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Recipes from the Road: Black Bean Burgers in Cartagena

I was planning on making soup in Cartagena, but since it was a million degrees when we got there, I pulled an audible.

We didn’t have any spices or ingredients in our Airbnb, so I wanted something with few ingredients. Since it was so hot and only our bedroom had AC, I wanted something that didn’t require a ton of time in the kitchen. And my last requirement, was that it had to be something we could eat every night for at least a week (one of my tips for cooking on the road is to eat the same meal until you run out of supplies before buying ingredients for a new meal).

We loved Cartagena. We spent plenty of hot days walking along the wall, eating popsicles, heading home for black bean burgers, and then drinking street beers in Getsemani.

After checking some recipes, I settled on black bean burgers. I had never made them before, but I was surprised and intrigued by how simple the recipes sounded. Plus, all the ingredients were so basic that I thought we could for sure find everything.

When we got to Exito (grocery chain in South America), I loaded up my basket with everything we needed, and went to grab the final and most important ingredient, black beans, only to find out that they didn’t have canned black beans. What?

I didn’t have a Plan C and I certainly didn’t want to put all of the rest of the ingredients back. We had two options: use a can of bbq baked beans (which sounds delicious, but I didn’t think would actually work) or cook up some dry black beans.

Kenny asked me if I knew how to make dry beans, since the instructions on the package were in Spanish. I didn’t, because I always buy canned black beans, but I went ahead and said I did because I was sure I could figure it out (story of my life).

When I got home, I started looking up recipes, all of which required lengthy amounts of “soaking.” I told Kenny I was going to be making these burgers for dinner that night, and I certainly wasn’t going to tell him I got beat by the beans. So I just skipped the soaking entirely, and guess what? It worked out just fine.

I included my recipe for cooking dry black beans below, because it does not have to be as complicated as most recipes show. At least not for making black bean burgers. If you’re eating the black beans plain as a side dish, then you’ll probably want to follow a better recipe, but for these  burgers, it’s perfectly fine.

Cooking dry beans is an easy and cheap adaptation for cooking on the road, and another one of my favorite tips for cooking abroad. I got an entire bag of beans for about $1 USD and cooked for two whole weeks with them!

I’ll forever remember Cartagena as the city where I began my protest against the highway robbery that is canned black beans.

Black Bean Burgers



  • 2 cups prepared black beans (recipe below for preparing dry beans)
  • 1/2 onion, minced (Only chop half! Slice the other half to put on top of your burger.)
  • 1/2 green pepper, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (optional, but adds most of the flavor)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 cup bread crumbs (Travel tip: if you have extra white bread for, say, sandwiches, just leave out 2 slices on the counter for the day to dry out and then crumble)
  • 1 egg

The Rest

  • Burger buns
  • Cheese slices
  • Onion slices
  • Tomato slices
  • Condiments of your choice (we used a mayo/mustard mix)


Mash the beans with a fork (or food processor if you had one). Stir in the onion, pepper, garlic, hot sauce and salt and pepper. Crack the egg into a coffee cup and whisk lightly before stirring into the bean mixture. Add the bread crumbs, and stir.

The mixture should be able to hold together when you form a ball. If it crumbles, it’s too dry. Whisk another egg and add a little at a time until you can form a ball. If it feels too mushy, you can add more bread crumbs.

Divide the mixture into four even portions and form into patties.

Heat a little bit of oil over medium heat in a skillet. Pan fry the patties for four minutes on each side or until golden brown on each side. Flip with care so they don’t fall apart on you. If you’re adding cheese, top your burger with a slice of cheese for the last minute.

Now build your burger, topping with the ingredients listed above or whatever your favorite burger toppings are. Serve with pasta salad, potato salad and/or fresh fruit.

Black Beans: From Dry to Delicious

  • 1 cup dry black beans
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, whole but smashed

Add the dry beans to a sauce pan and cover completely with water. (I recommend three cups, but as long as the beans are fully covered with about two inches of water, it’s fine. You will drain the water after.)

Over high heat, bring to a rolling boil. Then drop the temperature down to low and simmer for an hour to an hour and twenty minutes until the beans are tender.

When they’re done, pour them into a strainer and rinse with cold water until the water runs clear. Pick out the onion and garlic cloves if you can/want to. They get a little mushy, so I took them out, but you can easily just mash them right in with the beans.

NOTE: While these do take a long time, they require nominal attention. As long as you’re in/near the kitchen, you can pretty much just leave them alone. Just check on them every so often to be sure the water doesn’t boil out.