My first memory of black beans showing up on my plate at breakfast was in Boise, Idaho in the summer of 2008. We were in Boise for a wedding, we traveled all the way for Minnesota to be there. It was very nice to get to meet up with the newlyweds for breakfast the morning after their wedding. I am not certain of the name of the restaurant that we went to, but it was downtown on the cool pedestrian-only street, it had a Southwestern vibe, and we sat outside on tall patio tables. If you might know the place I’m talking about, feel free to let me know. I don’t remember much about the meal, other than loving the black beans, and learning from the bride that a very good Eggs Benedict has a tinge of lemon in the hollandaise. For a vegetarian, breakfast is an easy meal out. There are tons of vegetarian options that are made easily by a typical meat and potatoes greasy spoon. The downside of breakfast is, because it is so easy to throw a veggie and cheese omelet on a menu and call it good, the average breakfast joint can run a little short on excitement for a vegetarian. Black beans for breakfast in Boise were a revelation to me. Over in England, I’ve eaten a traditional English Breakfast in which kidney beans are a crucial element, but probably because I live in the Midwest, black beans, or beans of any kind are not a frequent accompaniment to my toast and eggs. I thoroughly enjoyed them that morning in Boise.*
Back in Minnesota a few weeks later we went to the Mill City Café for breakfast. We don’t venture all over town to go out to eat as often as we did when we were newly dating with students’ schedules, and without the possession of a respectable kitchen. Even though Mill City Cafe is clear across the river and a ways North, we return to the Mill City Cafe now and then for sentimental reasons.** I was delighted to see black beans listed on the menu as a side dish. I ordered them and happily gobbled them up with the American Breakfast, giving the choice of bacon or sausage included with my entrée to Bjorn. After these two tasty introductions to beans for breakfast, I have been including black beans in our breakfasts at home whenever I have a hankering for them. They are a great vegetarian protein, and work especially well when you are heading toward the brunch hours, or when you have a taste for a savory breakfast, which I so often do.
Black Bean Hash is simple, especially when you start with leftover potatoes, which is the only way potatoes make it to the breakfast table in my house. I start by frying some diced onions in a little olive oil, depending on my mood, I toss in a little minced garlic, then I add potatoes which are chopped into cubes if they weren’t already cubed in their previous incarnation. I use canned beans. I think about switching to dry beans because there are so many good reasons to use them, but so far I haven’t made the move. My holdup is, takes too long to soak them, and doesn’t work well for me because I like to make last-minute decisions about a meal. I drain and rinse the beans, add some corn that is either thawed frozen corn, or fresh corn cut off the cob***. I usually add some chili pepper flakes, and dump in some salsa to pull it all together. In another pan I started some water to simmer to poach eggs. I was in the mood for a poached egg for this meal, but the egg would be just as good or better fried, or baked directly in the hash in the oven.
One my favorite things about Southwestern and Mexican cooking is all of the delicious accompaniments that these cuisines invite. Today, I sliced some avocado, and doused it with a lime juice to keep it fresh and bright, and sprinkled it with sea salt, cracked pepper and some chopped fresh dill from the garden. I also fried some tortillas to add the lovely, salty crunchy carbohydrate to the meal. To prepare the tortillas, I sliced them into strips and fried them in a little oil, and then dusted them with some spicy seasonings and a little salt and a squeeze of lime juice to help the seasonings adhere. Finally, and most importantly for my Tex-Mex accompaniments: cheese and hot sauce. I keep several different brands of sauce on hand, and today, I also had some mild and slightly salty Cotija cheese to crumble over the hash. This meal is quick to make as long as you use leftover potatoes, and it is hearty enough to satisfy for hours. It is a great weekend breakfast or brunch, but would work equally well for dinner at night.
*Boise is pronounced Boyseee by the locals, FYI.
**We’ve seen a few of our favorite local bands play at the Mill City Café over the years, and we had a very nice Valentine’s Day prix fixe multi-course dinner there on our second Valentines Day together.
***The addition of corn to the beans is a combination that provides an essential Amino Acid. This is important for me as a vegetarian or any person whose diet is light on meat who needs to try a little bit harder to make sure their diet includes the essential combinations of nutrients. Bodies cannot produce essential amino acids on their own, and need them to synthesize proteins.