What’s with restaurants using rajma (red kidney beans) in nachos! It is my pet peeve when high-end restaurants serve rajma instead of black beans in Mexican dishes. While I have no animosity towards rajma, I do take objection to them being used interchangeably with black beans.
Some restaurants try and pass off bhatt dal, or black soybean, as Mexican black beans. Bhatt dal is a staple in Kumaoni cuisine but it is not the same as black bean. Black soybeans are white from inside, like whole urad dal, and taste completely different from black beans.
Black beans, called frijoles negros in Spanish, are easily available online these days, so whether it is quesadillas or chilli, or burrito or salad, I would like to see the real deal being used in these. Okay, rant over!
The more processed food we eat, the less our fibre consumption. Black beans to the rescue. Just half a cup of cooked black beans provides a whopping 7.5g of fibre. If a food is good for your microbiome, it is good for you. The undigested fibre in black beans goes to the large intestine and functions as food (prebiotic) for the gut bacteria, which then releases by-products called short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) in the gut. SCFAs are fats that fuel the gut lining. They have a range of positive effects on health, such as being anti-inflammatory, regulating blood sugar levels, lowering the risk of cancer and reducing levels of bad cholesterol, thereby improving longevity, immunity and reversing chronic inflammatory conditions.
What’s in it for diabetics? Besides reducing overall inflammation, the resistant starch in black beans regulates blood glucose levels. According to a 2021 study published by the US Agricultural Research Service, when obese mice were fed cooked black beans, their insulin resistance reduced dramatically. It means that the cells in the muscle, liver and fat could have a better uptake of glucose in response to insulin. The protein (7.5g in half a cup of cooked beans) and fibre in black beans make it an ideal food for diabetics as it leads to a gradual rise in blood sugar after a meal.
Smoky chipotle chillies in adobo sauce, smoked paprika, roasted and ground cumin seeds are some of the strong flavours that stand up to this hearty bean.
Canned black beans are as good as dried, soaked and cooked ones. Ensure you rinse the canned beans under water to remove the excess sodium. Dried black beans have a thick coat, so ensure 12 hours of soaking time so that the bean cooks well. However, Kenji López-Alt writes on the website Serious Eats that soaking black beans is a waste of time and flavour.
He experimented by cooking three batches of black beans, all on the stovetop. One batch soaked, drained and cooked in fresh water, one soaked and cooked in the soaking water, and one batch cooked directly without soaking. He noted that the batch cooked directly without soaking had a more intense flavour and colour and took just 20 minutes more than the soaked beans. When you soak the beans for 12 hours, the soaking liquid, which we discard, is almost jet black. The liquid does drain off some of the colour, flavour and starches, leading to a milder flavour, not as black a colour, and a thinner cooking liquid, making the resultant dish less creamy.
True to my middle-class desi roots, I can never justify simmering dried beans on the stove for 90 minutes, so all scientific experiments aside, I will continue to soak and pressure-cook beans of any kind!
Black bean adai
Half cup black beans
2 tbsp chana dal
2 tbsp urad dal
2 tbsp rajma
2 dried red chillies
A pinch of asafoetida
1 tsp salt
Ghee or gingelly oil to make adai
Soak the beans and lentils in a bowl of water overnight or for 12 hours. Drain the water and grind the soaked beans and legumes along with red chillies, asafoetida and salt, using up to a quarter-cup water. Grind to a slightly coarse paste.
Heat a cast-iron tava (griddle) and smear a thin layer of oil using a brush. Pour one-two ladles of batter in the centre of the moderately hot tava and spread in concentric circles to make a thick dosa. Spoon oil or melted ghee around the sides. Let the adai cook for three-four minutes on a low-medium flame until the bottom side is golden brown. Flip the adai and cook this side for one minute or so. Serve hot with coconut chutney or with white butter.
Black bean pumpkin chilli
1 cup black beans—soaked overnight
A pinch of baking soda
1 cup coarsely mashed pumpkin
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup tomato purée*
1-2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp salt
Drain the soaked black beans. Place in a pressure cooker with three cups of water and a pinch of baking soda. Pressure-cook for 10 minutes. Open the cooker once the pressure has dropped.
In a large pan, heat the olive oil. Fry the minced garlic and chopped onions over a low flame for six-eight minutes until onions are softened. Mix in the tomato purée and the spice powders. Bring to a simmer. Add the cooked black beans and mashed pumpkin. Season with salt. Allow to come to a boil. Simmer on a low flame for 10 minutes for the beans to absorb the flavours. Thin with some boiling hot water to get the desired thickness of chilli.
Ideally, served with cornbread. Or you can top with tortilla chips and have it like a chunky hearty soup.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is Everyday Superfoods. @saffrontrail