This Pick-Your-Bean Dish Goes with Most Anything

By Paul Thomas Zenki

It’ll become your go-to, trust me…


My older brother showed me this recipe sometime back in the ’90s and since then I must have cooked it hundreds of times.

Thing is, it’s easy enough to fix as a home staple — I like to make a sizeable batch on the weekend and use it as side through the week — but it also goes over big at cookouts and dinner parties. Best of all, you can make it with just about any bean you have on hand, even mixed beans if you like.

Here’s what you’ll need. Scale up these basic amounts to suit your table; I like to double it. Now I use canned beans because I’m lazy, but if you soak your own, that’s great. Just don’t use storebought tomatoes, which are waxy and tasteless. Canned is the way to go unless you have home grown. To make it vegan just swap the animal fat for more olive oil.

  • 1 (one) 16-oz can of beans (e.g., black, pinto, kidney, navy, great northern, etc.)
  • 1 (one) 14.5-oz can of petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1 small onion or half a large (I use Vidalias)
  • 1 Tbs. diced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. bacon fat or butter
  • 1 Tbs. brown sugar
  • 1 splash red wine
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • Salt to taste

I like a cast iron skillet for this dish because it heats evenly and you can use metal utensils. Add your oil and fat and heat to just above medium while you dice your bell pepper. Then add the pepper and let it start softening while you dice the onion. Add the onion and let the veggies simmer. You want your skillet just hot enough to steam the water off (if you let the water build up you’ll end up boiling instead of sauteing ) and lightly brown the peppers and onions. Of course, they won’t brown if you’re going vegan.

While that’s doing, open up your cans and rinse and drain the beans in a colander, setting aside a couple tablespoons of the liquid for later if you like (or you can use water). When the veggies are soft and slightly browned, lower the heat to medium, add the chipotles in adobo and stir in well, coating everything evenly in the sauce.

Now add the tomatoes with the juice and a good pinch of salt  — that’s a pinch with all 5 fingers, folks — and mix well. Let it heat to a simmer. Then add your beans with a couple tablespoons of water (or liquid from the can) and another pinch of salt, mix and bring that to a simmer. Add the sugar and wine and stir til the sugar’s dissolved. Lower the heat to maintain a low simmer. Mince or press your garlic and set aside to oxidize.

Cook until the mixture thickens, stirring every now and then. Reduce the heat to low, stir in the garlic, and give it about five more minutes. If you add the garlic earlier, you’ll lose the flavor.

And that’s it. It’s great on its own, served over rice with a little cheese, or even as a dip.

Feel free to adjust proportions to your liking. Make it your own. Have fun, and enjoy.


Header image by RitaE

Paul Thomas Zenki is an essayist, ghostwriter, copywriter, marketer, songwriter, and consultant living in Athens, GA.