Black Beans

Name: Kate McElwee
Class Year: 2007
Country of Residence: Italy

Why is this recipe great? What’s its backstory? 

Living in Rome, this is a recipe of necessity. I know, I know, I live in Italy, land of the most cherished pasta and pizza and (okay, everything!) dishes, but sometimes, a girl needs a taco. While you can purchase black beans in a can from speciality import stores, making them at home is not only more economical, it is far more delicious and downright magical. When you transform a hard, little bead of a bean into a juicy, earthy, ticket to another world, you feel incredible.

Black Beans

Serves: 4 (depends on how you use them!)

Cook time 2 hours 20 minutes

Prep time. 12 hours


  • 1.5 cups of dried black beans
  • 1 Tb of neutral oil
  • 1 medium onion (red or white), diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped or crushed  
  • ½ – 1 Tb of salt (to taste)
  • 1 Tsp of cumin
  • 1 bunch of cilantro (sadly, this is sometimes hard to find in Italy – so I usually skip it), chopped
  • Splash of Apple Cider Vinegar (or to taste)
  • Chilies or chilli powder (as you like)


Optional toppings: (Endless possibilities)

  • Sour cream or yogurt
  • Slices of jalapeno
  • Cilantro
  • Diced red onion
  • Avocado


The night before, soak your beans in water. In the morning drain the beans and refresh the water. When you’re ready to cook, drain and wash the beans.

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Usually I would recommend olive oil for everything, but I found that a neutral oil (like corn or vegetable oil) made for better bean juice (more on that later). Once hot, add the diced onion and half of the garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes. 

Add the drained beans, about half of the salt, pour in enough water to cover – about an inch or more. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover pot partially, leaving just about a quarter inch of space open. 

Simmer beans for 60 minutes. Your apartment will start to get a bit steamy, but important things are happening. I like to check on my beans and make sure they have enough water, give them a stir. I also try to find an opportunity throughout the two-hour process to tell others I have a pot of beans on the stove that I need to check on – it helps to reinforce that you’re wholesome, dedicated, and have good things coming your way.

After an hour, add the chopped cilantro (if you have it), the rest of the garlic and salt, and other spices to taste. Simmer for another hour or so. Again, check on them to make sure they’re surrounded by liquid and happy! Turn off the hob and let the beans cool a bit.

Once they’ve cooled, you should be able to really taste the flavors, get a sense of their texture, and adjust to your liking, usually by adding a splash of apple cider vinegar and additional salt and spices to taste. There is no shame in adding more water if you over salted and cooking them a bit more – beans will forgive you!

The beans should have a nice texture (not mushy), and be surrounded by a divine elixir of thick bean juice. This is my absolute favorite part. 

At this point you could make a black bean soup by blending up half of it and topping with various garnishes, but I’ve never done that. I recommend enjoying the beans alongside rice, in a burrito or taco, on a salad, on a spoon… you get the idea. Beans can take you anywhere.

Beans will stay in the fridge and develop their flavors over time, or you can freeze them for an escape another day. 

Kate's tacos from above Kate's tacos with wine


This recipe is essentially based on this

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *