I cried the other night about dinner. And not welling up, not just a single delicate tear tracing across my perfect cheekbone. An ugly, horrible, can’t-breathe, burying-my-face-in-the-dog’s-tummy-while-she-cleans-my-face kind of cry. There was heaving, sobbing and mucus. It was awful.
Ostensibly, I was crying because I was supposed to make dinner, but a series of miscommunications sent my husband storming off in search of a burger as I sobbed and threw a spinach omelet in the trash. But at its heart, the sobbing spell had everything to do with being on week eight of the most stressful period we’ve had in our entire relationship — buying a house and trying to move at a time when both of our jobs have heated up.
These are good things, and we’re very lucky. It’s also been incredibly overwhelming, and the cumulative effects of weeks of miscommunication and frustration and exhaustion and selfishness on both of our parts welled up and spilled over when I couldn’t do something as simple as get dinner on the table.
I could have staved off that crying jag by throwing this meal on the stove, and in 30 minutes, all of my problems (well, most of them) could have been solved. Both of us could have been sitting down to a delicious, gluten-free meal that is good for the soul. Everything looks better once you’ve eaten.
This meal has its roots in a story I read in one of my favorite books on food, Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. One writer describes how he’d make black beans every night, simmering them with garlic and then serving them over homemade cornbread.
It sounded great, but I am not one of those people who just randomly has cornbread sitting around, nor am I the type to throw together a batch on a weeknight. So I tried it with polenta (infused with cheese, of course) and lo! This 30-minute meal was born. You can skip the cheese for a yummy vegan option.
- 1 cup polenta
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 1/4 cup cheddar cheese
- 1 Tbsp butter
- salt to taste
- 1 can black beans and juice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp cumin
- pinch cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp Frank’s Red Hot
- 2 tsp lime juice
- cilantro, sour cream, any other garnishes for serving
- First, put the polenta and broth on to simmer. Stir very frequently and cook, uncovered, until thick and the general consistency of grits (this will take about 30 minutes). Stir in butter and cheese, allow to melt, then taste and add salt as necessary. Remove from heat.
- Meanwhile, heat the beans and their juices over medium heat until they start to boil. Lower heat slightly, add garlic, cumin, cayenne and Frank’s and simmer, uncovered, until the polenta is done.The juices should thicken into a sauce. Stir in lime juice and remove from heat.
- Spoon polenta onto serving plates; top with beans and whatever accoutrements you desire.