Homegrown Right in Our Own Backyard – Spicy Black Bean Cakes

It’s no secret that I am totally intrigued by Michael Pollan and his musings on food. Many of his complex thoughts are boiled down in the 12 Commandments for Serious Eaters.  One of the things he mentions in commandment 10 is that everyone should grow at least some of their own food at some point.

When I was a kid, my parents put in a sizable garden EVERY year.  Tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, corn, carrots, peas, cukes and probably a lot more stuff that I just don’t remember.  I do remember exactly what my mom did throughout the summer and especially as days started getting shorter and summer drew to a close.  She “put up” all the veggies.  She froze the corn, beans & peas.  She made her own tomato sauce, tomato paste, & ketchup.  She let cucumbers sit in crocks and made the most tasty pickles.  As a kid this all just slipped by me as a part of summer.  Now as a grown up (on most good days, anyway), and with the current state of food and eating in our country and culture, I find this all absolutely amazing.  I wish I had paid more attention to the spices that went into the crock for pickles, how the jars were sterilized, what she added to the tomatoes to make that ketchup (the ketchup that I whined incessantly about asking why we couldn’t just eat Heinz like everyone else!).

This past spring the family got bit by the gardening bug. Big Little One and Medium Little One attended a gardening workshop for kids where they learned about planting a “Three Sisters Garden” – corn, beans & squash.  They came home with little seed packets (one kernel of corn, one squash seed, and one bean seed).  I decided we should take a leap of faith and go for it.

Determined to not pay $100 at Home Depot for a box garden (can you say highway robbery?), I got creative.  I ended up “borrowing” a little wooden crate deal from behind the local supermarket.  I’m pretty sure they were done using it, so I may just borrow it indefinitely.  It was the perfect size and so into the fresh new soil went the corn, beans and squash accompanied by some tomatoes, carrots, radishes, pumpkins, basil, and lettuce.


Just like that, our already cramped, postage stamp-sized SoCal backyard had a garden! The troops were amazed.  I think the Hubs was too.  There weren’t many gardens being tended in Paris when he was a kid growing up.

Even more amazing?  The stuff actually grew!  (with the exception of the lettuce whose refusal to flourish we chose to attribute to “bad seeds”)


Now I’m sure you hearty midwestern stock are just shaking your heads and chuckling about now.  But for my little born and bred SoCal girls, this has been the highpoint of their summer!  Especially the Medium Little One who has been out in the yard in her PJs every morning without fail, watering “her” (yes, we have territory issues) garden.  She just about squealed when we ate “her” corn, tomatoes, squash and green beans all in the same meal!

So thank you, Michael Pollan, for reminding me to grow some of our own food and for stirring up memories of the gardens of my childhood.

We have now cleared two more flower beds and added to our veggie patches.  Don’t worry, I’m on the straight and narrow with the borrowing thing and paid for 2 more box gardens fair and square from Tuesday Morning.  In the current anticipated crop lineup: green bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, eggplant, 2 more tomato plants, & zucchini.

We enjoyed our very own own tomatoes the other night as an accompaniment to these great Spicy Black Bean Cakes.

I kicked things off by grating a sweet potato in the food processor.

bean burger sw pot

In a skillet, I heated some oil and then sauteed a few scallions.  I added in some cumin, some garlic and a finely diced jalapeno.  I moved that little mixture to a bowl and then rinsed and drained 2 cans of black beans.  I added the beans to the scallion mixture  and then mashed them coarsely with a potato masher – leaving some of the beans in tact for a nice texture.  I seasoned with some salt and pepper at this point.

bean burger mash

Next, I added in the grated sweet potato, an egg, and some fresh bread crumbs.

bean burger mixture

I formed about 8 equal sized balls from my mixture and then flattened them into patties.  I placed the patties on a baking sheet brushed with oil.

bean burger raw

I broiled the patties  in the oven for about 10 minutes.  Then I gave them a flip and broiled another couple of minutes on the other side.

I mixed up some lime jalapeno sour cream to go with the bean cakes. Just a  little bit of lime juice and some diced jalapeno mixed with the sour cream gave things the perfect amount of kick.

bean burger sour cream

I roasted our home grown tomatoes with some olive oil and balsamic and served the tomatoes and bean cakes with a little green salad. Quick.  Easy.  Healthy.  Done.

bean burger final

Here’s the complete recipe for Spicy Black Bean Cakes , adapted from Martha’s Great Food Fast cookbook.

Vacation Bible School is NO Vacation – Black Bean Tortilla Pie

I am literally limping to the finish line, folks.  Current score: Vacation Bible School, 3 – Me, 0! I basically did it for the Little Little One.  You see, in the land of VBS, if you want your pre-schooler to attend, then you are required to volunteer.  And what self respecting 4 year old is going to let her sisters traipse off to a week of fun without putting up a protest and wanting to attend also.  So I caved and filled out the volunteer form.

With just a click of the mouse, off it went and I was committed.  The first reply I got had me assigned to the kitchen.  “Cool,” I thought,  “I’ll be bagging pretzels and washing grapes.  Not a bad gig.”  Well, that apple cart was soon upset when I got another e-mail telling me that they would be putting me in the craft tent after all.  The craft tent!

After just three days in the craft tent, let me tell you – – – it’s grueling work!  Day 1 = Modge Podge.  Day 2= beaded crosses  Day 3= beaded crosses.  And guess what I have to look forward to tomorrow . . . more beaded crosses.  See days 2 – 5 work on a rotational schedule.  The kids move to a different station each day, but it’s like I’m stuck in the beaded cross version of Groundhog Day. I know it sounds silly, but directing the beading of 45 crosses a morning with no chance to sit down from 8:30 – 12:30 is kicking my butt.  On day 2 I was suggesting different patterns for the beading of the crosses and marveling at each child’s unique talent and abilities expressed through their positioning of the beads.  Tomorrow, I think if any child even starts to diddle around with an idiotic pattern which takes 28 times longer than just slappin’ those beads on that cross, that I just take may have to personally remove the kid from the craft tent.

As I figure it, I either have a special place in heaven for having led the beading of so many crosses, or . . .  this little blog post (really a result of extreme fatigue and  nothing more), has just swiped that special place right out of my reach.  So as my VBS enthusiasm has declined  as the week has progressed, so too has the family fare at the dinner table.  We kicked off Monday with a great little Almond, Lemon & Basil Crusted Salmon.  Yesterday we had a favorite go-to of Black Bean Tortilla Pie.  Tonight, I chucked some Trader Joe’s frozen mini tacos in the oven and then tossed paper plates around the table frisbee style.  If you were lucky enough to catch a plate then you could serve yourself a taco.  So I figure before we sink any further, I had better get my post for the week up.  Who knows, if I wait any longer, you might get the “recipe” for how to microwave a hotdog!

So this Black Bean Tortilla Pie is a great, easy meal.  The added bonus is that you probably have everything you need to make it  in your pantry and fridge right now.

I started things off by sautéeing up a little onion and jalapeno pepper along with some garlic and cumin.


I rinsed and drained a couple cans of black beans, and then added those, along with a 12 oz. bottle of beer,  to the skillet with the onion mixture.


I brought that mixture to a boil and then reduced the heat and let simmer until almost all of the liquid had evaporated.  I stirred in a package of frozen corn and some scallions.  Then I removed the  skillet from the heat and seasoned  with some salt and pepper.

In a spring form pan, I fit 1 – 2 whole wheat tortillas into the bottom.  You may have to trim the 2nd tortilla down so that you have one even layer of tortilla covering the pan bottom.  On top of that, I spooned a quarter of the bean mixture and then some cheddar cheese.   I repeated  this same layering another three times, and finished things off with a double dose of cheddar.


I baked the pie in a 400 degree oven for about 25 minutes.  I unmolded the pie from the springform pan and sprinklde with more scallions for garnish. I like to serve with fresh salsa, sour cream, tortilla chips and rice.


Here is the complete recipe for Black Bean Tortilla Pie.