I enjoy making black beans and rice. It is a classic Cuban dish, a high-protein, inexpensive, healthful meal that everyone seems to enjoy. Below is my personal recipe for this dish - but following the recipe is a list of “Variations” that includes some interesting additions to the “sofrito” - that is, the skillet-cooked vegetables and aromatics that are added to the beans near the end of cooking. There is also the method for preparing the famous “Moros y Cristianos, Mano a Mano” (Moors and Christians, hand to hand) in which, classically, the cooked white rice is stirred into the beans before serving. This Spanish dish has become a cornerstone of Cuban cuisine….and I should note that sometimes the beans are simply spooned over the rice, as they are served in this recipe, and still called “Moros..” For some reason, I’ve never seen this dish actually served in Spain, or in Spanish cookbooks - but there are annual festivals along the Spanish coast called “Moros y Christianos.”
I noticed, in researching this, that most Cuban recipes I see call for green bell peppers in the sofrito, while I always make mine with poblano chilies (a fresh green chili that looks like an elongated, twisted bell pepper) because I think the poblanos have more flavor. I also often add a jalapeño, which is not the most common method, either, so I have noted “optional” for the jalapeño in the ingredients list.
Another difference, is that I have always rendered a piece of salt pork (the conventional package size, about 3”X4”) to make the fat for the sofrito, but I notice many recipes that simply call for slab bacon, which of course would add a smoky flavor to the dish. Use whichever you prefer, or whichever is easiest for you to find.
I also soak the beans, because I believe that they cook more evenly (and certainly more quickly) when soaked before cooking. You may choose the quick-soak method (bring the beans, covered with water, to a boil, boil for 2 minutes, cover and allow to stand for one hour), or you may choose not to soak them at all, if you prefer. If you do not soak the beans, they will take about an hour or so longer to cook. The secret to keeping the beans really black, is to cook them in the soaking water - you may do that, but many cooks believe that less gas is created in digesting beans which have had their soaking water drained off and replaced with fresh water before cooking.
You will notice upon reading this recipe, that you can change and adapt it to your taste - no measurements are meant to be too specific - and it is a very forgiving recipe.
SERVES 6 OR MORE
for the beans:
1 pound, dried black beans – picked through and rinsed
1 small onion – cut in half
4 cloves (optional)
4 cloves garlic – peeled and gently crushed
2 bay leaves
1/2 green chile or pepper (your choice) – cored and seeded
about 1 teaspoon, ground cumin
about 1 teaspoon, dried oregano
for the sofrito:
1 package of salt pork, rind removed, chopped into small dice
[OR substitute 2 - 4 strips bacon – cut into 1/4-inch slivers]
1 tablespoon, olive oil, or as needed
1 medium-size onion – finely chopped
2 cloves garlic – minced
2 poblano chilies – cored, seeded, and finely chopped
[OR substitute1 or 2 green bell peppers]
1 jalapeño chile – cored, seeded, and finely chopped (optional)
3 scallions – trimmed and finely chopped
about 1 teaspoon, ground cumin
about 2 teaspoons, ground coriander
about 1 teaspoon, dried oregano leaves
salt and pepper to taste
red wine vinegar (to taste)
OR fresh lemon juice (to taste), or lemon wedges
cooked white rice (allow about 1/2 to 3/4 cup per person)
In a large heavy pot, soak the beans in cold water to cover by at least 3 inches for several hours, or overnight. (If omitting this step, add about 1 hour to the cooking time.)
Stud the onion halves with the cloves (if using), and add the halved onion, crushed garlic cloves, bay leaves, poblano chiles (or bell peppers), cumin, and oregano to the pot of beans and soaking water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface.
Reduce the heat to low, partially cover the pot, and gently simmer the beans, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Add water as necessary to keep the beans submerged. Remove the onion, garlic, bay leaves, and chiles with a slotted spoon and discard.
Meanwhile, prepare the sofrito: In a heavy frying pan over medium heat, brown the pieces of salt pork or bacon until their fat is rendered. Remove the pieces for browned bacon, if using, but you may leave the pieces of salt pork in the pan to cook along with the other sofrito ingredients, if desired..
Add the olive oil and the remaining sofrito ingredients. [Cook’s Note: If not using salt pork or bacon heat enough olive oil in a frying pan to cook the sofrito ingredients, add the sofrito ingredients, and continue with the recipe.] Cook over medium heat until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes or so. Taste and correct seasonings. Add salt and pepper to taste.
After the beans have simmered for about an hour, stir the sofrito into the beans. Partially cover the pot and continue simmering the beans gently, until they are completely tender - about 20 minutes.
Just before serving, correct the seasonings, adding salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, or coriander as needed. The mixture should be highly seasoned. Spoon the soupy black beans over cooked rice and sprinkle with red wine vinegar, lemon juice - or serve lemon wedges for each person to squeeze, themselves.
Add to the sofrito (any or all):
1 large, ripe tomato - chopped
4 ounces or more, (Spanish) chorizo sausage - cut into 1/2 -inch slices
1 smoked ham hock (about 12 ounces) - pull off the meat after cooking, shred and return the meat to the beans
1 tablespoon (or to taste) brown sugar
cayenne pepper to taste
lime juice (or lime wedges) instead of lemon used in the recipe above
season the rice by adding toasted cumin seed and lime juice
MOROS AND CHRISTIANOS, MANO A MANO
An iconic dish, called simply “Moros” for short, the title refers to the invasion of Spain by the Moors in the 8th century. The Spanish were ultimately victorious, but they occupied Spain for many years, and the influence of Moorish food and architecture was significant, and is apparent in Spain to this day. The Spanish version mixes half cooked rice and half beans, in equal amounts - you may decide whether to use less rice, as you prefer. (See introductory note.)