03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Chocolate in Every Savory Bite

A while back, I came across a particularly interesting Gourmet recipe for richer-tasting black beans via Apartment Therapy's food blog, TheKitchn--interesting because it called for a mix of sherry, balsamic vinegar, and soy sauce. Though it sounds strange, the introduction to the recipe warns eaters not to dismiss the beans because of these addition. Though I retained some skepticism, in truth I could see how the three dark liquid components might come together to make a well-rounded whole. I know from past cooking experiments how soy sauce can really bring out the flavors in non-Asian dishes, and I'll sometimes add a splash of sherry to lentil or tomato soups, as per my mother's recommendation.

But I had plans to follow this recipe more or less to the letter when I realized the sherry I owned, bought on last year's trip to Spain, was sweet, not dry as the recipe called for. I'm sure I could have substituted rice wine, or even whiskey, but I was feeling resolute, and if I wasn't going to follow the recipe exactly, apparently I wasn't going to follow it at all. What I wound up doing, then, was opening up my cupboard and adding in anything I found that was dark, like the beans. Naturally, this included the 71% chocolate bar in my fridge.

As a general philosophy, I am not sure that cooking by color is valid. But the traces of flavor I got by pouring in the contents of my cabinet was sort of extraordinary, and I'd recommend giving this recipe a try whether it sounds weird to you or not.

Cooking dried beans from scratch is a bit of a touch-and-go kind of thing. It often comes off as an intimidating kitchen activity, when really it's a pretty flexible task. But if you are intimidated, these beans are a great first step. The reason is, they're meant to fall apart (you actually even speed up their demise in a food processor), and one of the few risks in cooking beans from scratch is that they can wind up a bit too soft to use in something like a black bean salad where solidity is key.

So when you're sick of all the rich holiday food, try this simple, healthful, and colorful dinner for relief. And if you're not entirely sick of chocolate? This provides for that, too: just grate some of a bittersweet bar into your savory meal.

From my kitchen, sweet tooth and all, to yours,

--Cara Eisenpress of Big Girls, Small Kitchen


Dark Black Beans with Yellow Rice, Green Avocado, and Orange Sweet Potatoes
Serves 2-4

For the beans:

1 1/2 cups dried black beans
1/2 small onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons oil
1/2 small onion
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 yellow pepper, diced
1 teaspoon adobo from chiles in adobo, plus 1/2 teaspoon or so of a chile, minced
1/2-1 teaspoon grated bittersweet chocolate
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
pinch of cayenne or to taste

Look over the beans, picking out any that are shriveled or broken. Put them into a big pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, simmer a minute or two, then turn off the heat and leave the beans covered for 1-2 hours. (You can also do a longer cold soak over night in the fridge--just combine the picked-over beans with water in a large bowl and leave to soak 6-8 hours.)

Drain off the water. Return the beans to the pan, with water to cover them by a few inches. Add the garlic, onion, and olive oil. Bring to a boil, then simmer partially covered for an hour or two, until the beans are quite soft but not falling apart. When they are nearly done, add the salt and mix to dissolve. When finished, drain the beans reserving 2 cups of the bean cooking water. Toss the garlic and the onion.

Then, in a large pan, heat the oil. Add the onions, cook until translucent, then add the carrots and celery. After 3 minutes, add the garlic and pepper and cook until everything is soft. Pour in 1 cup of water and bring to a boil, then add the beans and the adobo. Heat everything to boiling, letting the water reduce. Grate in the chocolate, and add the soy sauce. Cook for 15-20 minutes, adding bean cooking water as needed to keep everything just on the dry side of soupy. Add the balsamic vinegar and the cayenne, then taste for balance of flavors and salt. You can add a bit more soy sauce or salt and a splash more vinegar as needed.

Transfer about half of the beans to a food processor or blender (if you have an immersion blender, use that). Puree until smooth, then mix back in with the whole beans and reheat as necessary.

Serve with yellow rice, avocado, and roasted sweet potato (recipes follow).

For the Yellow Rice:

1 cup brown rice
2 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
one tiny pinch saffron, threads ground between your fingers
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a small pot with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil, stir a few times, then cover and simmer on very low heat for about 40 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. Turn off the heat and leave covered for 10 minutes, then fluff, taste for salt, and serve.

For the Avocado:

1 avocado
juice from half a lime

Not long before serving, cut the avocado out of its skin in chunks. Gently mash them, leaving some large pieces whole. Add lemon and salt to taste. Spoon on top of servings of black beans.

For the Roasted Sweet Potato and Carrot:

1 sweet potato, in half-inch dice
1 large carrot, in half-inch dice
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Combine the vegetables and a spray of olive oil (or about 1 teaspoon) in a baking pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, tossing once or twice, until the edges of each cube are browned and they are soft through. Arrange them between the rice and the beans when you make up your plate.