Dinner, Side, Vegan, Vegetarian, Summer, GLuten Free, Dairy Free

Coconut Lime Black Beans

It always baffles me that more people don’t bring their own food on airplanes. Granted, as a 6-foot tall man I travel with food nearly all the time, but when it comes to spending hours in the sky why on earth do passengers subject themselves to the commercial whims of an airport food court? Or even worse, to the unregulated food piracy of in-flight meals?!

I tease you with this query because if I can convince more people to travel with homemade delights I might relieve my mind from the self-inflicted paranoia I experience when eating in a seat in the sky that’s too small for a doll by 10-inches.

Yes, darlings, I loathe eating on airplanes.

Now, before you rush me to your shrink for a diagnosis of {insert}phobia, know this: I am not generally perturbed by eating in public. Restaurants? Bars? Food trucks? Picnics? I’m at ease. But the minute I insert the metal fitting into the buckle and pull on the loose end of the strap my movements are skittish at best. I sit in the chair waiting, perched above my backpack which is ready to burst with the bounty of treats I’ve packed for the flight. And then the questions tumble forth.

  • How soon can I start eating?
  • Will the smell bother my seatmates?
  • Will my neighbors watch me eat?
  • Should I eat a little of everything at once or mow through one bag at a time?
  • If they’re looking at my bag of chips, should I offer them one?
  • Is my crunching too loud? (as if anything but d-listed movies are audible above the rush of air travel)
  • Is it more or less conspicuous to eat this funny looking sandwich by keeping it in a bag held to my mouth like a muzzle?
  • Do I have enough?
  • Did I pack too much?
  • Are they jealous or annoyed?
  • Did I spill on the seat?

The list is endless. Eating, an activity I’ve made part of my professional life, is suddenly rife with stress! The questions all lead me to judge specific foods on a scale of airplanability. Pretzels? Highly airplanable. They’re dry, can be eaten with fingers and have almost no smell. A bag of bitty cereal? Moderately unairplanable. Yes, they’re dry and rather scentless, but eating with your fingers becomes an exercise in decorating the front of your shirt. Soup? Terribly unairplanable. It’s hot, nosey, liquid, and messy. You get the point, yes?

And so I gently segue into today’s recipe…

When I flew to Birmingham 6 weeks ago I was determined to use up the perishables in my refrigerator. The day of the flight I was faced with a few slices of turkey and a container of coconut-lime black beans. The turkey was easily dispatched onto a rice cake, a nearly scentless sandwich, crumbly, but fairly airplanable. The beans, however, put up a fight (in my head, darlings, in my head). They were powerfully fragrant, required a utensil to eat, and had the potential to make a mess.

But they tasted so damn wonderful.

I took a risk and packed the white container of beans with a plastic spoon set inside. The spoon would require some licking and/or cleaning before eating, but that could be managed quickly and without attracting too much attention.

Once buckled into my throne I set about inspecting the other passengers. As usual, no one was staring at me, let alone trying to guess what I might be eating in a matter of 20 minutes. When we reached cruising altitude I deemed it safe to begin the meal. I started with the sandwich, nuzzling it to my face, eating straight out of the plastic bag. Success. Very little interest (either positive or negative) shown from the other passengers. It was time to unleash the black beans.

I slipped the tupperware from the open zipper of my pack, placed it in my lap, and covered it with a napkin. Prying open the lid I extracted the spoon, quickly swaddling it in the napkin to clean its handle of all beany refuse. The next moments moved by in a blur: Napkin on lap, lid lifted off, spoon into beans, beans into mouth, mouth into smile, tummy responding with rumbling thanks.

And then?
The flight attendant was passing by, trying to sell stop-motion sandwiches and freeze-dried salads, when she paused at my armrest. I looked down, the embarrassment of unairplanable food flushing my face.

“That smells great, where did you get it?”

“I brought it from home.”

“Good thinking.”

Thank you.


  • 2 cups Dry Black Beans
  • 1 Red Onion, Quartered
  • 4 cloves Garlic
  • 5 cups Water
  • Juice of 2 Limes
  • 1 cup Shredded, Unsweetened Coconut
  • 1 ½ teaspoons Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Black Pepper


  1.  Put beans, onion, garlic, and water in a deep saucepan with the lid on.

  2. Bring the mixture to a boil, then drop the heat to low and simmer the beans (with the lid on) until they’re tender. It should take about 45 minutes, but could be as much as an hour and 15 minutes. The older the beans are, the longer they’ll take to cook. When they’re done to your liking, take them off the heat and DO NOT DRAIN THEM. You want the juice.

  3. Stir in the remaining ingredients (lime juice, coconut, salt, pepper). Put the lid back on and let the beans sit for at least 10 minutes. Do not turn on the heat again, simply place the lid back on your pot, which has been taken off the burner. The coconut will absorb the liquid, the lime will blossom and when you lift the lid you’ll be greeted with a glorious cloud of tropical steam.

  4. Eat it on an airplane.