January 13, 2012

cuban black beans (frijoles negroes)

Cocina Al Minuto, a well-loved Cuban cookbook by Nitza Villapol and Martha Martinez, is the source of inspiration for this version of Cuban black beans. Nitza Villapol, considered Cuba's version of Julia Child, was a chef who also used television to teach many home cooks how to achieve success in the kitchen. In our household, we have two copies of the cookbook. One is a photocopied version that my husband's mother gave us of the original cookbook that was published in Cuba. Throughout its 414 pages, in addition to the recipes, the cookbook has printed ads for brand-name ingredients that are also used in the recipes. The second is a Spanish language edition published in the United States that I ordered online, and is a bit shorter at 336 pages. This version leaves out the printed ads, brand names, and also a two-page section from the original that tells how to make homemade butter, cheese, tea, and of course the famously sugar-fortified Cuban coffee.

For Nitza's version of Frijoles Negroes, I've slightly adapted the ingredients and cooking approach. If you've had Cuban black beans, the familiar, earthy flavor with a tinge of acidity is still all there. If you haven't, this version will give you a wonderful taste of an iconic dish of Cuba.


Cuban Black Beans
(adapted from Cocina Al Minuto by Nitza Villapol and Martha Martinez)

1 lb. dried black beans (avoid dried beans that are old, as they don't soften easily and can increase cooking time significantly)
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 large green bell pepper, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons sucanat (you can substitute organic white sugar)
1/2 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/2 tablespoon dry or cream sherry
1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil


The night before:


Rinse black beans and pick out any broken or chipped beans and any other debris. Put in a large stockpot and cover with 3-inches of water. Cover and soak overnight.

The next day:

Drain black beans and cover with 2-inches of fresh water. Bring beans to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Skim off any foam residue that forms on the surface of the water. Add the bay leaf and partially cover and cook for 45 to 60 minutes until beans begin to become tender.

While the beans are cooking, sauté onion and green bell pepper over medium heat until softened. Add the garlic during the last few minutes of sautéeing the onion and bell pepper. Once the black beans start to soften, add the sautéed onion, bell pepper and garlic to the beans in the stockpot. Stir in the salt, pepper, oregano, cumin and sucanat. Continue to cook beans until tender but not mushy. When beans are done cooking, remove them from the heat. Using a hand immersion blender, very briefly (just a few seconds) purée some of the beans in the pot. If you don't have a hand blender, remove a cup of the cooked beans and mash them thoroughly, then add them back to the stockpot. The final consistency of the black beans should be somewhat thick, with some liquid, but not watery or soupy. At this point, stir in the sherry vinegar, sherry liqueur, and olive oil. Serve immediately.


Makes 8 servings

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