Sunday, August 15, 2010

Black Bean Risotto

I've got a new toy and I'm blogging up a storm! A friend indicated an interest in catching the occasional recipe, so I thought I’d put up one of my few original contributions.

I got the idea for this post on a vacation last year in Costa Rica. Keen has a lot of family down there, so we try to visit once a year. A classic breakfast dish is Gallo Pinto, literally spotted hen. It was invented in Costa Rica. Unless you go to Nicaragua in which case you’ll be told it was invented there. Unless you go to Guatemala, in which case you’ll be told it was invented there. And so forth… It’s a good way to use up left-over rice and beans, both of which are staples in Central America.

Heat a little oil in a pan, toss in some minced veggies (onion, bell pepper, carrot) and sauté for a bit. Add the rice and mix together, adding a generous amount of Salsa Lizano. It’s a tangy sauce that gets used for everything—it’s in that same savory group as steak sauce in America, Worcestershire sauce in England, and fish sauce in Asia. Once everything is coated and flavored right, toss in black beans and cook until heated. Top with an egg (I like over easy) and you’ve got breakfast. Well, that and some strong coffee with a lot of milk.

That is not, however, the recipe of the week. I was down in Costa Rica thinking about something to cook when I get back home. Having eaten my fill of black beans, I wanted to do something new with them. I love risotto and the thought occurred to me that black beans should work in a risotto. I did a little hunting around for inspiration and found a blog by Paula Jackson that had the right idea.

Paula was making dinner from what was in the cabinet and hit upon the idea of tossing in a couple of cans of black beans and a couple of cans of coconut milk. As it happens, a popular dish on the Caribbean coast is rice-n-beans. It’s flavored with a bit coconut milk and you usually get it with chilero on the side. Vegetables and hot (habañero) childes steeped in vinegar. Paula had a great idea, but it was a little heavy. I took a basic risotto dish and adapted for black beans and used one can of coconut milk. Give the black beans a good rinse before using them so that you get a nice contrast between black and white.

It’s great on its own, but also can be accompanied with something a little tropical. I like seared shrimp with pineapple or mango.

Pura Vida!

Black Bean Risotto



4 cups chicken stock

1 cup coconut milk (2/3 of a can)

½ cup dry white wine (or more broth)


2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/3 cup finely minced onion


1 ½ cups Arborio or California short grain rice

1 ½ cups cooked black beans or 1 can, drained and rinsed


½ cup coconut milk (1/3 can)

½ bunch cilantro, washed, thick stems removed, chopped to make ¼ cup

Queso duro or fresco, crumbled for garnish


  1. Bring broth to a steady simmer in a saucepan on the stove. Add coconut milk and return to simmer.
  2. Heat the butter and oil in a heavy casserole or dutch oven over med. heat. Add the onion and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes until it softens.
  3. Add the rice to the soffrito, stir using a wooden spoon until the grains are thoroughly coated. Add the wine and stir until it is completely absorbed. Add the simmering broth, ½ cup at a time. Stir frequently until almost completely absorbed and add the next ½ cup. Add the black beans after about 10 minutes of cooking.
  4. Add coconut milk and cilantro and remove from heat. Stir completely to combine with the rice.
  5. Put the risotto on serving dishes. Sprinkle with crumbled queso. Garnish with shrimp, mango or pineapple.

Serves 4.

With Keen as my co-pilot

I drove up to Rhode Island from the DC area last weekend. I was attending a Gordon Conference in the week and planned to visit a friend who lives in Providence afterwards. So, I decided to drive up as that would make it easier on the back end. We were told that the registration office closed at 9 p.m. and if you arrive after that, you need to find accommodation elsewhere.

Mistake #1. Driving past NYC on a Sunday in the summer. I’d had pretty good luck with the New Jersey turnpike in the past, even on holiday weekends. Still, I was was driving in the afternoon. If you plan to drive north past NYC in the summer, don’t. If you still do, double what you consider to be reasonable delays.

Mistake #2. Staying up way too late the night before. As a result I woke up around 9:30 a.m. with packing still to be done and a couple of errands. The wireless router of a friend died, so I promised to loan her our airport. I also had to drop by work to pick up my poster. I got on the road a little after 11:30 a.m. No problem! It’s an 8 hour drive and I’ll probably go with the flow of traffic and sit about 5 mph above the posted speed limit. That would get me in around 7 p.m. and allow me a couple of hours for delays.

Well, problem. I didn’t have too much trouble heading out of Washington and going past Baltimore. There’s a point coming up to Philadelphia where I-95 goes towards Philly and the suggested route is the NJ Turnpike. That was locked up and looked bad. I figured that I could take I-95 towards Philadelphia and the turnpike would rejoin it. Those of you who know the route are chuckling right now, but I was happily oblivious. Traffic was light through Philadelphia and I enjoyed the view of downtown. About 20 miles north of Philadelphia, I-95 abruptly ends and one gets onto I-295 south to the turnpike. Huh??? A Florida to Maine interstate shouldn’t just end! Or jump to the left or skip to the right for that matter.

No problem. I’d picked up my wife’s GPS just in case I might need it. I checked where I was, got instructions to get to I-95 on the turnpike (which wouldn’t have changed) and skipped the worst of the traffic jam. The turnpike wasn’t at speed, but I was still making decent time and figured I’d lost no more than half an hour.

Until New York City. Sinatra must have called it that toddlin’ town for its traffic. I’d driven through the area a few times before, so I had 1010 WINS on my radio even as it was staticky. 45 up and 35 down on the George Washington Bridge sounded ominous. No, those aren’t speeds. Those would be minutes. There was no way I’d make it in time if I took the George Washington Bridge. If it was 45 minutes for the bridge, there were going to be bad delays all the way through NY and into Connecticut. At which point, I’d either be sleeping in the car or searching for a cheap motel room.

No problem! You’ll note these are adding up. There’s a bridge north of the city, the Tappan Zee. I’d just head north on the promisingly named Palisades Parkway and hope for the best. Until…

Mistake #3. Not checking to see if the GPS is charged before leaving home. I got off the Turnpike, filled up in NJ, and was going to make my way up to the parkway when the GPS shut off. It would turn back on, but not stay on for long. I had a hairy moment or two as there was no way to make the turn towards the Parkway. So, I headed through the intersection in looped back. After not too much trouble, I’m northbound on the Parkway. It’s a beautiful drive and traffic wasn’t too bad on I-287 across the bridge. I make my way past White Plains, get onto the Merritt Parkway, and I’m as good as gold. I figure I’ve lost a lot of my margin, but traffic is light and I’m ON MY WAY.

I stop off at a park and ride to check directions and get the estimated time of arrival. 8:53 p.m. Gulp. As I’ve mentioned before, if I arrive after 9, there’s no room at the inn. Or anywhere else for all I know. I later found out that rooms in Newport were going for $300 plus. I check where I need to turn to get onto I-95 and set off. The GPS is pretty much gone at this point and I’m thinking it’s a fool’s errand.

But wait! Keen has made it to Costa Rica and is accessible from the Vonage phone. I call and ask for help getting to Newport. I’ve made it to I-95 by now, so I just need the turn-off. Route 138 I’m told and the arrival time is 8:45 p.m. Given that I have to drive through a town I don’t know and find a hall on a college campus, it’s a fool’s errand. Still, it’s worth making a try.

I keep my speed a bit over the limit, hoping to shave off a few precious minutes without getting stopped. I begin to wonder if I’d missed the turn-off when I see 138. The speed limit is relatively low, which makes me oddly happy. You save more time going 40 in a 35 zone than 60 in a 55 zone.

About 10 miles from Newport, I call Keen and ask her to be my navigator. It’s a little odd getting direcgtions from someone in another country, but it’s my best bet. Jog north on Rte. 1 and hope it wasn’t a mistake. Ah, there’s 138 again. Head across a bridge and see a second one. It’s a toll bridge. Oh no….. (think that little kid from Home Alone or the famous Munch painting). Wait! No line. $4 and I’m good.

I’m now on a twisty little road through town. Shockingly, I don’t make any mistakes and get to the turn-off for Belleview Avenue. It’s about 8:50 at this point. The clock is ticking. I head down the road, looking for a small road. It’s tricky as this town has some serious mansions and their driveways are bigger than the roads. The Breakers is here. I hang a left on a little road called LeRoy, get out to check and ask for advice. Just keep going, it’ll work. That is until I hit an intersection with both of the ways I want to go are one way the other way. I turn right out of desperation and hope I can loop around,. Take a left and another right. We’re both freaking a bit at this point as it’s 8:55. I don’t see the hall I’m trying to find, but mention one that I see. Evidently, my hall is next to it, but isn’t well marked.

After a bit of desperate driving back and forth, I see a sign saying GRC Office. THAT”S IT!!! It’s 8:58 p.m. I turn into the lot, jump out of the car, and ask a young woman if this is the way to the GRC office. Turns out she’s just closed the office, but has my room key. So. In a trip 8 hours 22 minutes long, I arrived with seconds to spare. Many thanks to my co-pilot.