Today there will be no fancy culinary terms or italicised scientific names; today is the inevitable post about a dish that brings me straight back home to Florida with one spoonful. The past week has been a last hurrah, a frenzied and glorious swoop of everything I’ll miss about London while I’m gone—and that’s a lot. Perhaps I had a bit too much fun, because there wasn’t a single unstacked shelf by the time I had less than 24 hours until the removal service was scheduled to pick up my things—and boy do I have THINGS.
The packing bonanza culminated in an all-nighter, but it got done. Between my eerily bare room, crashing at midday, awkward goodbyes, and catching the first tube to Heathrow, ‘disoriented’ is the perfect way to describe the blur that was this weekend. Barely sustained by airplane meals and standing in a never-ending security clearance queue at Mumbai airport, I could think of nothing less alluringly reassuring than frijoles negros.
Given the historical relations, Cuba’s not the easiest place for Americans to visit… but we’ve got the Cuban mecca of Miami and an unmistakable influence of their cuisine throughout the state. In my previous university town, it became a ritual to grab a midnight empanada coming home from the bar or to pore over textbooks, armed with a formidable tower of platanos maduros. And most comforting of all was always a humble bowl of Cuban black beans—frijoles negros. They’re also prepared in other parts of Latin America, Puerto Rico, and Mexico, but I’ll always associate them firstly with Cuba—perhaps because it’s the closest to the country that many of us will manage to get.
When I first started cooking almost 3 years ago, I didn’t like the idea of repeating the same recipe twice; my bookmark list would expand more quickly than I could cross recipes off, and there was so much more to try! There still is, but now I’ve also acknowledged that there are some recipes worth tweaking over and over until they’re perfected. This is one of them, and it is indeed perfection. It’s admittedly not the most colourful or photogenic dish, but frankly, I don’t care; and you shouldn’t, either! Trust me on this one.
Cooking the dried—I repeat: dried—beans in homemade veggie stock has been my most recent tweak, and it added so many subtle layers of flavour. It’s not hard to do, and it almost eliminates food waste in the kitchen (you can read more about that in my veggie scrap stock post). Also important is the sofrito (finely-chopped aromatics sautéed in cooking oil), which serves as a base for many dishes. The one used here is faithful to Cuban preparations, but the ingredients and methods can vary considerably throughout Latin America, Spain, and Portugal. I’ve also found that the best consistency and flavour results from letting the finished beans sit covered on the stovetop for about an hour after turning off the heat. It’s worth the patience!
Frijoles Negros (Cuban Black Beans)
- 250g dried black beans
- 2 bay leaves
- water or vegetable stock (recipe here)
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 green pepper, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ t dried oregano
- 1 t ground cumin
- 1 t sugar
- 1 T vinegar
- 1 t olive oil
- brown rice, to serve
- fresh cilantro, to garnish (optional)
The night before, rinse black beans and soak overnight covered with 3 inches of water.
Drain beans and cover with 2 inches of vegetable stock or fresh water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Carefully monitor for the first few minutes, skimming off any foam residue that forms on the surface. Add the bay leaf, partially cover, and cook for 45-60 minutes until beans begin to soften.
Meanwhile, make the sofrito. Sauté onions and green pepper over medium heat until softened. Add the garlic during the last few minutes and all the spices.
Add this to the pot of beans and cook on low until tender.
Use a wooden spoon to mash some of the beans up against the side of the pot to thicken the texture.
Stir in the vinegar, olive oil, sugar, and salt/pepper to taste. Turn off the heat, but let beans sit covered for about an hour before dishing up with brown rice.