The flavor base of this authentic Cuban dish is sofrito — an aromatic combination of onions, garlic, and green peppers that is to Spanish and Latin American cuisine what mirapoix is to French cooking. Resist the urge to turn these beans into chili by adding extra spices.  The restrained, balanced flavors – slightly smoky, slightly tangy, slightly sweet – are lovely on their own and easy on young palates.  Serve over rice or with sweet potatoes.

Cuban black beans

Makes about 8 cups, serving at least 6

1 lb. dried black beans, rinsed and drained

1 tbsp. olive oil

4 thick or 6 thin slices bacon, chopped

1 Spanish onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 large green pepper, seeded and diced small

6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced small

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

2 tsp. dried oregano

2 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. brown sugar

3 tbsp. cider vinegar

Place beans in a medium saucepan and add enough cold water to cover them by about 2 inches.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Let beans boil 2 minutes, then turn off heat, cover pot, and let sit for 1 – 1 ½ hours.

Taste a bean.  If it is somewhat tender, season beans with a generous pinch of salt (if not, wait until beans have cooked a little longer before seasoning – adding salt too soon can result in tough beans), return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until beans are tender, 20-30 minutes longer.  Drain, reserving cooking liquid.

Drizzle oil into a large skillet or dutch oven.  Add bacon and set pan over medium heat.  When bacon starts to sizzle, stir occasionally until starting to brown, about 5 minutes.  Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add green pepper, garlic, and jalapeno pepper. Season lightly with salt and black pepper.  Cook, stirring, until peppers are just tender, about 3 minutes more.  Stir in oregano, cumin, brown sugar, and cider vinegar.  Add beans and enough of their cooking liquid to just cover, about 2 ½ c.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.

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