When Tommy and I took our trip to Nicaragua in January, there was a dish that was served to us on a regular basis (seriously, we saw this at breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day) called gallo pinto. Actually, that's just a fancy name for rice and beans. It literally means painted (or speckled) chicken. The joke in Central American countries is that, for breakfast, they have rice and beans; for lunch, they have beans and rice; and, for dinner, they have gallo pinto. Granted, gallo pinto may have some extra things in it like onions or peppers, hot sauce, or sour cream (yes, sour cream). Still, rice and beans—though joked about in the U.S. as what we may have to resort to eating in a crisis—are staples in Nicaragua (and much of the world, really). And, at least as they were served to me, they taste good.
Well, after we got home from our trip, I decided to try to replicate this dish. I looked on the Internet for recipes, but, even though the recipes were plentiful, I was not able to recreate the taste and texture I was going for. In the process, however, I discovered something else. I had been under the impression that the beans used in gallo pinto were black beans (frijoles negros)—though I think now that the correct beans would be pinto beans—so I went looking for a good way to cook them. I came across a recipe for cooking dried black beans in the crock pot. Every other recipe I saw involved a lot of soaking and re-soaking, but this one is so easy that I have been using it over and over again (and I have even simplified it for my own convenience).
I wish that I could remember the actual site where I found it so that I could give the proper credit. Anyway, it is sufficient that I didn't make it up. Okay, are you ready for the recipe (this is my simplified version)? Here goes: Combine 1 cup of dry beans with 4 cups of water in the crock pot. Cook on high for 3 1/2* hours. Drain and serve. That's it. (What? Were you expecting to have to pre-soak the beans? I can assure you that you don't have to do that.) If it makes you feel better to rinse and sort the beans first, you can do that, but I don't even bother doing it anymore because I can't tell that it makes any difference. It works out well to store the beans in 2 old mayonnaise or peanut butter jars. Once you get to the beans at the bottom of the jar, there may be some residual bean sludge that you can simply rinse away with water. I like to cook my beans into my omelet for breakfast in the morning. They are a little bland by themselves, but with a pinch of salt (or parmesan cheese; sounds weird but is quite good), they are a snack that is high in protein and fiber.
For the last couple of weeks, I have been eating black beans from a can (I was going to eat them at camp, but that never happened), and, I have to say, I can't wait for them to be gone so that I can cook some more of my dried beans. Not only are the dried beans cheaper, they taste so much better. Also, in case anyone was wondering, with the dried beans I have not experienced the, um, windbreaking problem that tends to come with beans. Though it is true that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world**, I would take a hill of beans any day. Any bean counter could tell you that beans are an affordable addition (or replacement) to any menu. I hope you try them. (If you can't tell, I am so excited that I just had to spill the beans.)
*Individual crock pots may vary. The original recipe called for 4 hours, but that made the beans a little too mushy for me. At 3 hours the beans were just a little underdone but still edible. At 3 1/2 hours they seemed just right.
**Twenty cool points to anyone under the age of 25 who can tell me what this line is from (without googling it).