Black beans are eaten in countries other than Cuba; the national dish of Brazil is Feijoada, which is black beans with a whole boat-load of optional add-ins from cured beef to pigs tails and ears to snouts and bacon. Traditionally it’s served on Wednesdays and Saturdays…very filling stuff–you need a nap after eating. For the Cubans, or at least the ones living in the US, frijoles negros is a side dish. Given the poverty and scarcity of ingredients in Cuba today, frijoles could well be the only thing you’ll have to eat.
Dried beans need to be reconstituted with liquid, usually water. There are 2 ways of cooking legumes, which is what dried beans and lentils technically are. There is the Overnight Method and the Rapid Cook Method. First you need to lay the dried beans on a plate or other shallow container. Pick through them looking for small stones and broken beans; discard those. Then dump the dried beans in a large pot, cover with water by at least 2 inches and choose your method:
The Overnight Method – For this method, you can simply stop right here and pick up in the morning. You want the beans to set about for at least 10 hours. Drain and cover again with water by about 2 inches and continue with your recipe from this point. Beans cooked after reconstituting using this method, tend to be softer and can cook to pieces, which makes this method great for soups.
The Rapid Cook Method – For this method, you are going to bring the pot of beans and water to the boil; boil for 2 minutes, turn off the heat, cover and let the pot stand for one hour. Drain and cover again with water by about 2 inches and continue with your recipe from this point. Beans cooked after reconstituting using this method, tend to be slight firmer; I use this for making frijoles negros.
Now we need to talk about sofrito. Cajun cooking has its holy trinity, onion, bell pepper and celery in equal quantities. Latin food has sofrito, onion, bell pepper and garlic. You sauté this mixture in a goodly amount of olive oil until the mixture softens and sugars begin to caramelize. It’s good stuff. In this case, I used frozen bell pepper strips. Frozen chopped onion and bell pepper strips (I prefer to purchase them individually rather than combined, but that’s your call) are a really good idea to have in your freezer. They are reasonably priced and all ready to go…a real time saver without compromising flavor, because I don’t always have a bell pepper at hand…had to believe, huh? So, let’s get started.
Cuban Black Beans (Frijoles Negros Cubano)
- 1 pound dried black beans, rinsed & picked over
- 1 smoked ham hock*
- 2 Spanish chorizo sausages, cut into 1/4-inch slices
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 bell pepper, finely diced (about 1 cup)
- 6-10 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 3 tablespoons dry red wine
- 3 tablespoons apple cider or Sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2-5 teaspoons salt, or to taste
- Salt to correct the seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
*You may substitute 4 slices thick bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces & fried until almost crisp or omit it completely.
Cover the beans with water that reaches about 2 inches over the beans and presoak as desired (see options above). Drain and again, cover with water 2 inches over the beans; add the bay leaves, chorizo and ham hock. Simmer, partially covered, until the beans are almost tender, but still have some hardness in the very center. This will take anywhere from 45 – 60 minutes depending the freshness of the beans.
Meanwhile, make your sofrito. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. (I usually add a couple of tablespoons of bacon drippings, because well, it’s just yummy, but that isn’t necessary and probably not too Cuban.) Add the bell pepper, garlic and onion; cook, stirring until softened and the sugars are beginning to caramelize, about 3-5 minutes.
Remove the ham hock and set aside until cool enough to handle. Add the sofrito to the beans (scrape those browned bit into the pan…big flavor there!) along with the oregano, smoked paprika, cumin, black pepper, wine, vinegar, brown sugar and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir and partially cover; simmer of low heat for about 15 – 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, pull the meat from the ham hock, leaving behind any white sinew or gristle. Chop the ham into 1/2-inch pieces and return it to the bean pot and stir into the beans. When the beans are cooked, discard the bay leaf. Add the black pepper and taste for salt; serve with white rice, Cuban mojo and lime wedges.
You may serve them now, but letting them “rest” overnight in the fridge will make a huge difference in flavor. You may need to add more salt after reheating. You may also freeze them up to 6 months.
until the sofrito becomes one with the beans…very Zen-like.
The Latin Lover has a big smile and life is good! Eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow The Latin Lover will be making his famous Caipirinha, the national drink of Brazil…it’s worth the wait…buy limes and rum today so you’ll be ready tomorrow.