Friday morning found me trekking to South Jamaica, Queens to meet Wajeedah Anderson-Beyah at McKinley Children’s Garden. The garden is named for Wajeedah’s late husband, an urban farmer and community activist who grew up in nearby public housing and attended P.S. 40 just across the street. McKinley envisioned a space where neighborhood kids could learn about gardening and connect to nature.
I am here to attest that McKinley Children’s Garden is also an oasis for overworked grownups. An hour of chatting about the garden’s educational programs, munching cherry tomatoes fresh from the vine, and learning about different techniques for container gardening did wonders for my frazzled mental state. I would have loved to have spent the day.
Alas, I was due back on the 15th floor of a Midtown high-rise. Before my departure, Wajeedah tasked me with picking black beans while she gathered sunflowers and lemon balm for me to take home. While I am a serious lover of all manners of beans, it turns out that I didn’t have a clue about how they are grown. These particular beans grow in long thin pods that fade from a lovely eggplant color to white as they dry. Once dry, the pods are easily plucked from the vine.
And, as I learned later that night, the small, inky beans are easy to pop out of their shell–even after several glasses of wine followed by a long and sleepy subway ride.
Friday at last.
Wajeedah’s Black Bean & Corn Salsa Verde
Turn the oven up as high as it will go and get to work on the beans.
- 1/4 cup dried black beans
- 1 tablespoon bacon grease (optional)
- 1 clove garlic
- 1″ piece of jalapeno or other hot pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 large pinch salt
Add ingredients above plus 3/4 cup water to a small pot, bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Let simmer for one hour or until beans are tender but still toothsome, adding small amounts of water as needed.
- 6 tomatillos, halved
- 1 large onion, trimmed and halved
- 5 mild peppers (bell, Poblano, etc.), seeded and halved
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and halved
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Drizzle one tablespoon olive oil into a roasting pan, arrange the vegetables cut side down in a single layer, drizzle with the remaining oil, and pop into your pre-heated oven. Cook undisturbed until you have some nice charred bits, by which time your tomatillos will likely have collapsed into a mush. Finely mince the jalapeno, roughly chop everything else, and add the vegetables plus any remaining juice to a mixing bowl.
- 2 cobs of corn, niblets sliced off and cobs reserved for stock
- 1/2 bunch cilantro, finely minced
- juice of 1 lime
- salt and pepper
Stir in the remaining ingredients, including a generous amount of pepper and salt to taste. Let sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour. (Overnight is fine.)
Serve this as you would any salsa–as a dip with tortilla chips, as a condiment with grilled fish or meat, etc. I ate some with scrambled eggs nestled inside corn tortillas.