The Comfort of Beans

Dad’s Black Beans
Dad’s Black Beans

I’ve had many abrupt shiftings and turnings in my life, but the events of the past month have been by far the strangest and most sudden, as for millions the world over. 

Just like that it’s a new world. 

A global pandemic.

No work.

Economic breakdown.

Closed borders.

Nationalism and xenophobia.

An online global community.

Sequestered in our homes.

Suddenly, there’s time to do things like save Callan’s bath water to water the garden. It’s something I want to do, but there’s little time for extras with Callan, freelance, house work, being a good partner, cooking meals, cleaning up from meals, and all the other big and small things that make up a busy day. 

This new world is stress, anxiety, fear, and tension juxtaposed against home-cooked meals, household projects, domestic tranquility, and family time. 

In Michigan, my parents are making maple syrup. A comfort in family traditions that haven’t changed in forty years. 

Momma collecting maple sap
Momma collecting maple sap
Dad tapping trees for syrup
Dad tapping trees for syrup
Boiling maple sap into syrup
Boiling maple sap into syrup

In this moment in Mexico, I’m listening to the welders down the alley welding the metal security bars we ordered for our windows. 

New Safety Bars
New Safety Bars

No tourists means no work for almost everyone on Isla. 

My friend Cristi, who is Isleno, makes me feel stronger. “We’ve weathered hurricanes. We can survive this,” she tells me. 

I place maple syrup making, Isleno strength, and the survival tactics my father taught me in my “basket of hopeful things” that I hold up to the light like agates when I’m feeling afraid. 

Like so many others, I find solace in the kitchen. 

Sautéing onions and garlic in olive oil puts order back in the world. 

I’ve written many times about black beans. They’re sustenance, history, and connectedness for so many people.

Full circles for me. 

My daddy discovered his love for the little black-pearl legumes when we first visited Isla when I was a teenager. The soup we ate at La Lomita forever changed the trajectory of his cooking, his garden, and via those things, mine as well. 

He went back to Michigan and planted black beans that summer. 

During long winter days, he shucked the dried and crackling skins into bushel baskets that rustled like corn husks when you moved them. 

He began cooking the beans in the morning. The house filled with aromatic steam from the epazote and oregano he crushed between his calloused palms and stirred into the bubbling pot. 

Dad’s Homegrown Black Beans
Dad’s Homegrown Black Beans

Around five o’ clock he began making the tortillas. Pressing the dough and watching it puff and crisp to a perfect toasted finish in the well-used cast iron pan.

I conjure those meals as I survey our stock-pile of dried and canned beans. 

Beans that need to last for days, more like weeks. 

A winter’s worth of beans
A winter’s worth of beans

For centuries, beans have meant survival for people’s all over the globe.

Today is no different.

What follows are Recipe Concepts and Ideas for making your quarantine-bean stash a little more interesting when it comes time for dinner.

Black Bean Enchiladas (other beans would work for this too!)

Ingredient Ideas:

  • Canned or dried black beans (could use red beans or pinto beans)
  • Tomato Sauce:
    • There are so many ways to make a tomato sauce for this. Basically, if you add garlic and chili powder, it will make a good tomato sauce. I’ve mixed together leftover marinara and cooked it down with fresh tomatoes, then blended it and ta da! Enchilada sauce!
  • Shredded cheese—put inside the enchiladas and on top.
  • Diced onions
  • Diced peppers
  • Avocado—for the top
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Lettuce—I like to eat my enchiladas on a bed of lettuce so it’s kind of a weird salad, but that’s just me.
  • Sautéed white cabbage
  • You can add, beef, pork, chicken, or even seafood to these and they’ll be delicious.
  • Rice (a great way to use up leftover rice)
  • Tortillas—large flour are easiest to work with, but whatever you have can be made to work! It all ends up a gooey, delicious mess anyway J

Heat Oven to 375 (or in my case somewhere around there since my oven is a bit silly)

Put the tortilla on a plate and add beans, cheese, and whatever other ingredients you have. 

Add a dollop of sauce. 

Roll the tortilla and put in a baking dish.

Fill baking dish with rolled tortillas.

Spoon on more sauce and lots of cheese.

Bake until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling. Tortillas will be crispy on the edges, but don’t let them burn.

Enjoy with sour cream or yogurt.

  • Easy to freeze for future meals!

Taco Salad

Ingredient Ideas: This is an easy to adapt recipe that absorbs a lot of leftovers. 

Start with a bed of greens. Lettuce is preferable, but spinach or other leafy greens would be good too. 

Other ingredients:

  • Beans: Refried, black beans, white beans, canned or from scratch
  • Chicken, beef, pork, seafood, tofu—most any protein! Toss on some chili powder when you’re cooking to add flavor.
  • Crumbled corn chips. Good way to use stale corn chips or tortillas. Toast in the oven and crumble over salad.
  • Raw or Sautéed Onions/Peppers/Cabbage (purple or white)
  • Avocado
  • Diced tomato
  • Grated or shredded cheese
  • Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) or other roasted seeds or nuts
  • Dressing of choice ( I really like homemade ranch). 

Nachos

Take any of the above ingredients and sprinkle them over corn chips and bake in the oven until cheese is melted. Kids especially enjoy making and eating nachos.

Dip/Spread

This is one of my favorite recipes to make with black beans. I always prefer to make beans from dried, but canned beans are good too.

You can use other beans for this recipe too.

  • Purée beans and some of the bean liquid/water with olive oil, a couple garlic cloves (roast the garlic for a different flavor), salt, pepper, and whatever spices/seasonings you have on hand. Chili powder works well. As do cumin, coriander, and oregano. 
    • A delicious addition I discovered when experimenting one day, is adding a spoonful of tahini, as you would with hummus. Makes any bean purée creamier. You can also stir in a spoonful of sour cream or Crema, which is delicious too. 
  • Add cheese, diced tomato, salsa, diced peppers (roasted are delicious), chopped sun-dried tomatoes, etc.
  • Bake in the oven until cheese is melted
  • Serve with tortilla, bread, pita, sliced veggies, or corn chips

White Beans (Garbanzo Beans can be substituted here)

I think white beans are such comfort food. They’re hard to get on Isla, but if you have them:

Mix and match with what you have:

  • Sausage
  • Garlic
  • Chicken
  • Bacon
  • Greens
  • Olive oil
  • Tomatoes (fresh, roasted or sun dried)
  • Over-easy or hard-boiled egg

Serve with buttered bread or toast.


As the house fills with earthy aromas of cooking beans, I feel the connectedness that cooking this time-honored food brings. A connectedness to the other homes in our global community, where beans are a necessary staple during hard times—during these times. 

It’s a way of cooking together, even when we’re apart. 

Abuela and her blue-eyed boy
Abuela and her blue-eyed boy
Abuelo and his blue-eyed boy
Abuelo and his blue-eyed boy
Quarantine breakfast in the garden
Quarantine breakfast in the garden

Author: Rachel Mills

Rachel Mills is a freelance writer/writing consultant/English Professor/Creative nonfiction writer from Michigan's Upper Peninsula living on the island of Isla Mujeres in Mexico.

6 thoughts on “The Comfort of Beans”

  1. Loved this. I made my version of Cajun red beans and rice yesterday. It is one of our favorites and instead of sausage I had found some ham chunks in the deli section. It was the ends of the hams and really really inexpensive. It made the house smell of home and my heart happy. Thanks for your beautiful writing Rachel.

  2. It’s wonderful reading your recipes and learning more about my beautiful, thoughtful daughter-in-law❤️
    As delicious the bean soup sounds, I’d love to sample the maple syrup!

  3. Love love this. Oh my you are so talented and I appreciate your work. You sure must have come from good stock.🧡🧡

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