Vegan Refried Black Beans in my Luxembourg Kitchen

image4Luxembourg, my adopted home, is a crossroads for many culinary traditions, but Mexican cuisine isn’t among them. My husband is a San Antonio native as well as a gifted Tex-Mex cook (you’ll also rarely find a better Käsespätzle or Züri geschnetzeltes than the ones he can put together.) So we often get a “hankering” for the bold, sensual tastes of the American Southwest. Without the proper ingredients, especially chiles, whipping up the perfect mole enchiladas can be a nightmarish task. For years, we’ve stuffed packages of dried ancho, guajillo, cascabel, morita, chipotle, adobo, and others into boots and rolled-up shirts in our luggage on the way back to Europe. Sometimes we forget until time to put that particular pair of shoes on again and feel the mysterious, disconcerting crunch of capsicums between our toes…

Nowadays, you can find tortillas in the shops, even a gluten-free version, as well as salsa (mediocre,) seasonings (worse than mediocre,) and even canned refried beans (ick.) A couple days ago, I tried my hand at creating a tasty, vegan incarnation of refried beans. I was very pleased with the results and am happy to share my recipe with you here. This should be especially helpful to my European readers, as I have kept the number of chiles involved to a minimum. As usual, I’ve done my best to find organic ingredients where possible. This recipe is lactose-, gluten-, sugar-, and yeast-free, and yes, it’s vegan unless you are dying for some butter to fry the beans.

You can also start out with a jar or can of black beans rather than dried, but where’s the fun in that?

Old World Refried Black Beans


400 grams (14 oz) black beans, dried

Yeast-free vegetable stock, or make your own from scratch

2 cloves rose garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

a pinch of fresh or dried sage (I dehydrate our sage from the garden)

12-15 piquin chiles or equivalent, dried (don’t be afraid to use the seeds as well)

chili flakes, to taste

a few shakes of ground chipotle peppers

a pinch of cinnamon

1 tsp. coriander seeds

salt to taste

olive oil

zest and juice of 1 lime


Pour boiling water over the dried black beans, enough to cover them plus a couple centimetres, and leave to soak overnight. The next morning, drain and rinse the beans, pour new boiling water over them, and leave for at least an hour (all morning is ideal.) Drain and rinse again since they are stubborn, then cook for about an hour in the vegetable stock on medium-low heat, covered.

In the meantime, grind up the cumin seeds, dried sage, all chiles, cinnamon, and salt together with a mortar and pestle.

When the beans are finished cooking, remove most of the liquid, holding in reserve. Dump the beans in your food processor, add a bit of the broth and a few glugs of olive oil, and whir until you get that telltale refried bean consistency. Add more liquid and olive oil as necessary.image1

In a large saucepan or wok, heat up more olive oil on medium heat (or butter, if you prefer) then sauté the garlic for a minute, then add the ground spice mixture and sauté another couple of minutes. Add the bean purée and mix thoroughly. Cook about 10 minutes more, stirring frequently to keep your mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Add lime zest and juice to the beans, then adjust seasonings to taste. You now have a delicious, basic refried bean paste for whatever dish you are preparing.image5 Kerry’s portion turned into chalupas compuestas (grilled tortillas, beans, gouda with cumin, cilantro, salsa;)image6mine sat atop a bed of whole-grain rice with lambs-ear lettuce, cherry tomatoes, cilantro,and salsa. image7

¡Buen provecho! 

A Perfect Moment in the Old World

There are many things I love about living in Europe, particularly the day-to-day ensconcing in culture and tradition, layers of history spread out upon one another. This is clearly visible in Luxembourg, especially when regarding the ancient wall surrounding the city – changing brick patterns from century to century and one occupying regime to the next. About a week ago, I was giving a friend “the tour” around the old town, looking down into the Grund, the canyon that runs through the center of Luxembourg-Ville. Each time I describe what bits of history happened in each place, the past comes to life in my imagination. Living here is rather like living in a postcard, a record of times long gone preserved and hewed into the rock itself.

This morning, I had a rehearsal down in the St. Jean church in the Grund, singing with a 6-piece early music a capella group (filling in for the regular soprano, who is ill.) On the Lenten program are 15th and 16th century works by Byrd, Tallis, Josquin Desprez, and other, more obscure composers such as the Czech Simon Bar Jona Madelka, a butcher by trade. I’d like to see a modern butcher pen seven polyphonic penitential psalms! The 300+ – year-old church has echoed with countless voices raised in song and rumblings of the organ, to which we added our own resonance. After the rehearsal was over, I wandered through the cobblestone streets and up the considerable hill to meet Kerry at one of our favorite restaurants, a little Alsatian place tucked in under the roof of another ancient set of buildings that now house a group of gourmet eateries. Luxembourg has its typical cool, damp, white-sky weather today, providing a gentle, melancholy backdrop for the pastel stone houses and shops nestled against one another in the Old Town. With the Renaissance vocal music still repeating itself in my ears combined with the clicking of my boots on the cobblestones, looking at this scene that had hardly changed since the 1700’s, I froze for just a second and took a mental snapshot of this perfect moment.