‘Count Your Pennies’ Slow-cooker Black Bean Ragout with Cumin Crema and Garlicky Toasts

Image by Sara. Creative Commons.
Image by Sara. Creative Commons.

I spent a good portion of my life barely getting by financially. My family never had its electricity turned off for truant bills, and we always had food on the table. But we weren’t a family with a wallet full of credit cards. It wasn’t until I was thirteen that my father sighed in defeat as he signed away thirty years of his life for his first house mortgage. Dad is a man who doesn’t like to be in debt to anyone, but buying a house in cash was not possible on a shipbuilder’s salary.

I felt the same way when I signed my student loan promissory notes and more recently when Cameron and I signed for our mortgage. I’ve read my Dickens. Whenever I make a credit card purchase, visions of 19th-century Victorian debtors prison dance through my head.

Coldbath Fields Prison, England, 1864. Google scan of 1864 book by Henry Mayhew & John Binny. Creative Commons image.
Coldbath Fields Prison, England, 1864. Google scan of 1864 book by Henry Mayhew & John Binny.
Creative Commons image.

I may not have inherited my father’s endearing Southern Man Mumble, but I know my way around the Thrifty Nickel weekly. My second year of college I lived off $25 a week for groceries. Forget about buying anything frivolous like a new pair of shoes or extra long johns for those cold New York winters. If it wasn’t covered by my college scholarship and minimal student loan, I wasn’t wasting my work study money on it.

As a result, every purchase I make goes through an intensive vetting process to determine the quality to price ratio. No penny must be wasted!

Often, even when I’ve concluded my research on a practical purchase and selected the best option, I’ll manage to postpone buying it, convincing myself that if I lost my job the following week I’d regret blowing my hard-earned savings on something nonessential.

Thank goodness for family Christmas gifts or I might never update my cooking tools. For the past year I’ve been going on and on about how a slow-cooker would make living through Colorado winters more tolerable. I’ve researched the best quality for the price and planned on making the purchase but successfully talked myself down from buying one every month. Last weekend Cameron’s parents gave us a snazzy new slow cooker that’s already been put to use for irish oats and today’s recipe. (Thanks, Jim and Jeanne!)

Below you’ll find a recipe from Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. After soliciting cookbook recommendations from friends and vetting cookbooks via the Denver Public Library, I took advantage of a free trial with Amazon Prime to pick up a personal copy of the Smitten Kitchen cookbook through their free shipping promotion. (Thanks for the recommendation, Zina!)

Smitten Kitchen’s slow-cooker black bean ragout is easy to assemble. Essentially, she’s taken the inexpensive and humble dried black bean and transformed it into a delicious and gourmet-sounding dish. Ragout is code for stew. Cumin crema = sour cream with ground cumin, and garlicky toasts come from a loaf of crusty bread toasted, rubbed with a garlic clove and olive oil, and sprinkled with salt. Top it with chopped red onion soaked in lime juice, and you have an inexpensive meal that’s not only packed with flavor and nutrition but that will last you all week. My thrifty father would be proud.

Smitten Kitchen Black Bean Ragout
Updated image by author.

Slow-cooker Black Bean Ragout with Cumin Crema and Garlicky Toasts
(a Smitten Kitchen Cookbook recipe)

For the beans
– 1 Large onion, diced
– 3 Cloves garlic, minced
– 1 TBS cumin
– 1/2 tsp dried oregano
– 2 tsp smoked paprika
– 1 lb. (2 1/2 cups) dried black beans, rinsed if not previously soaked
– 1 dried chile
– 2 TBS tomato paste
– 2 tsp salt
– 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
– 8 cups water, vegetable stock, or chicken stock (I used vegetable broth.)
– 1 TBS lime juice or sherry vinegar

For the garlicky toast
– crusty bread cut into 1-inch slices
– olive oil
– salt
– 1 garlic clove, cut in half

Cumin crema
– 1 tsp ground cumin
– 1 cup sour cream, creme fraiche or crema Mexicana
– garnishes such as red onion, green onion, cilantro and/or lime wedge

Red Onion Salsa
– 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
– 2 TBS lime juice
-1/4 tsp salt

For the beans
1. Combine all of the ingredients for the beans, except for the lime or sherry, in a slow cooker, stirring to combine. Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours (low for 6-8 hours), until beans are tender. (I wound up cooking my beans for 7 hours on high.)

2. Once the beans are cooked, stir in the lime or sherry. Adjust seasonings if needed.

For the toast
1. Preheat broiler.

2. Brush the toast slices with olive and sprinkle with salt. Place on a baking sheet and place in oven until butter is melted and the toast is golden. Remove from oven and immediately rub with the garlic clove.

Smitten Kitchen Black Bean Ragout
Image by author.

For the crema
Combine cumin and sour cream in a small bowl, and stir to combine.

For the red onion salsa
Combine ingredients, and let marinate at least 15 minutes before eating.

When ready to serve
Spoon beans onto the toasted bread, top with the crema, cilantro, onions, and lime juice.

13 Comments Add yours

  1. I have really enjoyed reading this post of yours and admire your spirit and intelligence, and yes, I am sure your father would be proud of you! The recipe in question sounds delicious and my one and only “critique” … is that it is basically a “take” on Italian food, the kind of food most Italians grew up on before the second world war — lots and lots of lentils, chickpeas (garbanzo) and beans, together with bread and/or pasta/rice, olive oil/lard and tomato and other vegetables. Very little meat (who could afford it!) other than pork. So … if you google up typical Italian foods and cuisine I am sure you will come across pages and pages of delicious food that is well suited to a good-husbandry budget!

  2. gwynnem says:

    Thanks so much for the thoughtful responses, myhomefoodthatsamore. I don’t know much about the pre-WWII Italian cooking, so that’s helpful. 🙂 I bet that’s why Ms. Perelman included the “ragout” part in the recipe title, as a hat tip of sorts. Keep the tasty recipes coming from your blog. It inspires me to try new food.

  3. Cathy says:

    You are an inspiration – I have been looking at that book for ages wondering if I should buy it or not, and now it’s already winging its way to me via amazon! This dish sounds so tasty, and looks so pretty on your nice plate. You are probably a lot better at being thrifty than I am, but I hate wasting food so I always write up a list of dishes to make for the week after I’ve been shopping – then I don’t forget any precious veggies at the bottom of the fridge!

    1. gwynnem says:

      Thank you, Cathy. You are going to love that cookbook. Her photography makes me want to make every recipe immediately. 🙂 That’s a good idea to create a dish list for all the leftover veggies in the fridge. I’ll usually have an errant carrot or half a bell pepper left over, and I hate for them to go to waste.

  4. lolarugula says:

    Isn’t it amazing how you can take such an inexpensive, humble food and make it so incredibly wonderful? I love this post – the story, the photos, the recipe…thank you for sharing!

    1. gwynnem says:

      You’re most welcome, lolarugula. Flavorful food doesn’t need to be expensive as long as we learn the secrets of herbs, spices, and condiments. 🙂

  5. afracooking says:

    From me a big thank you to you (your family, the local library and Amazon) as I would have otherwise never known about this fabulous recipe. Great inspiration!

    1. gwynnem says:

      I hope you get a chance to make this recipe soon. I’ve been getting lots of positive feedback from friends who made it over the weekend.

  6. alexraphael says:

    Really lovely and inspiring posts

    1. gwynnem says:

      Thank you, Alex. It’s nice to know my writing is not for me alone.

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