But it’s the additions that really make my black beans a huge hit every time: cubes of avocado with a spritz of lime juice and some salt, chopped cilantro, onion or scallion, plenty of tomatillo salsa, roasted cubes of sweet potato or butternut squash, lime wedges, sriracha hot sauce, and best of all, toasted and salted green pumpkin seeds (pepitas). I’ve served this to stuffy Upper East Siders and hipster Lower East Siders, and not only does it get raves but it also engenders a relaxed, sometimes even raucous evening. The other amazing outcome is that no one realizes they’re eating a vegetarian meal. They’re too busy passing the accompaniments around and sneaking extra handfuls of the toasted pepitas.
But you don’t have to take just my word for it. I recently shared this recipe with a colleague, and the next day he sent me the following email, with the subject line “Holy Black Beans!”: “So, last night I had the best meal I’ve eaten in a looong time! Whoa! The sweet potato was magical, the pumpkin seeds fun and exciting, the tomatillo salsa, the onion, the avocado…man alive. All three of us were in love. But sadly, no leftovers—I had three huge bowls!”
When you think globally, it’s clear that cultures around the world embrace this concept of choice, particularly when it comes to meals in a bowl. Think about the Chinese hot pot: Everyone gathers around a tabletop cauldron of simmering broth and plunges into it whatever they want to cook. These items are eventually fished out with chopsticks, then dipped in a sauce. Later on, the broth, enriched with the flavors of the meats and vegetables cooked in it, is consumed.
Or take Southeast Asian Beef and Rice-Noodle Soup, a very loose interpretation of a Vietnamese pho. The beefy soup, rich with the essence of short ribs and shanks, is ladled over rice noodles. Then you have the option to add a few sprigs of fresh mint leaves, some cucumber slices, a squirt of sriracha hot sauce, a spoonful of hoisin sauce, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice. There’s no right or wrong—all that matters is what appeals to you.
So if you want a really rollicking party this holiday season, ditch the fancy stuff and opt for a big pot of soupy-stewy goodness, accompanied by lots of little bowls of mix-ins. This kind of meal will be much easier on you, the cook, and I guarantee your guests will be talking about the great times for days to come.
Kemp Minifie was wrapped up in all aspects of food at Gourmet magazine for 32 years, and is now part of the Gourmet Live team. For more tried and tested tips and tricks, check out her Kemp’s Kitchen column on the Gourmet Live blog.