Wines to Match with Black Bean and Pepita Balls

I’ve always wanted to blurb a book. You know, where an author you admire asks you to contribute a sentence or two to adorn the back cover? Well, it finally happened thanks to Jenn de la Vega. Her cookbook, Showdown Comfort Food, Chili & BBQ, is a delight and totally reflects her can-do, adventurous, and playful personality. All wrapped up in a cooking competition-honed, highly skilled, Searzall-wielding package.

I wanted to highlight a recipe from the book and suggest a few wine pairings so I picked this vegan dish. I actually eat meatless/dairy-free most of the week for breakfast and lunch. The latter is something I cook up (almost) every Sunday and affectionately call my “vegan slop” though it is a flavorful blend of beans, grains, vegetables, tomato sauce, and lots of hot sauce.

Jenn has a thing for meatballs and there are many creative, meat-tastic recipes to peruse. But I love the combination of pepitas, nutritional yeast (try it on popcorn, BTW), and shitake mushrooms. And with the added tomato paste, I must break out the “u” word to describe this flavor combination: umami.

Wine Pairing With Vegan Dishes

Who says vegan can’t mean complex flavors? This is a dish rich with mushrooms, miso, and nutritional yeast. Time to break out the Pinot Noir, especially more savory, earthy examples from Burgundy. If that’s a little too pricey, go for a Cru Beajuolais. The crus are the region’s top sites and, though made from the Gamay grape, scratch that Burgundy itch for 20ish dollars.

I’d also like to mention a couple Sicilian wines. Anything made from Frappato, a light delight. If you want a little oomph, check out Cerasuolo di Vittoria. It’s got a chunk of more burly Nero d’Avola to go along with the Frappato.

Somewhat confusingly, there is another Italian wine called Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo. Made from the Montepulciano grape, it’s kind of like a very dark rosé or an extremely light red. Depends on your perspective. I like the one from Annona.

Try all of the above wines slightly chilled, especially in summer. The Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo can take a deeper chill.

For rosé, this is a good time to go a little heartier, like a bottling from Tavel in the south of France.

A yeasty Champagne or sparkling wine? Yes and yes.

For whites, go for something on the richer side. Dare I suggest an oaked Chardonnay?

Black Bean and Pepita Balls

Recipe courtesy Showdown Comfort Food, Chili & BBQ by Jenn de la Vega, Page Street Publishing, 2017. Photo by Colin Clark.

How do you bind seemingly chunky ingredients together in a ball without using eggs, cheese or cream? The answer is panada. In some cultures, panada is known as a bread soup. Panada is also a thickener made of soaked bread crumbs in either water, broth or milk. In this case, the liquid released from the cooked vegetables will bind with the bread crumbs and blended beans.  These non-meatballs get their heft from black beans with help from savory shiitake mushrooms and crunchy pepitas.

Total Time: 2 hours


  • 1 large onion, peeled
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 garlic clove
  • ½ lb (250 g) shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean and stems removed
  • ¼ cup (40 g) kale
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
  • 2 tsp (11 g) salt
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) tomato paste
  • 2 cups (475 ml) cooked Cinnamon Black Beans (page 117) (or canned is  okay, too!), divided
  • 1 tbsp (10 g) fresh oregano or ½ tbsp (5 g) dried
  • ¼ cup (45 g) nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) white miso
  • 1 cup (150 g) bread crumbs
  • ½ cup (75 g) pepitas
Wines to Match with Black Bean and Pepita Balls

The author and the blurber on her Brooklyn deck.


Place the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, mushrooms and kale in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse a few times to break everything down uniformly as small as pebbles; make sure there are no large chunks.

Start a frying pan on medium heat with the olive oil. Transfer the vegetables to the pan and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. As the vegetables release water and start to brown, add the salt, cinnamon and tomato paste. Cook for 5 more minutes, remove from the heat and let it cool.

Meanwhile, add half of the black beans, oregano, nutritional yeast, miso and a scoop of the cooked vegetables to the food processor. Pulse to form a paste, scrape down the sides and continue to process. If it is not blending, add any liquid gathering in the pan of vegetables.

Combine the cooked vegetables with the bean paste in a large bowl. Fold in the bread crumbs, remaining black beans and pepitas. Cover and completely cool in the fridge for at least an hour.

Once the mixture is completely cool and you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 400°F (204°C).

Use cooking spray or a paper towel soaked with olive oil to grease a quarter sheet pan.

With a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon, shape 30 balls. As you make them, press the cup of the scoop against the side of the bowl to pack it well. That way, each ball is consistently the same size.

Drizzle a bit of olive oil over each row of balls and bake for 20 minutes. Check the bottom of the balls for browning and crust forming on their tops. They are not done if they break when you pat the top.

Let the meatballs cool for 5 minutes before serving. I advise you not to hold them in sauce but pour sauce over them, if you must. They will fall apart with tongs, so use a spatula, spoon or dainty fingers. Makes 30 (1-oz [28-g]) meatballs.

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Vegan Jerky Paired With Wine? Yes and Yes

Vegan Jerky Paired With Wine? Yes and YesDid I lose you at vegan jerky? Hold on; let me explain. My friend Pamela Braun, creator of the food blog My Man’s Belly, sent me a review copy of her new book: Jerky Everything. So if you’re concerned about a lack of meat, DO NOT PANIC as the subtitle of the book is: Foolproof and Flavorful Recipes for Beef, Pork, Poultry, Game, Fish, Fruit, and Even Vegetables. I just chose to focus on a couple vegan jerky recipes because its more unexpected and did not involve handling raw meat.

I took the plunge and bought a dehydrator and am really getting into it. It’s soothing fan is the soundtrack to this blog post, working away on some Hayton Farms blueberries from yesterday’s market.

So what did I jerkify? I started with tofu. Yes, T-O to the F-U. Wait, that reads a little aggro. Let’s just stick with lowercase tofu. I do not say FU to tofu. My first foray into Jerky Everything was via a recipe for “Tofu Cheddar Crazy Jerky”. Now if you are wondering how the hell you can have a vegan recipe with the word “cheddar” in it, behold the magic of nutritional yeast. (Or “nooch” as my vegan pals call it.) Nooch has a very parmesan-y, umami (ugh, I said it) type of thing going on. This recipe involves thinly sliced tofu brushed with a mixture of lemon juice, nooch, sea salt, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Then off to dehydrate.

Uh, I loved this vegan jerky. It was great solo and you should try adding it to a salad as well. What did I drink with this tofu jerky? I’m glad you asked.

La Clarine Farm Petit Manseng 2013 ($25)

Vegan Jerky Paired With Wine? Yes and YesTofu, nutritional yeast, and lemon aren’t probably the first thing that comes to mind when discussing jerky. That’s cool, because when it comes to talking about white wine grapes from California, Petit Manseng isn’t probably on the tip of your tongue.

This La Clarine Farm is a really cool wine with good richness and a deeper yellow color with a touch of atmospheric opaqueness. All of this a nice match with the tofu and nooch. Finishes fresh, which compliments the lemon. You could lock me in a room with a block of sliced, jerkified tofu plus this wine and I’d be a happy man. (Especially because this Petit Manseng is sealed with a screwcap. So I don’t need any fancy tools. I’ll knock when I’m ready to come out, OK? Actually could you slide the latest issue of Harper’s under the door? Cheers, thanks.)

(Note: This vintage is sold out but contact the winery and see when more will become available. I’ve liked all the white wines I’ve had from La Clarine Farm and have been squirreling away a couple reds I hope to crack open soon.)

Have you been wondering about the portobello mushroom jerky pictured at the top of this post? I’ll bet. (Thanks to Pamela for the photo.) Good news! Pamela is allowing me to share the recipe. First, my thoughts on the eating of this jerky and wine pairing:

Vegan Jerky Paired With Wine? Yes and YesThe mushrooms have a very satisfying, meat jerky-esque chew to them. Totally addictive. Now did I drink any wine with this Mellow Mushroom Jerky? Sadly, no. But I brainstormed on what wines would be best with it. There’s a lot of deep, earthy stuff going on here. And powerful flavors! I recommend a Syrah from France’s Northern Rhone. This is the home of the best Syrah in the world. And, unfortunately, with a price to match. If you don’t want to pass out into your jerky from sticker shock, explore the wines of the Crozes-Hermitage area of the Northern Rhone. These bottles provide a great introduction into France’s storied region for Syrah. You can also check out a brawny, Grenache-based wine from the Southern Rhone. Try wines from the Gigondas or Vacqueyras regions. More powerful than your basic Côtes du Rhône yet not as expensive as Châteauneuf du Pape.

Happy dehydrating and jerky making. Remember, you’ve got time to kill during the process so pour yourself some wine.

Mellow Mushroom Jerky

(Recipe courtesy Pamela Braun, from “Jerky Everything” published by The Countryman Press)


  • 3T liquid aminos
  • 2T pure maple syrup (grade B)
  • 2T cider vinegar
  • 1t Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1/4t smoked salt
  • A few grinds black pepper
  • 1 (8-ounce) package portobello mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick


  • In a 1-gallon resealable plastic freezer bag, thoroughly mix together all the ingredients, except the mushrooms, and allow the mixture to rest for 10 minutes.
  • Add the mushrooms slices to the marinade and mix them around so they get completely coated with the marinade. Remove as much air as possible from the bag, seal, and place it in the refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours. During the marinating time, work the slices around so the marinade is fully incorporated into them.
  • Remove the strips from the marinade and arrange in a single layer in your choice of dryer. Dry at 145ºF as directed…for 4 to 6 hours. [Note: Pamela has more extensive details in the book about drying as well as using an oven versus electric dehydrator. (That’s why the ellipses are there as the recipe refers you to that section.) My jerky was done in 4 hours but check before then. Based on your skill in slicing thinly, variations in tray placement, mushroom spacing, and air circulation results may vary. All said, it was easy-peasy. Even for this bachelor slob.]


How about a recipe for a vegan parnsip pie that’s amazing for breakfast?

A podcast with punk rock vegan baker Natalie Slater of Bake and Destroy?

My sparkling appearance on My Man’s Belly?

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