Sunday, 4 December 2011

Black beans, eggs and salsa

Along with a whole range of dishes which used multiple parts of a pig, the 90s-era Cuban diners on the Upper Upper West Side of Manhattan did potent cafes con leche and plates of scrambled eggs and black beans which were big enough to make the next meal redundant. As well as being exotic and cheap, I was told by those with experience of such things that food like this was also very good for hangovers.

For the bright young things of Brixton, who seem to suffer with the same affliction on weekend mornings, the neighbourhood’s multiple Columbian cafes—which do a comparable line in vast servings of assorted meats, eggs and beans, washed down with lots of caffeine—appear to fill a useful niche. But even for those of us whose closest experience of a late-night party is the one that takes place far too often in the apartment upstairs, beans and eggs—minus the mixed meats—is also a popular weekend meal, easy, tasty and admirably inexpensive.

Canned black beans, a rare commodity in much of the country, can be bought in any of the dozens of the small Caribbean grocers nearby. Cooked down with onion, garlic, cumin, fresh coriander and a spoonful of chipotle en adobo (still not locally available; Brixton’s Latino population is probably the largest in inner London, but it’s largely Ecuadoran, Columbian and Venezuelan rather than Mexican), they make a fudgy, mellow partner for eggs of any variety. We’ve scrambled the eggs and used the two to fill leftover corn tortillas. Though my own fried eggs are variable at best, I think that a well-made one plopped on the beans provides nice textural contrast.

Today we played with an idea from another egg dish, shakshouka, where eggs are part-poached, part-baked in a thick sauce of tomato and pepper. We cooked the beans in a wide frying pan, leaving a bit of liquid, then made indentations for the eggs. The pan was covered, and the eggs left to half-set. We finished it all with a quick grilled salsa, made from some cherry tomatoes that improbably appeared at the farmer’s market. The result was somehow far better than the sum of its (simple) parts—and far too good for those neighbours.

No formal recipe needed, but a few notes:
  • I’ve found that cooking the beans on a low heat in a frying pan—rather than a saucepan—allows them to soften slightly without turning into mush. I use a good splash of water and simmer them for 10-20 minutes.
  • Toasting and grinding whole cumin seeds may seem unnecessary in such a simple recipe, but it makes a real difference to the flavour.
  • A bay leaf makes a nice addition to the beans.
  • Orangette has a good grilled salsa recipe.

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