Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cuban black beans and rice

There's nothing like a slow-cooked meal of beans and rice. That really does it for me. One of my go-to dishes is Cuban black beans and rice. It's so easy to throw all the ingredients into a pot and then just let it simmer for a few hours until you get this deep, complex flavor. The result will be a delicious combination of flavors: slightly sweet, smoky, spicy (not hot-spicy but fragrant/herby-spicy), earthy, with just a hint of tartness to balance everything out.

I almost always start with dried beans - they are much cheaper and lower in sodium. With a little planning, it's easy enough to let the beans soak in water overnight, and then either pressure cook the next day or just use directly in a stew and let it cook that way. I occasionally have a can or two of cooked beans (plain, just packed in water and salt), which I sometimes use for those hurried evenings in which I did not have anything planned for dinner; I just always drain and rinse them in cold water before I add to a dish. But more often than not I buy dried beans, also to avoid the BPA that is in the lining of cans. However, this brand makes BPA-free cans - but they are about twice the price of regular canned beans though (all the more reason to buy dried!).

I've made this recipe both ways - in a Dutch oven, and in a slow-cooker in the morning, for those days when I work outside of home. Both turned out well.

Cuban Black Beans (recipe thanks to Penzeys)

  • 1 lb dried black beans (about 2 cups)
  • water
  • olive oil
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup red wine (preferably Cabernet Sauvignon) --> this is is important here!
  • 1 dried bay leaf (whole)
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano*
  • 1 tablespoon epazote*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Rinse the beans and soak in enough water to cover by about an inch. Discard any beans that float to the top. Let soak overnight.

When ready to cook, drain and rinse the beans. Place the beans in a heavy-bottomed pot (I love my Le Creuset** 5-quart Dutch oven for this) with enough water to cover by about an inch. Alternatively, you can use a slow cooker as well. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the vinegar - the acid in the vinegar slows down the cooking, so you'll want to add it when the beans are tender.

Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, and cover. Let cook for 45 minutes to an hour (if cooking on stovetop) until the beans are soft. Check the pot every now and then to ensure it isn't getting dry. When I use the slow-cooker, the beans are cooked when I get home in the late afternoon or evening. The cooking time will also vary depending on how fresh the beans are.

Add the red wine vinegar, then allow it to simmer with the cover off to reduce and thicken the liquid.

I also like to mash some of the beans against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon - this helps also especially if you want to thicken the stew and are too hungry to wait any longer for the liquid to reduce (which tends to happen to me :)) You'll want to leave most of the beans whole though, so I never use my immersion blender for this one.

Serve the beans with some Spanish rice. If you want even more fixings, fry up some plantains to serve on the side, or some diced avocados, or a dollop of sour cream of Greek yogurt. Or all of these together. Tonight we had none of those, so we kept things simple. And that's the beauty of this dish - it's certainly good enough to stand on its own.

This recipe makes a LOT of beans for just two people, but it's even better the next day. I also like freezing the rest of it in small airtight containers to enjoy later. 

Spanish Rice

1 cup long grain rice
1 3/4 cup water
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon of Spanish smoked sweet paprika
a quarter of an onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
half of a green bell pepper, diced small
half of a red bell pepper, diced small
1 carrot, diced small
a pinch of kosher salt

Bring the water to a boil. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Let it come up to a boil again, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Let it cook undisturbed until the water is absorbed. Take it off the heat and let it stand for about 10 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork to separate the grains.

* I used to get my spices at Colonel De in my beloved Findlay Market (one of the most dee-lightful places), when I used to live in Cincinnati. These spices are probably not readily available at regular grocery stores, but you can get them online through Penzeys.

**Le Creuset cookware is on the more expensive side as far as cookware is concerned, but I consider it an investment because it stands the test of time - and I hope my future kids will want to cook as much as I do so I can pass on my collection. What can I say... I'm not into luxury goods, but I get weak in the knees for "luxury" cookware. ;-) But, a regular deep and heavy-bottomed pot (to distribute heat evenly and prevent scorching) will work just fine.

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Dianne Khu said...

i love black beans... actually any dish with beans. i also liked refried mexican beans. yummy!

Mia said...

Hi Dianne! So do I! If you have a go-to recipe for it, please do share :)

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