In Mexico, we ate lot of beans. They came with most meals as a side dish and one of our favorite taco joints served them with their salsas as a dip. When I started cooking in our airbnb beans were an obvious choice as a reliable and readily available source of protein, as well as a great element in a quick dinner (if they were already prepared). But as it turns out, beans can be finicky and with our average of about a batch a week we ate a lot of bad beans. Even with lots of trial and error, my recipe never turned out as well as I found in restaurants. There was an essential spice missing in my beans but I couldn’t pinpoint what it was.
It wasn’t until we met Gina, in Puerto Escondido that I discovered the secret. But first a quick story about Gina.
If only every town was so lucky as to have a Gina. She was the town tourist liaison, with a finger on the pulse of everything and everyone in Puerto. We signed up for a walking tour early one Tuesday morning and we were lucky enough to have her all to ourselves. We walked all over town as she talked about native plants, Puerto history, the future of development in the region. It could have easily been called an eating tour of Puerto Escondido because that’s what we did.
We started with a breakfast of nopales (aka leaves of the prickly pear cactus), delicious black beans, and coffee on the beach. The restaurant was run by an older woman who had inherited it from her father, and both she and her dad had been born in the house right next door.
Then we were taken to a “restaurant” in an entrepreneurial family’s home. The restaurant consisted of a few tables with plastic table cloths in someone’s enclosed front yard and right next to the tables was a saw and a huge pile of wood. While the wife served up tacos, the husband was a woodworker making furniture for local business. Both the tacos and the wood crafts were works of art. I was tempted to buy both a pile of tacos and an artisan table. Neither of which were practical for a walking tour so we said gracias and were on our way.
The final stop on the tour was the Benito Juarez market in the center of town. Jeff and I had been there on our own and we had been a bit disappointed by the selection (see a bit in our Impressions.) But, as with most new places when you can see it from the point of view of a local, going with Gina helped us see another side of the market. She introduced us to the vendors she was friends with and of course the foods we had never seen before. She insisted on sending us home with various treats including sweet tortillas baked into chips, fresh pepper corns and her secret ingredient for the best black beans.
The secret ingredient? Avocado leaves!
Who knew? She said, one or two dried avocado leaves tossed into the batch while they’re cooking has makes all the difference. I’ve never seen these on sale in the states, but if you are lucky enough to live near an avocado tree I’m sure drying a few freshly picked leaves would work perfectly. I promise if you can get your hands on some, they make all the difference.
Recipe (loosely based on the recipe for Cuban Beans by Eat Live Run)
The Best Black Beans
- 1 lb dried black beans
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 bunch cilantro minced
- 1 whole red onion chopped
- 4-6 cloves garlic smashed and chopped
- 2 dried avocado leaves
- 1 tbsp chili powder/paprika (either or 1/2 tbsp of both)
- 1 tbsp fresh ground pepper
- 1 1/2 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar (or to taste)
- This is absolutely essential- you must soak your beans. I prefer pouring the beans into boiling water then letting them soak in the fridge over night. When you’re ready to cook, drain and rinse the beans well.
- In a large, heavy bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion, sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes. While stirring rapidly, add the garlic, spices and avocado leaves, cook another minute or until brightly fragrant but not burnt.
- Add the drained beans, 1 tbsp salt and enough water that the beans are submerged by about 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover pot leaving a slight crack in the beans.
- Simmer beans for 60 minutes. Stir occasionally.
- After an hour, add the chopped cilantro. Simmer for another 60 minutes. Remember to stir once or twice.
- Add the apple cider vinegar and additional salt, or more to taste. Let the beans cook about 10 more minutes. They should be nice and creamy.Top with grated cheddar cheese and serve with fresh tortillas. Enjoy!