Black beans are a staple in my house. They are cheap, versatile and will keep dried in your cupboard indefinitely. I keep the pot out on my stovetop until they are finished, sometimes up to a week, having never refrigerated them. Black beans are one of those foods that perform magic while you sleep.
- 3 cups black beans, dried
- 1/4 cup olive oil (sunflower, safflower or canola is OK)
- 1 yellow onion (or sweet, like Walla Walla or Vidalia, or white), diced
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped 1/2 inch
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed (or minced)
- 1/2 cup sherry (optional; can also use white wine)
- 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- A few pinches of sugar, to taste
- A splash of pineapple juice (or a couple more pinches of sugar)
- 3 Tbsp. cumin, crushed or ground
- 2 Tbsp. Mexican oregano (Mediterranean is OK)
- 1 tsp. crushed red chile pepper
- 3 bay leaves (dried or fresh)
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
- fresh crema (optional; Mexican or Salvadorian is best)
- 1 ham hock (optional; a smoked one is best; if you can get it cut into pieces, you can reserve the other bits for other soups)
Pour black beans into a baking pan and pick out any stones. Dried beans are notorious for getting mixed up with these unwelcome things. Rinse the beans, then soak them in at least 3 times the amount of water overnight.*
In a stock pot, combine the beans with enough water to be 1 1/2 inches above the beans along with the ham hock (if you’re using it) and 2 bay leaves
Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer beans for 1 hour, covered. Stir every once a while. Do not add too much water as they will turn out watery. You can always add water, but taking it away will require unnecessary uncovered cooking. After an hour, uncover them.
In a saute pan, toast the cumin seeds over medium heat for a couple minutes. If using ground, skip this. When fragrant, remove and crush. Return to the pan and add the oil, then the onions and garlic. Cook for a minute then add the green bell pepper, bay leaf and oregano. Stirring often, cook for 15 minutes until everything is soft and the translucent onions begin to brown. This is your sofrito.
Deglaze the sofrito with the sherry or white wine or a bit of juice, if you’re using neither.
After the beans have boiled for 2 hours or so, reducing in liquid, combine the sofrito into the pot. Stir and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes more or until they have thickened and the beans are thoroughly cooked. Remove from heat.
Stir in the vinegar and pineapple juice.
Add salt, black pepper and sugar, to taste. I usually use a 1/4 cup of salt and a just a pinch of black pepper.
Serve in a bowl with a dollop of crema (sour cream that you can find at almost any Mexican store that has refrigeration). Finish with a garnish of cilantro.
Combined with rice, you have a complete meal.
In my experience, this dish gets better if cooled and reheated the next day. It will keep in the fridge for a couple weeks. You amy have to add water to it, but on those days you feel lazy, you’ll be happy you saved some.
Sometimes, out of bad timing, I’ll soak my beans for up to 36 hours without trouble. (I had a poblano pepper drying up in the fridge, so I cut it up and dropped it into the jar with the water and beans.) The whole point in soaking beans is to reduce the time it takes to cook them. With a pressure cooker, this doesn’t much matter. But word is soaking them also cuts down on the flatulence aspect associated with them. There is much controversy revolving around this issue that the bored or curious cook can read about. I’ve heard that they really only need about 4 hours. Overnight just happens to be more thoughtless and that’s how I do it.