Frijoles Negros Oaxaqueños

During my summer study abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico, I was exposed to a variety of new foods and cooking techniques. One of my absolute favorite things that I ate as part of breakfast in Oaxaca was Aurea's frijoles negros (stewed black beans).  All Oaxacan cooks use avocado leaves for extra flavor in their frijoles negroes because sabor (flavor) is very important here. Ivette, Aurea's daughter, confided in me that she didn't like the food in France because in her eyes, it "had no sabor."

 Avocado leaves lend a slight sweetness reminiscent of fennel, which offsets the spicy heat from the chiles de arbol.

Black beans and corn tortillas are two popular staples in the southern part of Mexico, while in the north, pinto beans and flour tortillas predominate.  

I found hojas de aguacate (avocado leaves) at both a small Mexican store and in the Mexican aisle of a larger supermarket. So it is possible to make authentic Oaxacan beans outside of Mexico!

However, if you can't find avocado leaves, I discovered an alternative: ajwain seeds.  These are commonly used in Indian bean dishes and have an earthy-sweetness comparable to avocado leaves. They taste a bit like thyme mixed with pungent oregano, yet also have a bite similar to cumin and a slight fennel aftertaste. 

 After comparing a batch of beans made with avocado leaves and another with ajwain, I found the results to be similar.  However, the batch with avocado leaves was more sumptuous and well-rounded, so it's worth it to seek them out. You can find ajwain seeds at Indian stores or by clicking on this link to Penzeys Spices.

If you use ajwain seeds in other dishes, note that toasting maximizes their flavor and a little goes a long way: 1 tsp is enough for a large pot of beans. For further reading, check out Serious Eats'  article and red lentil recipe.

I made a pot of beans with avocado leaves and one without just to see if those leaves made that much of a difference.  The answer is YES.  Beans without avocado leaves tasted very bean-y and flat, while those with the avocado leaves were more complex and addictive.

Nutrition Highlight: Black Beans

I'll be seeing lots of cardiac patients when I start my clinical rotations as a dietetic intern.  One key heart healthy ingredient missing from most peoples diets is FIBER.  If you're looking for one way to improve your diet, try to eat a 1/2 cup of beans a day.  

Fiber Helps Your Heart 

Fiber reduces cholesterol.
Fiber rich foods like BEANS are high in soluble fiber, which gets fermented in the large intestine, producing short chain fatty acids that inhibit cholesterol synthesis. Fiber also prevents further LDL cholesterol synthesis when it binds with bile acids, causing the liver to remove more cholesterol from the blood to help it replenish its bile supply. 

What's the deal with cholesterol?
LDL cholesterol is not your friend because it gets deposited on the walls of your arteries and causes plaque to build up. This makes it harder for blood to flow through arteries. When parts of the plaque break off, they can cause a clot to form inside an artery, in turn cutting off blood to the heart and causing a heart attack!

Nutrition Facts for 1 serving (1/2 c) 
113 calories, 8 g protein, 7 g fiber, 10% iron

Frijoles Negros Oaxaqueños
Printable Recipe

These beans have a subtle fennel-like taste from avocado leaves, a Oaxacan secret ingredient. You can find the leaves, i.e. “hojas de aguacate,” in the dried herb and spice section of a Mexican grocery store.  This recipe is my attempt at recreating the delicious beans prepared by my study abroad host mámá, Aurea, based in Oaxaca, Mexico.

1 1/4 c (8 oz) dry black beans 

*Dry beans will absorb the flavor of the avocado leaves during the cooking process

*If you can't find avocado leaves, sub 1 1/4 cans (20 oz) black beans +  
1/2 tsp ground fennel seed

1 tsp salt

2 avocado leaves 

2 garlic cloves, minced (1 T)

2 chiles de arbol (1 chile for mild heat)

In advance if using dry beans: soak beans for at least 8 hours— this reduces cooking time.  You can cook the beans in the soaking water unless you have a very sensitive stomach. 

Add beans and soaking water to a medium saucepan. The water should cover the beans and there should be about 1" of water above the beans. Add 2 avocado leaves and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 1 hour or until beans are soft, but not falling apart.  

Do not drain beans. Keep everything in the pot. If you need to continue the process on a different day, save beans WITH water because the water is now flavored by the avocado leaves, which is the reason for making this dish.


Heat 1 T oil in a medium skillet or cast-iron pan. When the oil bubbles if you sprinkle a little water, add garlic and cook for about 1 minute until golden. Watch closely. Garlic goes from brown to black in seconds.


In a food processor, process the chile(s) and garlic until they are pulverized. Add 1/2 c bean water and 1/2 c cooked beans. Process until smooth. By puréeing some of the beans, your bean dish will have a thicker, more creamy quality. 

Beans are commonly used as a spread on top of tortillas or other tortilla-like products (i.e. memeles) in Oaxaca because of this thick quality, which is different than the soup-like quality of pinto beans cooked and eaten in other parts of Mexico.

Add puréed bean mixture to the remaining cooked beans in the saucepan (add 1 cup additional of water if using canned) and simmer for around 10 minutes to heat through and meld the flavors. Can simmer longer if desired. 


One traditional way of serving Oaxacan black beans is with a fried egg or two, toasted corn tortillas (or toasted tlayudas or warmed memeles) to dip into the beans, and a few strings of quesillo cheese served on top of the beans. You could use string cheese or mozzarella as cheese alternatives if you can’t find quesillo, which is available at most Mexican grocery stores.

You can toast tortillas in the oven on a baking sheet for about 10 minutes at 350º-375º or until lightly brown and crackable. 

You can also try poaching your egg(s) or microwaving in individual ramekins if you want to avoid frying. 

A side of fruit (papaya was a common breakfast fruit during my stay) and some yogurt (plain yogurt blended with mango was something Aurea would serve) would make great sides depending on what you like or need in the morning. 


  1. Stef, I think your article on beans, and recipe is very well done. And I hope my lentils also contain much needed fiber. Recently have also enjoyed making Faro, brought by your mom. Uncle Mark.

    1. Yes, lentils are equally high in fiber and they actually have a bit more iron, with 1/2 c containing 18%. Iron levels are especially pertinent for people who eat little to not meat. Glad you're experimenting with new grains! Farro goes very well with roasted broccoli and feta with a balsamic drizzle if you want an idea.

  2. Great recipie Stephanie! I have been looking for a way to spice up my beans and will try to hunt down avocado leaves. Take care. -Nicole R.

  3. I know I am extremely late to the game, but thank you for the ajwain tip. I used it and the beans are super good.


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