The New Convivialist

Month: September, 2012

Frijoles Negros – Black Bean Soup

I regret to say this is not a visiting kitchen post. None of my Central American acquaintances have yet to step up and offer to divulge Grandma’s standby recipe for frijoles negros. Maybe that’s a sign that I need to simply ask, but now as the Autumn weather has officially descended on northern Europe, I find it just about time for a hearty soup, authentic or not. And mine, if I may say, is buenísima.

It wasn’t always so. I can remember clearly my first foray into cooking with dried black beans. I couldn’t have been more than 19 and, as I was prone to do as a teenager, got a strange fit of fancy to try something utterly new and foreign in the kitchen. More often than not when this would happen, I would wander blindly over to the stove and simply do what I thought was appropriate. Sometimes it worked. Usually it did not. Growing up, my family was not a bean-loving one, so I decided it was high time to take it upon myself to try to imitate a silky and savory black stew that I had no doubt eaten in some restaurant and had thought, how hard could that be? I recalled hearing somewhere that dried black beans took an incredibly long time to cook, so I thought… ok, like 45 minutes or so, boiled with salt. That should do it. That night I choked down a bowl of little rocks, thinking all the while that there must be something wrong with the bag of Goya beans I bought. Too old, yes that’s it.

Supposedly as we age, we learn that the best things in life require time and patience. This little tale of black beans is a prime example. Instant gratification is not something one encounters when presented with a bag of dried black beans. It certainly requires some waiting around and a bit of effort, but if you embrace this – maybe pretend you are a grandma preparing a huge pot for the family to last the entire week – the fruits of your labor can be splendid.

But even if you are a young person whose busy life does not necessarily allow for Mexican Grandma-like cooking schedules, making frijoles negros from scratch is not SO unrealistic. Just soak the beans before you go to bed to make them for lunch the next day, or in the morning before running out the door if you would rather a black bean soup for dinner. Sure, the cooking time itself is not short either, but when left with a colossal pot of black beans that will yield enough for a dinner party plus leftovers, or give a couple something hearty to eat for a whole week, it’s actually not so bad. Plus, it’s not just about the soup! The beans become thicker and the flavors continue to develop after a day in the refrigerator. Try them simply with white rice or maybe with toast, a slice of avocado and a soft fried egg on top for a quick interpretation of huevos rancheros.


Recipe – Black Bean Soup – Frijoles Negros

*note that this is a vegetarian black bean soup, but you can also add some chopped bacon for an extra kick of salty flavor.


500 grams black beans

1 small white onion, chopped

1 small red onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 small carrot

1 red bell pepper

1 serrano pepper, finely chopped

2 tsp toasted and ground cumin

3 TBSP olive oil

a few whole cloves

2 pinches sugar

sprinkling of red wine vinegar

sprinkling of soy sauce

juice from 1 lime

cilantro (fresh coriander)



1. Soak black beans for about 12 hours or overnight in plenty of water (they will get larger.

2.  Add 1 TBSP olive oil, the white onion, 2 cloves crushed garlic and a few whole cloves to beans, and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and simmer for 1 hour, checking regularly and skimming the foam that forms on top.

3. Meanwhile, take some cumin seeds and toast them in a heavy skillet over low heat. Grind coarsely either with a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.

4. Make the sofrito: warm remaining 2 TBSP olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the red onion, carrot, remaining 1 clove of garlic (chopped), Serrano pepper and bell pepper, and sauté for about 5 minutes until soft. Add a sprinkling of red wine vinegar, ground cumin, black pepper and salt, and cook for 2 minutes more.

5. Add the sofrito to beans. Stir in a few splashes of red wine vinegar, soy sauce (yes, this is what I mean when I say it is not authentic) and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened and cooked through. Add sugar, more salt (black beans take a lot of salt), and more vinegar to taste.

6. As you are stirring, crush some of the beans into the bottom of pot or, with a hand blender, partially blend the soup to a consistency you like. Remove from heat and stir in juice from one lime. Add salt and pepper to taste.

7. Serve in a bowl with a spoon of sour cream on top and some finely chopped cilantro (fresh coriander) to brighten the taste.













Summer Salad – Everything That’s Good

As August’s late summer tomatoes turn to September’s very late summer figs, I resist the urge to somersault into Autumn quite yet. Thus I present you with a quintessentially summer salad, the kind that doesn’t need any embellishment or flourish of meat, nuts or cheese. Not that these aren’t lovely things to add to a salad. But when you have a balcony full of cherry tomatoes, a farmer’s market and summer’s bounty still within reach, take advantage and keep it vegetal. A light slick of a lemon Dijon dressing and maybe a baguette is all that’s needed in addition. Though a bit of sun can help– to hold on to that innocent denial of summer’s impermanence.


Recipe: Seasonal Summer Salad with Lemon Dijon Dressing

– a large bunch of fresh micro-greens, ideally purslane (which is actually considered a “weed”, but has gained popularity in the US as an extremely nutrient-packed salad green, however it is fairly common in Europe in the Summer)

– one large carrot, sliced diagonally

– one yellow or orange pepper

– one avocado

– ¼ kilo cherry or grape tomatoes

– 2-3 scallions, thinly sliced

– a few Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped (optional)


for the dressing

– one very small clove of garlic, chopped finely

– ¼ cup good quality olive oil

-1 tsp Dijon mustard

– ¼ tsp sugar

– juice from ½ lemon

– salt and freshly ground pepper


1. Wash purslane and remove the most hardy parts of the stems. Tear coarsly and set aside.

2. Wash, trim, peel and/or chop carrot, pepper, avocado and tomatoes into bite-size pieces and place into a large bowl. Add the finely sliced scallions (and olives, if desired).

3. Make dressing: chop the garlic very finely and add a pinch of salt. With the side of the knife, rub the salt into the garlic to create a paste. Put into a small glass or jar. Add the olive oil, Dijon mustard, sugar and lemon juice and whisk together to emulsify. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Add purslane over the other vegetables and pour salad dressing over the top. Gently toss together to evenly mix the salad and coat with dressing.

5. Serve with a baguette and some extra olive oil. In the sunshine.






Gyoza Dumplings Recipe and Revelations

Every cuisine owns its own rudimentary version of the “dumpling”. Italy has its filled ravioli. Poland has given the world the gift of pierogi. China offers endless types of steamed or fried wontons and dumplings. The list goes on. Even Germany, with its Knödel, is not put to shame in this department that calls for a carbohydrate in dough form, surrounded by some kind of meat or vegetable, and, of course heat. It all sounds too simple when you break it down.

This was until I had the good fortune of being invited to a home-cooked Japanese dinner by my friend Satoshi Nakamura. It was only then when I realized that, no, not all “dumplings”, even those precisely following my above-stated formula, are created equal. Let me tell you about Gyoza, which are actually the same as Chinese dumplings, just, in this case, adapted more to Japanese tatste. In principle, it is still very simple: a carbohydrate (round of wheat dough) is wrapped around a mixture of meat (pork/beef/shrimp) and/or vegetables (kimchee) and added to heat (fried, then steamed). But the result was wholly unworldly.

filling dumplings

filled dumplings

Perhaps the pleasure was due to the unmistakable freshness of transporting the literally steaming hot dumplings straight from the pan to the table and pulling them apart from their clumped mass with a group of close friends – ok, fine, wrestling them away from a group of close, albeit ravenous friends (and believe me, those Japanese are far more nimble than us Westerners with chopsticks, so I considered myself as the underdog in this scramble). Or maybe what made the dish so delicious was the skill of Satoshi himself, who is not only a wonderful home chef but also boasts past experience as a short-order cook in a high-volume Ramen restaurant chain near the Yokohama train station, called Ippudo. There is even a branch in Manhattan, if that’s easier for you to get to than Japan.

I suppose I will never exactly know the secret of WHY this batch of Gyoza was one of the more outstanding examples of the dumpling I have experienced. I can only try to repeat it. Again and again and again.

This is a great dish to make in a group. It can easily be scaled up depending on how many are around the table and is a fun way to get everyone involved in preparation without the disaster that can result from over-eager dinner party guests. Are you an OCD host who wants to try loosening up after that last dinner party’s foray into molecular gastronomy? Try inviting over some friends to make Gyoza. You can prepare (read: control) all the fillings in advance and then the group is left with only the enjoyable, even meditative task of filling, folding and crimping the dumplings. Those little rounds of wheat dough can really be filled with anything you fancy so all the vegetarians, vegans and meat lovers in the group will be equally pleased. We made some with a beef/pork mixture and kimchee, some with shrimp and kimchee and others with tofu and kimchee.

dumplings steaming

finished gyoza

Gyoza – Japanese Dumplings Recipe

-Ground beef and pork mixed with Chinese cabbage (or bok choy), chives, ginger and a sprinkling of soy sauce and sesame seed oil
-Boiled shrimp
-Kimchee, either homemade or store-bought
-Rounds of wheat dough (about 2.5 in or 6 cm)
-Crumbled tofu
-Water to stick the dough rounds together
-Sesame seed oil for frying
-Soy sauce with few drops of chili sesame seed oil for dipping

Prepare all fillings for Gyoza and set on the table in separate bowls.
Take a round of rice dough and fill with ingredients of choice, being careful not to add to much or the dumpling will not close properly
Moisten the edges of the rice round and gently fold in half, making a half-circle shape. Crimp together the edges so that they will not leak out the filling while cooking. (This will take some practice!)
Repeat with as many dumplings as you would like.
Once you have enough raw dumplings prepared, heat a heavy frying pan to high and add a splash of sesame seed oil. Place the dumplings in the pan, trying to give them a “foot” surface so that they will stand upright. Fill the entire pan in this manner. Fry for a few minutes uncovered, so that the bottoms of the Gyoza become slightly browned (see video).
Add very hot water to the pan so that they Gyoza are about one-third drowned. Cover so that they can steam. Check on them after a few minutes (when the water is all absorbed) and test to be sure they have cooked all the way through.
The Gyoza will have fused together during the cooking. You can flip them upside down onto a large plate and then pull apart to eat. They will almost resemble a well-browned pancake when flipped on their undersides.
Serve with a dipping sauce of soy sauce with a few drops of chili sesame seed oil.