fine Cooking Magazine. ( And it’s since become a staple, not only for home but also for parties. Because, in addition to the facts that this salad is easy, make ahead, affordable, and safe for almost all categories of food intolerances, it’s absolutely delicious. Which, at the end of the day, is the scale tipper.

My version hews pretty tight to the original but for a few changes. First, I don’t use scallions. I’m sure they’re wonderful if you like scallions. But I really don’t. So I just leave them out. Second, I always use sherry vinegar. For me it is the essential ingredient that makes this salad. But I think it would be good enough with white wine vinegar. Just maybe not amazing. Finally, instead of layering all the various components of the vinaigrette into the salad separately, I whisk them together while the lentils are cooking then fold the dressing into the warm, drained lentils. I don’t detect any difference in flavor and I find this method, which I arrived at after many, many times of following the original instructions, much less fussy.

In addition to being delicious on its own, this salad is also good as a topping for crackers (the caviar of lentils), a bed for grilled meats or roasted vegetables, and a topping for salads. I especially love it over arugula topped with a poached egg, a quick summer dinner. So, while the recipe that follows serves 6-8 in a single meal, if you’re cooking for more than 2, you may want to double up to ensure enough for multiple incarnations.

2-1/4 c. French green lentils (lentils du Puy)
kosher salt
1/4 c. sherry vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
6 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 t minced garlic

1. Rinse the lentils  and put them in a large saucepan with two quarts of cold, filtered water and two teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat, cover partially, and simmer for about 25 minutes, until the lentils are tender but still intact. Drain, rinse with cold water, and transfer to a large bowl.

2. Whisk the oil, vinegar, 1 teaspoon of salt, a few grindings of pepper, and garlic until combined. Pour the dressing over the warm lentils and stir gently to combine, making sure not to mash the lentils. Let stand at room temperature for at least an hour and up to three hours. Taste for seasoning and serve.