If you’ve arrived here without reading the short essay introduction, I encourage you to head over there - it really is short, I promise. If you’ve arrived here from there, I have to tell you that, for me, these beans come with so many more memories than just those of culture and heritage. Not too long after she learned to cook, my grandmother forced an untimely kitchen renovation while cooking these beans in a pressure cooker...which exploded, starting a fire in said kitchen. Or the time she managed to include some accidental ingredients in them like picture hanging wall hooks - her own unintentional version of King's Cake. Thankfully, my brother Henry didn't swallow it; however, to his dismay, he also hadn’t won a prize. But there are also the times she would make pot after pot of beans just to give away to people who needed a hot meal. Or, all the times she would slip Jennifer (her cat..) pieces of the roasted pork she would always make along with these beans. I promise this recipe comes picture-hanger-free but with all the love of my grandmother.
There has to be some intentional ironic metaphor in here from Grandma about aging, but these beans really do get better with time. I recommend making them the day before you plan on eating (and hopefully sharing) them, or at least cook them and let them rest for several hours before serving. You can obviously eat them right away but trust me, it’s worth the extra bit of patience and time. I typically make a double batch so that I can freeze a few containers. They’re so easy to heat up for a quick meal, and the flavor is that much better.
Traditionally, these beans are served over white rice with fried sweet (ripe) plantains, green salad or fresh cabbage, roasted Cuban style pork and mojo covered yuca. If you forgo the whole feast, I suggest at least serving with plantains or salad, but definitely over rice. Freeze any leftovers or keep them in the fridge for up to two weeks and stir in an additional teaspoon or two of balsamic vinegar when reheating.
GRANDMA TRIGG'S Cuban BLACK BEANS
3 cups dried black beans
Enough water for soaking + 5 cups cold water
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 small sweet onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 head of garlic, peeled and minced (yes, for real; 2 if you’re a garlic lover, like me)
3 Tbsp freshly ground cumin (4 Tbsp if using pre-ground)
4 tsp dried oregano
2 bay leaves
6 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 - 2 tsp kosher salt
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar for serving
Place the dried beans in a large bowl and fill it with enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Cover the bowl and let the beans soak for a minimum of 6 hours or overnight. A shorter soak will mean more cooking time and beans that are a bit more firm, so it’s just a personal taste or time preference.
When you’re ready to cook the beans, drain off the soaking liquid. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat and add the onions, peppers and garlic. Sauté for about 5 minutes, just until the onions and peppers start to soften and release their juices. Add the ground cumin and continue sautéing for a couple of minutes. Add the drained beans, oregano, bay leaves and the remaining 5 cups of cold water. Stir until all of these ingredients are well combined. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and slowly bring to a low simmer. Cover and continue cooking until the beans have softened to your liking (about 2 hours, depending on your stove). Try to keep the pot at a low simmer rather than a boil. If you find the beans start to boil with the lid on, just remove the lid and stir often. Add additional water if needed.
Once the beans are cooked to your preference, add the balsamic vinegar and 1 tsp salt. Cook uncovered for 5 minutes. Taste and add any additional salt to taste. Cook for another 20 minutes, if you want your beans thicker rather than soupy; otherwise, turn off the heat and let them rest for a few hours or overnight. Reheat and finish off with a healthy drizzle of olive oil before serving.
Yield: 8- 10 servings
You can use canned black beans instead of dried if you don’t have time to plan ahead. Sub four 12 oz cans (drained) for the dried beans and add 4 cups of water or enough to just cover the beans. If you haven't ever cooked with dried black beans, please note that different varieties will lose a varying amount of their deep color. You haven't done anything wrong if your beans start to look reddish brown or even grey as they cook. They will darken as they sit/cool, but still may lose some of their black tone. They'll taste delicious either way. Personally, I’ve found Goya brand's dried beans best for maintaining color.