Few things are as truly Cuban as black beans. The Taino native who lived in Cuba cultivated and ate black beans long before Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic and “discovered” them. But it took Spanish and African influences to turn black beans into the traditional Cuban dish we know as frijoles negros today. We like our beans nice and tender, and unlike the way the island natives made them, we add dry cooking wine to give them a distinctive flavor.
What gives Cuban black beans their unique taste, though, is the sofrito, a sautéed blend of onions, garlic and green pepper. No Cuban meal is complete without a side of black beans.
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ESTEFAN’S BLACK BEANS
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
1 lb black beans
10 cups water
1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded and halved
5 cloves of garlic, 4 of them crushed (using a garlic press or mortar and pestle)
2/3 cup olive oil
1 bay leaf
¾ TSP oregano
Salt to taste
Cumin powder to taste (optional)
½ cup dry white wine (optional)
- Rinse the beans thoroughly and remove any debris. Place the rinsed beans in a large covered pot of Dutch oven. Add the water, cover, and let sit overnight or for at least 6 hours.
- Set stove on medium high and bring the beans to a boil. Add one of the green pepper halves, one of the onions halves, and a garlic clove. Cover, and reduce heat to low, and cook for 45 to 60 minutes or until the beans become tender.
- Meanwhile, finely chop the remaining halves of the green pepper and onions to be used in the sofrito that will be added to the beans for flavoring. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat until fragrant. Then add the chopped onions and crushed garlic, and stir-fry for 3 to 4 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the chopped green pepper and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat.
- Once the beans are tender (see step 2), fold the bean-sofrito mixture into the rest of the beans, and add the bay leaf, oregano, salt, cumin powder (if desired), and vino seco. Cover and allow the beans to simmer for another 30 to 45 minutes. If desired, stir in the vinegar during the last 10 to 15 minutes. (If you prefer “thicker” beans, uncover the beans during the last 10 to 15 minutes of cooking, but stay close and keep an eye on them so as not to end up with black bean cake!)
- Remove the discard the bay leaf. Serve the beans piping hot over rice.