If it hurts, don’t do it, unless it involves a spicy gauntlet of the Bongos Café fiery shrimp and black beans plate, which I believe must measure at least 100,000 units on the Scoville Heat Scale. Then, in that case, I suggest that you do it again, and again and again with plenty of yucca fries and maduros (fried sweet plantains) to chase it all down. Maybe wait a week or two in between to let the stomach recover, but then just go back. In fact, I take comfort in the belief that there are plenty of doctors who are willing to repair the hole that may be tearing its way through my stomach lining and then they’ll just toss me back into the game and say, “Get in there and play!” And I will. I’ll play hard.
“Oh, it burns! It really burns!” I said to Nate while we were eating there one rainy day after visiting the Woodland Park Zoo in the Greenlake Seattle area. My eyes were watering and I could barely speak.
“Are you okay?” Nate asked.
“Yeah, Mom, maybe we shouldn’t come here,” Alex said. “The food is really, really good, but Mom, seriously I’m worried about you.”
“No! Are you kidding? It hurts so good. I’m crying because it’s beautiful, beautiful food. Yes, my stomach really hates me right now, but it’s just going to have to deal. I may order another plate, stay to watch the game on television, maybe romp around in the sand outside, maybe . . .”
Nate placed a hand on my shoulder.
“Look, what I’m about to tell you might make you upset, so please, please remain calm.”
I stuffed more shrimp into my mouth and nodded.
“Okay,” Nate continued. “We will eventually have to leave.”
“No!” I protested.
“Now, wait. Calm down. I know this place is kind of far from where we live, so it might be a while before we come back again . . .”
“No! No! No!”
“Just wait—there’s hope: I’ll bet you can make this meal at home.”
“Do you really think so? Do you think they’ll give me the recipe?”
Nate and Alex burst into laughter.
“No way they’ll ever give you the recipe, but won’t it be fun to try at home? For the blog?” Nate said.
For the sake of the blog, yes. However, I thought about it and realized that it would be too difficult to replicate the shrimp recipe. The flavors were just too complex. With the beans, though, I figured I might stand a better chance, so I tried to make them at home. I tried at least two or three times. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t do it. I think I got the spice level correct, but I definitely didn’t get the rest of the flavors right. Of course, I used canned black beans, which is a huge “no-no” in authentic Caribbean and Latin American cooking. In fact, I had graduate student friends from Costa Rica and Puerto Rico who would talk about soaking beans overnight and cooking them all day while they attended classes, studied, and taught. I admired them as I opened cans of black beans and mixed them with canned soup broth in a pitiful attempt to make quick black bean soup.
So, I gave up on trying to make the Bongos Café black beans. Instead, I made the following black bean salsa dish, which my family enjoys. I’ve brought it to potlucks and to family gatherings as well—and this dish has been well received. While the beans do come from a can, the resulting salsa, I believe still has some bright and fresh notes because of the tomatoes and cilantro. The spice level can be altered and some people may prefer to leave the jalapeño out altogether. A few creative ways to enjoy this dish include the following:
–Alone, with a beer.
–With chips and a beer.
–As an accompaniment to grilled meat or fish and a beer.
Though I do really enjoy this salsa, I’m still bonkers for Bongos. That’s how I’ve developed my new “creative way” to enjoy this dish: while scrolling through pictures on Yelp and Google of Bongos Café food. I close my eyes and imagine the soft Caribbean colors and the beach sand just outside the door of the restaurant paradise that replaced a former gas station. I’m sipping a Red Stripe and piercing spicy shrimp with a plastic fork. Right now, Nate and Alex have a loud movie playing in the next room, but I eat my black bean salsa and scroll and scroll and scroll. I vaguely recall something Nate and Alex might have said in the background—something that went something like this:
Alex: What’s Mom doing?
Nate: She’s dreaming, son. Leave her alone.
Black Bean Salsa Recipe:
Ingredients: (For 3 people)
1 15.5-ounce can of black beans, rinsed and drained
¼ cup of fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
¼ cup of chopped fresh onion1 jalapeño chopped
1 pint of grape or cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp of fresh, chopped garlic
¼ teaspoon of salt
¼ teaspoon of granulated sugar
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl. Eat right away, or let it marinate a few hours—or overnight for more flavor.
Your Turn: What’s your favorite dish in a restaurant and have you ever tried to make it at home? How did it turn out? Feel free to share recipes if you have them!