For the past six years, I have been a regular volunteer at N Street Village, a women’s center in DC that helps low-income and homeless women. When I first started volunteering, I showed up once a week to help serve food to the women during my lunch hour. Over time, I volunteered to do other things such as build furniture or help recruit volunteers and walkers for the annual walk-a-thon. Then I started to lead groups of new volunteers on the weekends through DC Cares to help prepare salads, heat up casseroles, and serve. It hit me one weekend that I wanted to start cooking my own food for the women. I talked to N Street Village and asked if it was ok for me to start my own group and serve once a month. For the last 3 years, my wonderful friends and family have helped me serve great food to these women and it has been an amazing experience.
There is this great joy when you see people eat and like the food that you make and it is especially special when you know these women really need it. The most elaborate meal we made was when a friend, who is a chef, came and made individual meatloafs served with mashed potatoes and a mushroom gravy. During the summer, we love bringing sliced up cold watermelon because it always produces smiles. It is clearly an appreciated treat. A family friend once brought in 15 rotisserie chickens which she quartered, dredged in BBQ sauce and roasted again until the sauce caramelized on the chicken. We left that day with an applause from the women. I turned to my family friend and said, “Ok, now we have top that.”
Each month is a struggle to figure out what would be the most economical, healthy and delicious dish to make. My friend Joy has been a master at finding good recipes that will serve large groups (we aim to make enough to feed 50 people.) We also try to bring in fruit and vegetables when we can because people need nutritious food regardless of their financial status. This past week, we planned to make enchiladas and I decided to make a side of black beans.
I found this “Mexican Black Beans” recipe from Epicurious. It looked simple and had all the flavors I was looking for in a recipe. To feed 50 women and keep the cost low, I picked up the items at Food Rite in Arlington, VA. I multiplied this recipe by ten in order to have enough.
Mexican Black Beans
adapted from Epicurious
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 red onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large jalapeño chili, seeded, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 pound of dried black beans soaked in water overnight
1 14 1/2-ounce can low-salt chicken broth
Fresh lime juice
Chopped fresh cilantro
Chopped green onions
Salt and Pepper
Pre-heat oven to 350F.
Place oil in a 3qt dutch oven and bring to medium heat. Saute garlic, onions, jalapenos until onions are translucent. Add cumin and mix in. Cook for 30 seconds. Add black beans and chicken broth. Add water until it is right above the top of the beans. Bring to boil. Turn off stove.
Place dutch oven (with the lid on) into the heated oven. Since I used dried beans, the cooking process took longer than the recipe on Epicurious. I kept the beans in the oven for 2 hours. Add a bit of salt and pepper to taste.
They were perfect when they came out of the oven. The beans were soft but not mushy. The cumin and garlic gave it this rich flavor and worked great as a side for the enchiladas. I added a bit of lime juice and we had bowls of chopped cilantro and green onions on the side to put on top of the beans. The entire pot of beans made for 50 women cost around $10. A 5lb bag of beans was $5.50. A container of cumin cost $1.29. Cilantro was $0.89. Onions and jalapenos cost less than $3. I had the rest of the ingredients from previous purchases. These beans would be delicious just served with white rice and maybe some hot sauce. The amazing thing is that we still had half a tray of beans left over after serving all the women and giving out seconds. It felt great to bring something that was delicious and healthy for them to enjoy.
If you would like to join me on Saturday, February 18th (10am to 1pm) to cook and serve a meal at N Street Village, please email me at thriftydccook at gmail dot com.