11/30/2011 12:09 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Reminder Beans

For the last few years, finances have been pretty uncertain for our family. And when I say uncertain, I don't mean we've been asking questions like "Will we still be able to take our family vacation this year?" No. The uncertainty has been more like "Mommy? Are we going to make it to school this morning?" (because the red E is glaring at us and I have exactly $0 to spend on more gas). We've lost our house, moved in with my in-laws (with our four children! Best in-laws ever), and because we're always paying off debt, we're still month-to-month with money. Sometimes, day-to-day. There have been some ugly moments. I've had meltdowns. I've sworn and yelled and cried. I've thought, deservedly, "This isn't supposed to be my life!"

The odd thing is, having less has been so good for me. I've learned I can do jobs I didn't think I could stand, and lived without things I ridiculously thought necessary (vacations? Sadly, not necessary to life). I guess I could be just getting used to it or learning how to make the best of a "bad" situation. Or, maybe my entitlement is starting to crumble. I don't really know. But, I do know I feel softer and in having less, I'm more attuned to how good I actually have it.


This recipe, a staple in our house, has become a symbol to me of how rich you can be even when you're broke. Humble, everyday ingredients transformed into something that's both beautiful (contrasting, bold colors) and full of intense flavors. It reminds me that there are so many gifts around me, most of them costing little or nothing to experience, and that I really don't want to miss them by wasting time, wishing we had more money. I know it's just beans, but it's a reminder.

I found this recipe in Gourmet a few years ago, when we were all in better financial shape (the magazine and my family). I loved it then, but have since changed some of the ingredients because of cost (good sherry and avocado are typically out). But, even if you do use the pricier items on the list, this is still an extremely inexpensive way to feed a crowd, and satisfies in a way you don't expect from beans and rice. It's a great recipe.


Kemp's Black Beans (Gourmet, April 2007)
  • 1 lb dried black beans (about 2 1/3 cups), picked over and rinsed (but not soaked)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • **1/4 cup Sherry (cream or medium-dry)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Bring black beans, onion, oil, 8 cups of water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a 6- to 8-quart heavy pot, reduce heat and simmer, covered, until beans are tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Thin with water if you need to. Stir in Sherry and remaining teaspoon salt, then soy sauce and vinegar to taste (start with 1 tablespoon each), and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes.

Cook rice according to the package directions and serve with beans.

**I don't typically use the sherry in my beans, but I have and it's very good. I usually substitute a bit more balsamic and/or red wine vinegar. The recipe is pretty forgiving, so you can experiment. Just do it in increments and taste as you go.

Serve with rice and any or all of the following:
  • Sweet potatoes, peeled, cubed (1"), and roasted (with a little olive oil and salt, roast at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes)
  • Grated cheese (or any kind you like)
  • Pepitas (toasted pumpkin seeds)
  • Chopped red or white onion (or shallot)
  • Chopped cilantro
  • Avocado, cubed
  • Sour cream
  • Lime wedges, for squeezing on top
  • Good hot sauce (zing!)