September 11, 2013 at 1:00 am

Let's Talk Food: What are your easy ethnic dishes?

This recipe's Cuban Black Beans (shown over saffron rice) are so flavorful, and fairly simple to make — but I'm looking for something new for my church's upcoming international foods potluck. Any ideas? (Maureen Tisdale / The Detroit News)

I have to come up with some special ethnic dish for the international-dishes themed potluck later this month at church, and boy, am I hoping a reader will save me. If not, I may be slinking back to a recent favorite.

When my church friend Shelly gave me the recipe for cantaloupe soup I wrote about previously, she also shared a Cuban Black Bean recipe from the same cookbook that she and her family like, especially for colder weather. I’d been on the hunt for a decent bean recipe — I’m picky about beans, can’t stand when they get mealy and have never really found any version I like the way I loved the baked beans of my New England youth (which I now avoid due to their high sugar content).

In fact, part of why I jumped on Shelly’s recipe was to wipe out the memory of a recent kitchen experiment gone bad. I’d tried a super-simple slow-cooker New Orleans-ish Red Beans & Rice type bean and it was such a bomb, mealy in texture and unremarkable in flavor. (I’d had such hopes for the few-ingredients-fast-prep dish, but what’s the point of fast if it’s awful?)

So on the heels of that hot mess, I was willing to put a little more time and effort into the recipe Shelly shared, and it paid off handsomely. These Cuban Black Beans are packed with flavor, the kind of marriage of well-matched ingredients — garlic, onion, cumin and bay leaf — that only improves as the dish chills in the fridge for a few days. It’s so delicious I had to share it with you below.

But since I got the dish from a church friend — and I have my concerns about it getting mealy if it sits in a slow-cooker for a potluck — I’d rather avoid it for this international-foods church potluck. I thought about spaghetti, since my creative brother Baron sent me a recipe for a version he made for Mom recently that sounded divine (and I’ll write about soon), but Shelly also has been toying with the Italian theme.

So I’m on the hunt for something totally new — and hoping readers will lob me a softball on this one. Of course, I’m dreaming of a dish simple yet delicious, slow-cooker (therefore potluck) friendly and sure to impress — but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.

Cuban Black Beans

From “Vegetarian Cooking for Dummies” by Suzanne Havala, M.S., R.D. (2001)

Havala writes: “This recipe can be served over rice or as an entree or, thinned with vegetable broth. It can double as black bean soup. This flavorful, hearty dish goes well with a green salad and fried plantains.”

She estimated preparation time at 15 minutes (not counting another 50 minutes for cooking). It took me a little longer, quite possibly due to a certain 15-month-old frequently tugging at my apron, but it still came together fairly quickly.

¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, including green leaves, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups (two 20-ounce cans) black beans, drained and rinsed (or 2 cups dried black beans, soaked or cooked in a pressure cooker)
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons lime juice

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Cook the onions, green bell peppers, celery, and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until the onions are translucent (about 10 minutes).

Add the beans, salt, bay leave, cumin, oregano and lemon juice and stir well to combine.

Cover and simmer for another 35 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Remove the bay leaf and serve over rice. Makes 8 servings

Per serving: Calories 195 (From Fat 63); Fat 7g (Saturated 1g); Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 593mg; Carbohydrate 25g (Dietary Fiber 9g); Protein 8g.

Got any easy ethnic dishes? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below the recipe. You need a Facebook account to add comments, but they’re free and easy to sign up for, which is how I managed to have one for years and ignore it except for this sort of thing. I’ll be keeping an eye out the next few days to respond to any great comments or questions you post. You can also follow me on Twitter @reentiz. Join the discussion!