Big Girls, Test Kitchen: Chocolate in Every Savory Bite

DISH: Rich, Dark Black Beans
MAIN INGREDIENTS: Beans, Balsamic Vinegar, Soy Sauce, and, yes, Chocolate
MENU: Yellow Rice; Avocado with Lime; Roasted Root Veggies; Crudite

I had come across this interesting Gourmet recipe for richer-tasting black beans via–interesting because it calls for a mix of sherry, balsamic vinegar, and soy sauce. Though it sounds strange, the introduction on epicurious warns not to dismiss the beans, and I could in truth see how the three dark liquid components might come together to make a well-rounded whole. I know from past cooking experiments how soy sauce can really bring out the flavors in non-Asian dishes, and I’ll sometimes add a splash of sherry to lentil or tomato soups, as per my mother’s recommendation.

But I was really going to follow this recipe, at least to a point, when I realized the sherry I owned, bought on last year’s trip to Spain, was sweet, not dry as the recipe called for. Now I’m sure I could have substituted rice wine, or even whiskey, but I was feeling resolute, and if I wasn’t going to follow the recipe exactly, apparently I wasn’t going to follow it at all. What I wound up doing, then, was opening up my cupboard and adding in anything I found that was dark, like the beans. Naturally, this included the 71% chocolate bar in my fridge.

As a general philosophy, I am not sure that cooking by color is terribly valid. But the traces of flavor I got by pouring in the contents of my cabinet was sort of extraordinary, and I’d recommend giving this recipe a try whether it sounds weird to you or not.

Cooking dried beans from scratch is a bit of a touch-and-go kind of thing. It often comes off as an intimidating kitchen activity, when really it’s a pretty flexible task. But if you are intimidated, these beans are truly a great first step. The reason is, they’re meant to fall apart (you actually even speed up their demise in a food processor), and one of the few risks in cooking your own beans from scratch is that they can wind up a bit too soft to use in something like a black bean salad where solidity really is key.

So when you’re sick of stuffing and turkey and rich desserts, try this simple, healthful, and colorful dinner. And if you’re not entirely sick of chocolate? Oh, just grate some of a bittersweet bar into your savory meal.

From my kitchen, sweet tooth and all, to yours,



Dark Black Beans with Yellow Rice, Green Avocado, and Orange Sweet Potatoes
Serves 2-4

For the beans:


1 1/2 cups dried black beans
1/2 small onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons oil
1/2 small onion
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 yellow pepper, diced
1 teaspoon adobo from chiles in adobo, plus 1/2 teaspoon or so of a chile, minced
1/2 teaspoon grated bittersweet chocolate
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
pinch of cayenne or to taste

Look over the beans, picking out any that are shriveled or broken. Put them into a big pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, simmer a minute or two, then turn off the heat and leave the beans covered for 1-2 hours. (You can also do a longer cold soak over night in the fridge–just combine the picked-over beans with water in a large bowl and leave to soak 6-8 hours.)

Drain off the water. Return the beans to the pan, with water to cover them by a few inches. Add the garlic, onion, and olive oil. Bring to a boil, then simmer partially covered for an hour or two, until the beans are quite soft but not falling apart. When they are nearly done, add the salt and mix to dissolve. When finished, drain the beans reserving 2 cups of the bean cooking water. Toss the garlic and the onion.

Then, in a large pan, heat the oil. Add the onions, cook until translucent, then add the carrots and celery. After 3 minutes, add the garlic and pepper and cook until everything is soft. Pour in 1 cup of water and bring to a boil, then add the beans and the adobo. Heat everything to boiling, letting the water reduce. Grate in the chocolate, and add the soy sauce. Cook for 15-20 minutes, adding bean cooking water as needed to keep everything just on the dry side of soupy. Add the balsamic vinegar and the cayenne, then taste for balance of flavors and salt. You can add a bit more soy sauce or salt and a splash more vinegar as needed.

Transfer about half of the beans to a food processor or blender (if you have an immersion blender, use that). Puree until smooth, then mix back in with the whole beans and reheat as necessary.

Serve with yellow rice, avocado, and roasted sweet potato (recipes follow).

For the Yellow Rice:

1 cup brown rice
2 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
one tiny pinch saffron, threads ground between your fingers
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a small pot with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil, stir a few times, then cover and simmer on very low heat for about 40 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. Turn off the heat and leave covered for 10 minutes, then fluff, taste for salt, and serve.

For the Avocado:

1 avocado
juice from half a lime

Not long before serving, cut the avocado out of its skin in chunks. Gently mash them, leaving some large pieces whole. Add lemon and salt to taste. Spoon on top of servings of black beans.

For the Roasted Sweet Potato and Carrot:

1 sweet potato, in half-inch dice
1 large carrot, in half-inch dice
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Combine the vegetables and a spray of olive oil (or about 1 teaspoon) in a baking pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, tossing once or twice, until the edges of each cube are browned and they are soft through. Arrange them between the rice and the beans when you make up your plate.

  • KathyCooks

    This is a hilarious idea. Now my mind is racing with the good and awful concoctions you'd come up with if you just put in ingredients of the same hue.

  • incrediblecrunchyflavor
  • Jessie

    I love the idea of including chocolate in savory dishes (my favorite chili powder from Penzey's has cocoa in it), but I had a bad experience adding soy sauce to non-Asian dishes as a kid, and just can't stomach it now. Any ideas or suggestions for a soy sauce sub?

  • Leora

    This whole meal sounds great to me! I think it might be next on my list, even though I'm not a chocolate lover, perhaps I will try??!

  • Phoebe and Cara, the Quarter-Life Cooks

    I would love to try that chili powder, Jessie. Yum! As for the soy sauce–I could see how that would happen…I think I'd just add salt. And maybe a tiny splash of something like worcestershire sauce, for punch?

  • Mishi

    This looks amazing! Also, if I don't miss my guess, this meal is totally vegan (so I could make it for my roommate). One question, though. What is adobo?

  • Phoebe and Cara, the Quarter-Life Cooks

    Mishi–yes, completely vegan. You, however, are welcome to top with jack cheese.

    Chiles in adobo are sold in a can and will be in the Mexican area of a grocery store. They have this wonderful smoky taste. You can add just the liquid (adobo) or you can also add a bite of the chiles for more heat.

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