August 24, 2010

Black Bean Cakes

How often are your expectations not just met, but actually exceeded-especially when it comes to food? Maybe we're a little too dependent on technology (as the New York Times has recently been telling us, frequently), but there's no denying the advantages of our friends Yelp and iPhone, which let us check out the menu and read reviews of just about any place we might go before we eat there. So we usually have a pretty good idea of what to expect - either we're going to have a great meal or we're on the road and have to suck it up and eat whatever is there.

However, there are those rare occasions when we have been pleasantly surprised, which is exactly what happened to us at our honeymoon in Costa Rica. We stayed at the wonderful Lapa Rios Ecolodge, which we chose because we wanted to see the animals and plants in the rainforest, and because they had an excellent sustainability rating. But the food? This is unusual for us, since many of our trips are actually planned around meals, but we hadn't given it too much thought. So we were delighted to discover incredible breakfasts of pastries filled with fresh guava jelly, tasty arroz con pollo for lunch, and among many tasty dinners, some fantastic black bean cakes - perfectly seasoned, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside.

When we came back we were determined to recreate them, and after perusing various recipes and trying out a few things, this is what we came up with. We like to eat ours with guacamole and sour cream on top and a side of Mexican rice, but these could be enjoyed all sorts of ways - topped with sauteed summer vegetables, any number of salsas, or with a slice of pepper jack cheese on a bun - once I chopped up one leftover cake and put it into a pita with some tomato, cucumber, and hummus, falafel-style. And guess what - if you leave out the sour cream, this meal is actually completely vegan.

Black Bean Cakes (serves 3)
- 1 ear of corn, removed from cob (you can leave this out if corn isn't in season, or just use frozen corn)
- 1 can black beans, drained
- 1/2 of a small onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 egg white
- Juice of 1/2 of a small lime
- 1/2 cup cilantro loosely packed
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup flour plus 1 cup for breading
- Vegetable oil

First, dry roast the corn by cooking it in a dry pan over medium high heat until it starts to turn golden on the outside (about 8-10 minutes). No oil is necessary.
Mix the cumin, chili powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Put half of the beans in a food processor with the onion, garlic, and cilantro, and blend until smooth. Add the egg white, cilantro, lime juice, and half the spice mixture and pulse.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add the corn and the reserved beans and mix. Add 1/2 cup of flour, 1/4 cup at a time (using more or less if necessary), and stir together until the texture is thicker but still sticky (the consistency of soft cookie dough).
On a paper plate or other working surface, mix together the remaining 1 cup of flour with the rest of the spice mixture. Put some vegetable oil in a frying pan (enough to thinly coat the bottom of the pan) over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, scoop out about 1/4 cup of the bean mixture at a time and dredge with flour. Pat it into a flat disk and place gently in the frying pan. Add the rest of bean cakes (you may have to do two batches; we usually get 6 cakes) and cook for 3 - 5 minutes per side, until the cakes are nicely crisped and brown. Lay them on paper towels to drain.
Mexican Rice
- 1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
- 2 tbsp finely chopped onion
- 2 tbsp finely chopped red bell pepper
- 2 tbsp finely chopped celery
- 1 clove finely chopped garlic
- 2/3 cup long grain white rice
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp chopped tomato (fresh or canned)
- 1 and 1/3 cups vegetable stock
- Salt and black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion, pepper, celery, and garlic, and cook until soft. Add in the rice, spices, salt, and pepper, and stir until the rice is coated. Pour in the vegetable stock and the tomato, stir, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it is boiling, reduce heat to low and cover. The rice is done when the water is absorbed and rice is tender (about 25 minutes).

This is an ideal version of the recipe, but we often make it with whatever aromatic vegetables we happen to have around - so don't sweat it if you don't have celery or red pepper on hand, and feel free to throw in a carrot or a green bell pepper if that's what you have.

(we firmly believe that packaged guacamole, and bad guacamole in general, is a crime against humanity, considering how easy it is to make great guacamole)
- 2 medium avocados
- 1 small tomato, chopped
- 1 small jalapeno, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp shallot, finely chopped
- Juice of 1 small lime
- Salt to taste
Halve the avocado and remove the pit. Scoop the flesh out and put it into a bowl. Gently mash the avocado with a fork, leaving some large chunks. Add the tomato, jalapeno, shallot, lime juice, and salt, and stir until incorporated, making sure not to over stir, which would make the guac too thin and slimy. Guac should be thick enough to make a thin tortilla chip snap when attempting to scoop it up.


  1. no cilantro in your guacamole? bold move foxes, bold move.

  2. I've done it both ways, and I prefer it without cilantro. The guac you had at our bbq a few weeks ago was cilantro-free.