Don’t be afraid to play with your food: The case for reading the blurb and a simple black bean recipe

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Emma Tiedemann/The Occidental

When you sit down to find a recipe, what are you searching for? You may have 10 minutes, an appreciation for authenticity, a peanut allergy or a distant memory of a long-lost family dish. Do you want to execute your vision for the recipe as it is or are you open to incorporating twists and new ideas?

As someone whose interests lie in the making, eating and writing of food, I’m frequently asked about the long, overly descriptive “blurb” that comes before the majority of online recipes. I’ve always loved the blurbs and I began to finally understand their importance when I realized how much of an obstacle they can be. Finding recipes often requires wading through the mountains of recipes with sentences like, “These brownies are the perfect combination of fudgy and cakey. They’re dense, but not too dense; fudgy, but not claggy; super chocolatey, but still sweet.” This blurb was written for a search engine to grab keywords and push the link to the top, but they’re not all like this.

For those looking to do more than follow instructions, reading the blurbs of an author who cooks with the same motivations as you do is essential — from ingredients to techniques, their blurb lets you see the “why,” not just the “what,” providing context and allowing you to understand what’s hidden beneath the simplicity of the recipe.

As I spend more and more time consuming food media, I realize how diluted it has become. When we are all so focused on getting to the recipe, imposing titles and quippy comments made over aesthetically interesting footage are the only real conversations with creators we have. We cling to their boiled-down stances because we see these people as authorities, defending their expertise instead of trusting ourselves. From home cooking to the contemporary social media food scene, we have been instructed on how we “should” cook. This column aims to reorient our thinking about food away from ideas of correct procedure and toward curious exploration. Don’t just read my blurbs, but everyone’s blurbs. They’re the best shot you have at understanding if a food author is right for you.

My black bean blurb

Food is an outlet for me — a moment of reset that allows me to focus just on what’s in front of me, and I’m happiest when others are enjoying my food. Most of my skill and experience in the kitchen comes from my mom, but this dish is from my dad’s side of the family. A textbook Tampa-Italian American family, our Christmas holiday celebrations end at my aunt’s house, eating vinegary Cuban “lechon” — roasted pork in a sour marinade — and black beans over rice. I’d always spoon extra marinade over my beans and rice, loosening them up and adding acidity.

When I moved out on my own, I needed meals that would stay good in my fridge for a few days. These black beans were my first thought, but I didn’t want to also make the “lechon” whenever I wanted beans and rice. I tweaked my aunt’s recipe toward acidity, adjusting the amount of vinegar and the types of seasoning I used. I’ve tried dozens of variations on this recipe and it’s pretty hard to mess up.

I use green bell peppers, but red peppers will sweeten the dish and work well with spicy additions like andouille sausage or a hot pepper instead of jalapeño. I grate my onion when I’m extra lazy, but I always chop it smaller than the peppers — I like hefty chunks of pepper about the same size as my beans.

Let the beans be a bit looser than intended while they’re still in the pot — especially if you want to eat them cold — the liquid will tighten up as it comes off the heat.

My recipe is a play on a flavor and a tradition that has moved through generations, and just as I don’t adhere to my aunt’s recipe, you have no obligation to adhere to mine. Use what you have and don’t be afraid to play with your food.

Ingredients

Black Beans (Serves 4-6)

1 medium green bell pepper – deribbed and diced

2 jalapeños – deseeded, deribbed and diced

3 large cloves garlic – minced or crushed

1 medium yellow onion – diced or grated

2 14oz cans black beans – drained

14oz water (use the can)

¼ cup white vinegar

Olive oil

Salt

Zest of 1 orange (optional)

Additional 1 tbsp white vinegar

1 tablespoon Trader Joe’s Cuban citrus garlic seasoning mix

Or

¼ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon Italian seasoning

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon cayenne

Instructions

Note: Living off-campus, I have access to my own full kitchen and this recipe was conceptualized there. This recipe can be completed easily in a warming kitchen. For alternative options, buy beans with a pull tab, pre-chopped bell pepper, onion and garlic. You will need a spoon and a saucepan.

Coat the bottom of a saucepan with olive oil. Once warm, sauté onions until just translucent.

Add in garlic and once fragrant, add in the peppers and jalapeños.

Once food is soft, mix in seasoning.

When fragrant and well mixed, add in the vinegar and then immediately add the beans.

Add in the water, stir well and let simmer until desired texture. Salt to taste once fully reduced to avoid oversalting. Serve over rice.