Frijoles Negros (Cuban Black Beans)

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.

Black Beans Frijoles Negros

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.

Bay Leaves 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.

Green Pepper Frijoles Negros

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.

Sofrito Frijoles Negros

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

Frijoles Negros (Cuban Black Beans)
(serves 5-8)

  • 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
  • salt/pepper
  • 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.

Frijoles Negros

Frijoles Negros


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24 Responses to Frijoles Negros (Cuban Black Beans)

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever had cuban black beans, but this looks so good and hearty! I think I may make it for dinner next week. I know what you mean about always wanting to try a new recipe…especially when you’re a food blogger. It’s hard to just stick to the tried and true favorites when there’s so much to explore. I’m with you though, there are just some things that bear repeating. For me, it’s my mom’s meatloaf :)

  2. Caz says:

    I’ve always been a bit lazy about using dried beans but this dish looks fantastic so I will have to put in the effort! As you say, it is very easy. Good luck with your travels. :)

    • wandercrush says:

      Hahah I know what you mean. Definitely give it a go, though! As long as you soak them overnight, it really just comes down to replying to a few emails while they simmer away on the stovetop :)

  3. Andi says:

    If you have access to it, try mexican oregano instead of italian oregano. Even though they’re both called “oregano”, the two plants aren’t even related!

    And I totally agree about using dried beans. Canned beans cannot compare.

    Hope your move goes smoothly.

  4. Joanne says:

    I love the flavors of cuban food and could totally go for a big bowl of these beans right now!

  5. Cuban black beans are a terrific dish. We used to live in Tampa, and although it’s not Miami, it has a large Cuban population, and some super Cuban restaurants. So this is a dish I had often at those, and one I’ve made often as well – so tasty! Really like the idea of using a vegetarian stock – makes this a lighter dish. Good stuff – thanks.

    • wandercrush says:

      Yes, definitely—glad to have another Cuban-food fan from Florida. These beans are never the star of the menu, but unfailingly good! Thanks for your comment, John :)

  6. I usually make mexican style frijoles refritos…but these look healthier and worth a try :)

  7. Helena says:

    How I do agree about that constant and hectic recipe testing ! The funny thing is that since I started foodblogging, I came back with more pleasure to well-tried recipes, partly to catch up the time spent on shooting and writing ! But I still have some periods where I like to give a go to the recipes I’ve been daydreaming of, sometimes since monthes !
    Anyway, I have to thank you for sharing this one as I’m a huge fan of every kind of beans (I just discovered black eyed peas recently – amazing). This dish sounds like a great comfort food (and it’s not that unphotogenic…) ! I trust you for having come up wih the perfect recipe :) Plus, those few, humble ingredients are happily staples in my kitchen, unlike the Indian spices of your previous recipe.
    I just can’t figure out what I see on the third picture…

    • wandercrush says:

      Ah, thanks so much Helena—always good to hear my own compulsive behaviours reflected back from fellow bloggers!
      I’m excited for you to try these! Black-eyed peas are lovely, and usually we eat them on New Year’s Day as a tradition for good luck. Black beans just have that extra depth that make them my favourite, though. The third picture is the inside of a green bell pepper, held up to the sunlight ;) A bit of a visual puzzle, in retrospect…

      • Helena says:

        Aw, I get it ! Interesting photo concept, you’re full of good ideas :) I love your work, really !
        Sorry for having been so distant from the blogosphere since a while : I unexpectedly found a summer job that turned out to be much more time-consuming and exhausting than I’d like…
        Hope you’re still doing well ! Cheers.

  8. shuhan says:

    Irina! That looks stunning! Love that pseudo yin yang black whit estyling, and your blue plate is gorgeous (where from?). I can relate to the whole thing about food bloging. When I first started, I almost NEVER repeated the same dish in a month. I was curious and there was so much out there to try! But now, I just turn back to my old favourites, and I hardly tire of them; I just make little subtle adjustments to the spices to keep them fresh and I don’t even follow recipes much at all now; I sniff a bit and taste a bit and it sort of just comes to me what I need to add :)

    • wandercrush says:

      Thanks, Shu Han! Very much agreed about what you’ve said; I think it comes with maturity in the kitchen! Still taking steps to get there, and it’s fun to figure out which dishes make the cut ;) The plate is from Anthropologie, where everything makes me weep in delight.

  9. cquek says:

    something very new to me… i have never tried it. but it sure looks good.

  10. I could eat black beans for dinner very often, I absolutely love them! I always add oregano and cumin but never any sugar, I’m going to give this a try.. thanks!

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