Spanning the years of my adult life, betwixt (and sometimes in the midst) of romantic relationships, I’ve had an on-going affair with a spicy Latin.
Before you judge me, let me explain.
It was 1996. I was well into my third year of college, and wham! I slammed right into love. Keith was goofy, tall, and impossibly sweet. He had floppy blondish hair, long eyelashes, reading glasses, and a tiny tattoo of Winnie the Pooh. Be still my beating heart.
Fortunately the feeling was mutual. Within our first month together, he led me out into a field in the middle of a warm spring rainstorm where we lay down in the mud, kissed tenderly, and cried tears of joy that we had found each other. It was very Hollywood.
Homework assignments and class attendance fell by the wayside. My dedicated infatuation cost me an A in photography class, and for the first time in my life I didn’t care. I was probably not destined for a career in photography. Keith, however, I felt certain about.
Three years later in our crumbling Chicago apartment, things between us were also falling apart at the seams. We were going through growth spurts, but it was clear we were growing in different directions. Even more scary than that, things were suddenly bad in the bedroom. That which once sizzled had now completely fizzled out. Oh God. What is this? Sadly, our efforts to talk about it ended up in tears and anger.
One desperate February day while attempting to shop the pain away amongst the very chic boutiques on Armitage Avenue, I gazed through the window of a gift shop and my eyes fell upon a thing of beauty. A cookbook.
Inter Courses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook was a sparkling glimmer of hope sitting there on that Valentine’s Day display. It was stylish and sophisticated—not some trashy little handbook. All 143 pages were filled with tantalizing recipes, poetic musings on love and romance, and sensual—but very tasteful—photography. On page 34, for instance, was a minimalistic image of an ever-serene Venus look-alike whose cascading blond locks had been adorned with fresh basil leaves. On page 62, a beautiful photo of a slender hand dripping with golden honey beckoned to me, and my innocent little brain began to wonder if these pages full of whispered promises could help me hold onto something that seemed to be slipping away.
You might have already guessed some of the food groups represented in that book—flavors you’d commonly savor during a candlelit dinner for two: chocolate, strawberries, coffee, maybe even a couple of edible flowers. Sure. Makes sense. It’s no mistake that these delicacies ended up on our list of foods made for romancing—the chemical structure of these edibles enlivens the body’s desire. But the list gets more interesting from there. Rosemary, asparagus, pine nuts. Artichokes, oysters, avocados. Figs, chilies, and black beans.
A wise person might choose to stay away from anything bean-related before an anticipated evening of intimacy. But perhaps the risk is worth the reward. Consuming black beans apparently creates some magic in the boudoir, particularly in the fertility department. I certainly wasn’t dreaming of conceiving. But, whatever.
If you’re like me, a new cookbook feels pregnant with possibility. It’s a tidy, beautiful package—put together like a Greek god—and you begin to salivate as you thumb through its pages. You begin to fantasize about the foods you will soon be enjoying—bound to pleasure your tongue, sustain your body, and suspend your spirit. You begin to think perhaps your life will never be the same. The discipline alone it would take to work through the book from start to finish would be life changing in and of itself. Discipline! It sounded so attractive all of a sudden! And if these particular honey-dipped recipes could repair the strained relationship with my honey, even better. $24.95 for a new and improved life. A second shot at love. I reached for my wallet.
I only ever made one recipe out of that cookbook. And, ooooh, baby, you guessed it—its name is Black Bean Salsa. I’ve made it, savored it, and shared it countless times over the years. After each batch has been devoured, I shamelessly drink the remaining juices out of the bottom of the bowl. Pineapple, peppers, cumin, and lime are the ingredients of my life-long Latin lover.
I’ve borrowed the key ingredients of the recipe published by Martha Hopkins and Randall Lockridge, but over the years I’ve tweaked it to accommodate my appetite for a little more heat and a lot more color. It yields three to four servings, but to be honest, ever since its delicious maiden voyage on my table, I’ve doubled the recipe every time. After one tangy taste, believe me, you will be craving it for days and will get weepy when it’s gone.
Mango Black Bean Salsa
1 ripe mango, finely diced
½ red bell pepper, finely diced
¼ green bell pepper, finely diced
¼ orange bell pepper, finely diced
¼ red onion, finely diced
2/3 cup canned black beans, rinsed
3 Tbsp. diced hot green chilies, canned
½ cup pineapple juice
Juice of 2 limes
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
Two dashes cayenne (or more, to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill (for up to 5 days).
Scoop it up with tortilla chips, drizzle it over fried plantain rounds, or lay it atop a tender green salad. Allow it to flirt with your shrimp, or caress your breast of chicken, or snuggle up next to your steak. You may wish to keep things simple and just spoon it. Right. Into. Your. Mouth.
Truth be told, the salsa did not save my relationship. But everyone who has tried it has fallen in love.
This chilly February, give your taste buds a sensual blast of sunshine and paradise. And if you’re up for makin’ babies, feed some to your sweetie. That is, if there is any left in the bowl.