Iowa Writes

Black Bean Soup with Pork Ribs

     I learned this recipe from my mother in El Salvador and have changed it to include more vegetables. I cooked with my mother and we cooked and ate a lot of beans. We didn't often cook with meat because it was too expensive. Pork is cheaper here and we can afford to eat it more. It's very different in the US and Iowa City. Here we have everything and we can cook everything that we can afford to buy.
     I came to Iowa City around six years and my son, Leo, was born here. Up until 1½ years of age, he was doing fine. He tried new foods and ate purees. Then I started to notice problems.
     Leo stopped eating hard foods and would only drink liquids, such as milk and PediaSure®. He didn't even like to see hard foods on his plate. I discovered that my son is special needs. With autistic children, it is typical to start seeing problems at this age. Autistic children even regress; they lose the skills they have already learned. Leo went to therapy for over a year to learn how to eat. I continue the therapy at home by slowly introducing new foods to him. He likes carrots, apples, and green grapes.
     Last year we had a little picnic at a local farm. I enjoyed it and had a lot of fun. We went to see how everything was grown. They had a little store where we could buy eggs and other food. It was really interesting. The farmers have a really hard job. It was really nice to see how they harvest and to see where the food that we put on our plates comes from.

1 lb black beans
1 lb pork ribs
1 tomato
1 onion
Cilantro to taste

•  Boil the beans in water until soft.
•  Add the pork ribs and boil for one hour
•  When cooked, add the onion and diced tomato and cook for 20 more minutes.
•  Add cilantro and serve with rice.

Note: If you start this recipe with dried beans, you should spread them out on a cookie sheet to find and remove small stones, debris, or damaged beans. Next, place the beans in a strainer and rinse them under cool running water. Before cooking most dried beans, they need to be presoaked. This shortens their cooking time and makes them easier to digest. Cover beans with cold water and allow to soak overnight, 6-8 hours. Cover 1 pound of dried beans (2 cups) with 10 cups of water. Most beans will rehydrate to triple their dry size, so be sure to start with a large enough pot. Keep the pot in the refrigerator to prevent fermentation. This traditional soaking method helps keep the beans intact.
     For the quick-soaking method, boil the beans for two minutes. Next, take the pan off the heat, cover, and allow to stand for two hours. Beans are more likely to fall apart using this method. Whether you choose the traditional or quick soaking method, you must drain out the water in which the beans were soaked before cooking. Rinse beans again. Package instructions might offer you additional suggestions and tips.
     If you are running short on time, you can use canned beans. Always drain and rinse canned beans before adding them to a recipe. Canned beans need to only be heated briefly.

About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting


Bella's story and recipe were included in Food Roots, a cookbook published in 2010 by Local Foods Connection (LFC) in collaboration with an Art and Ecology class at the University of Iowa. Clients and farmers interviewed for this book come from Illinois, Iowa, California, Mexico, Guatemala, Republic of the Sudan, The Togolese Republic, El Salvador, and Thailand.

Local Foods Connection ( enrolls low-income families and the agencies that serve them in CSA programs. CSAs provide a season's worth of fresh produce to consumers while paying local earth-friendly farmers fair prices for the food they grow, raise, and produce. Clients have the opportunity to visit a farm, as well as to learn healthy cooking methods. These opportunities are part of LFC's larger educational program, which covers nutrition, cooking, and environmental issues.

This page was first displayed
on June 29, 2011

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