Bloke in the Kitchen. Venezuelan black beans

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

This blog is not about adding a new recipe to your already impressive repertoire. It’s for people who don’t really have a repertoire.

It’s all about being flexible, creative – and having a go. Recipes are useful, obviously, but just a guideline if you’re too much of a cowboy to slavishly follow them. And anyway, you don’t have the ingredients at your disposal that real chefs seem to assume everyone does.

The aim of this blog is to teach the unskilled and inexperienced to make something out of what they’ve got in the house – or just fly into the supermarket and pick a few things up. You don’t want to be in the kitchen for hours and nor do I. Grab a few ingredients, mix them together and be eating in half an hour or so – that’s what I’m talking about. Radio on in the background, glass of wine on the go, and a decent result at the end of it.

Venezuelan black beans

In Venezuela they eat black beans with arepas, the corn flatbread they eat all the time. But they go just as well with ordinary homemade flatbread or plain old toast – just make sure it’s decent bread. The fluffy, slightly sweet stuff that sells by the truckload in many parts of the world is an insult to the tastebuds and even if you’re used to it, just get unused to it. Find something with a bit of body to it, a bit of earthy oomph, a bit of natural wheaty flavor.

Presumably many people like that bland, mass-produced stuff, but you don’t have to follow the crowd.

Now, savoury black beans – and this could hardly be simpler. In fact the most difficult thing might be finding them, depending on what country you’re in and if you’re in an area without a decent supermarket or healthfood store. But they might be there, hidden among the cans of baked, kidney, brown, haricots and all the rest, but you’ve never noticed because you’ve never wanted them before.

You may also find them in their dried form, which will mean soaking and boiling them before you start. But a can of black beans is just as good.

Like so many tasty dishes, this is cheap and dead easy. It’s food for getting the job done, the job being to get some nourishment into yourself and your family with minimal fuss and expense.

INGREDIENTS (for two people)

Can of black beans

A medium onion, halved and sliced.

Cilantro (coriander leaves), half a handful, roughly chopped or torn. Some people tell me they don’t like cilantro, which is up to them, even if I find it hard to believe. If you are one of those people, or you just can’t find any of the fresh plant (dried is not the same at all), use flat leaf parsley.

In some countries, notably the Caribbean, they have culantro, which is different by one vowel and similarly close in flavor. In Trinidad and Tobago they call it Shadow Benny (officially chadon beni).  It has long narrow leaves and when you chop it and use it in a cooked recipe, it’s hard to tell the difference (it’s not so good raw, though).

Sunflower oil.

Unsung hero: fried onions are the subtle, indispensable savoury basis of countless dishes, including this one

METHOD

Make your arepas, flatbreads (see my recipes on this site) or toast.

While they’re cooking, heat a frying pan and add a little oil.

Fry the onion until it is just turning brown.

Add the beans and stir.

Mix in the cilantro, plus a little salt and black pepper, plus a touch of general  seasoning (which is mainly salt plus a touch of herb and spice). A sprinkle of cayenne can help, if you like a bit of zip.

When the mixture is hot, serve with the bread.

Ludicrously easy, tasty, nutritious – and exotic.

Bloke in the Kitchen. Aztec salad with tortillas

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking 2016-03-18 17.19.59

Amelia’s Aztec Salad

Here on Bloke in the Kitchen we don’t go in for canned stuff much, but in this case what we’re using tastes fresh and is mixed with fresh things, so why not?

This recipe is dead easy and the result delicious. So we’re having it on its own, with tortillas. That’s the thin, flat, pancake-style bread tortilla, not tortilla chips (Doritos), although you could use them if you like. Normally you would decide on the main part of the dish: the meat, fish or whatever, and then think about what to have with it, but with this one, it’s a star in its own right, so if you want to serve it with some protein, that’s fine, but on its own is fine too.

You can buy packs of tortillas and use them just as they are, or put them in a hot oven for a few minutes and make them into ’baskets’ so you can fill them with the salad. So you have a soft wrap-style unit or a crisp, edible container.

INGREDIENTS

Ripe avocado

Sweetcorn (small can)

Fresh tomatoes

Black beans (canned)

Red pepper

Fresh cilantro (coriander leaves)

A lime or lemon

Olive oil

METHOD

Open the cans and drain them. Put corn and beans in a salad bowl.

Chop the red pepper into small pieces and add to the bowl.

Chop the tomato(es) up fairly small. Because they’re full of juice and seeds they will fall apart, but that’s okay.

Chop the cilantro and mix it in.

Chop the avocado into half-inch cubes and add to bowl.

Cut the lime or lemon in half and squeeze it over the mixture.

Pour on a little olive oil – just a glug or two. You don’t want it awash with oil, just to have everything glistening.

Mix it up – with your hands or salad spoons etc.

Taste it and add more oil or juice if required.

COWBOY TIP 1

You want to get a lot of juice out of the fruit, so one option is to lean on it heavily and roll it, which should weaken or break up the little pouches of juice inside. You could use bottled juice, but it really isn’t the same – it’s more acidic and less sweet.

If your squeezing grip isn’t that strong, put your hands together, linking the fingers, get the halved fruit between the heels of your hands and squeeze  with both arms. Or, of course, you might have a juicing contraption in the back of a drawer somewhere.

COWBOY TIP 2

If it needs a little salt, give it some, but only a little. The citrus should liven it up sufficiently.

 

MAKING THE TORTILLA BASKETS

If you’re crisping the tortillas, heat the oven to 200. Take an empty can such as the ones that contained the beans or corn you’re using. Remove the label, wash the can and stand it up, open edge down. Run some water over the tortilla and put it on the can, smoothing it down with your hands. There will be folds, which will look good when it’s cooked.

Place tortillas (still on the cans) in the oven, at the bottom, and give them 10 minutes. Check to see they’re not burning and are crisping up. When they’re done, remove the cans and use the tortillas as baskets for the salad, so you can pick them up and eat them like that.

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