Cooking With Nicole: Beans, Beans, the Musical Fruit!

Hello mah friends! Today, we’ll be cooking Cuban black beans together. Cuban food is one of my all time favorites, ever since I went to Miami to visit my friend, Marcia Martinez, when I was a senior in High School. Her mom fed me picadillo, rice, and black beans, and I was hooked.

First of all, before we start, you might want to help yourself to an apron:

Because this recipe’s a spitter. Secondly, when it comes time actually to cook your beans, you might want a little mood music. Buena Vista Social Club, anyone?

And now for the recipe. The one I use is from this fabulous cookbook:

It’s such a great book, and the other recipes in here are fabulous. But for today, we’ll be using this recipe, for Cuban Black Beans:

You can tell from the schmutz on the pages how well loved this recipe is to me. It’s a great choice for lovers of Cuban food, or lovers of Mexcian food who’ve never tried Cuban. It’s also a great choice for vegetarians, or those who’ve gone gluten-free. You can serve it as a taco-filling, as a side dish for Cuban or Tex-Mex, or with rice as a main course. Make it brown rice and you’ll be so fucking hippie-tastic and healthy you’ll want to make out with yourself.

The first step is to soak your beans overnight. I hear much talk of pressure cookers, and rumors of how “nowadays you don’t have to soak your beans,” but I’m a soaker. I’ve always soaked my beans, and I’m sticking to it. I don’t really know why people bitch about this step: you put beans in a bowl and cover them with water. It takes two seconds. You don’t have to massage them for twenty-four hours, or anything.

When it comes time to cook your beans, use a large pot. There’s a lot of cooking down, and stirring of hot liquids, and this recipe tends to spatter, anyway. Mitigate risk to yourself and your clothing by using a big enough pot.

The second step to any bean recipe is Boil The Shit Out Of Them, and this one is no exception. So take your big pot, dump in yer beans, a diced red pepper, and a few bay leaves, like so:

Then cover with about 2 inches of water. One of the tricks to this recipe that comes with making it a few times is getting the timing/boiling right. The beans will cook, at this stage, for about 2 hours. You can add more water if you need to, but ideally, after making it a few times, you’ll get to where you know how hard to boil the right amount of water for a two hour cooking time.

When you have about a 1/2 hour left of boiling yer beans, you’ll want to start making your sofrito. Sofrito is the base of most Spanish food, and its influence is felt all over South America, the Caribbean, and everywhere else the Spanish set up shop. All it is is pepper, onion, and garlic, all softened together in lots of olive oil. Talk about yum! Here’s yer fixins:

The key to sofrito is not to fry everything hard. Keep the oil hot enough it sizzles, but no so hot it just fries everything brown in two seconds. You’re softening the vegetables, you’re not browning them. So watch your oil. It should look about like this as it goes in:

The other thing that I do at this stage is to throw in a few heaping teaspoons of red pepper flakes. I don’t use the rocatillo chiles the recipe calls for: they’re hard to source, and I always end up forgetting I’ve just cut up chile and touch something I shouldn’t. Ouch! So I use the red pepper flakes, instead. Obviously, you can adjust this seasoning to your preference, or feel free to follow the recipe and use the fresh chile.

The other thing you do, after the sofrito is cooked, is add the cumin and the vinegar to it. I use both, and I use the maximum amount suggested. Obviously, you can adjust to your taste. I use the cider vinegar, but when I was in Spain I always made this dish with sherry vinegar. It was SUBLIME. So if you can get your hands on the sherry vinegar a) use that and b) tell me where you got it.

After the two hours are up, and the sofrito’s made, fold it into your beans.

See how the vegetables aren’t fried brown? And also not fried to mush? As for the beans, you want them to be very much cooked down, but still quite liquid. You have another 1/2 hour of cooking, and you can always do some of that with the lid off if it’s still too wet for your liking.

When you mix in the sofrito, some magical bean alchemy makes them go all creamy. Yum! This is just from adding the sofrito:

After that, you cover the pot and let it all simmer together for another 1/2 hour. Again, if you’ve used too much water to start, you might want to take the lid off for a portion of this cooking time to evaporate some of the liquid.

Eventually, you’ll have a massive portion of beautiful, beautiful beans. What I did with this batch, as I live alone, is to freeze it in cup-sized portion. It’s a perfect meal-for-one, either served over rice or as two delicious burritos.

Oh, and of course I had one yummy dinner, right away. Just a spoonful of light sour cream, all over brown rice.  Yum!

So that’s how you make Cuban Black Beans. It’s so good! And thanks to Marcia to introducing me to Cuban food. If you’re reading this, I’d love to hear from you!

Posted by Nicole Peeler

Author, Professor, Lover, Fighter

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