My life over the past few weeks has been happening in between Chicago Bulls playoff basketball games. I plan weekly activities around games and turn down appealing opportunities to be social. I pace around the house in my Bulls t-shirt (which probably needs to be washed by now) when the game gets too close and yell at the TV during missed calls. I talk about it incessantly, saying things like, “We knew these games wouldn’t be handed to us. For one thing, Noah’s been playing on a bad foot.”
In other words, this shit is taking over my life.
The Bulls probably aren’t going to win the NBA championship this year–the team has been riddled with injuries, starting with their star point guard and our city’s favorite athlete: Derrick Rose. But I have come to really love those guys–they’re scrappy, they win ugly, and their coach practically charges onto the court at least once every game because he gets so worked up. What’s not to like?
Last Saturday’s four-hour, triple overtime thriller in Game 4 against the Brooklyn Nets was partially responsible for me almost not finishing dinner in time to host my parents. Luckily, the Bulls pulled off the win 45 minutes before they arrived so Sean and I were able to shower. Plus, all the dishes I made were ones that could be prepped or finished in advance. The rice was cooked before tip off. Spiced chicken got a quick rub and went into the fridge during halftime. And the black beans were prepped during commercial breaks. It was the frenzied sort of dance only undertaken by a semi-unhinged fan.
That said, I was thrilled with how the beans turned out. I have been trying to master those soupy, Cuban-style black beans for years, and I think I finally got it. Lots of fresh chopped garlic, onion and sweet bell pepper, a splash of cider vinegar and a good sprinkling of Mexican oregano give them the right balance of flavors, and starchy bean water from rinsing out the can made the perfect broth to simmer them in.
Now that I’m winning at black beans, all I ask in return is that the Bulls win this series and make it to Round 2 of the playoffs. I’m fully ready to give up a few more weeks of my life if so.
Cuban-style black beans
Note: You can be extra authentic and buy black beans in their dried form (and use a few cups of the cooking liquid instead), but I just love canned beans. They are one of life’s great shortcuts.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small red bell pepper, diced
1 medium Spanish onion, diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2 14-oz. cans black beans
1-2 teaspoons cider vinegar
Method: Heat a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium high, and swirl in the olive oil. Add the bell pepper, onion and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Sweat the vegetables until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, bay leaf, oregano and cumin; cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. Add the black beans. Fill each can with water, swirl it around a bit and add that to the pot as well. Turn the heat up to high, and bring the mixture to a boil.
Reduce the heat to medium low, partially cover and simmer the beans for 20 minutes, until the liquid has reduced and thickened slightly. Add the vinegar, and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Check the seasoning, and adjust as needed with salt and pepper. Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish.
Note: Besides dipping Cuban sandwiches in them, my favorite way to eat black beans is spooning them over rice with a couple of fried eggs.