((Photo/Betty Cortina))

Making the perfect: Black beans

Whether you’re Cuban and call them frijoles negros or Puerto Rican and call them habichuelas, black beans have been a sacred part of the Hispanic diet for centuries.

Today, black beans are more than a side dish. They’re culture, comfort and identity served up in a bowl. With all that heritage on the line, we wanted to give you the perfect recipe, classic and timeless.

There are a few secrets here: first, use dried beans instead of canned. You’ll notice the difference in texture in the first bite. Second, take your time. This dish is all about low-and-slow; with no magic ingredients, just the humble staples we grew up with, cooking this is an exercise in building flavor little by little. Third, the heart of this recipe is the sofrito of onions, garlic, pepper and olive oil, which as any Latino knows always marks the beginning of something delicious.

Frijoles Negros / Habichuelas

1/2 lb. black beans, dried, rinsed and picked over

5 cups water

2 green bell peppers, 1 sliced in half with seeds removed, the other diced small

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup plus 1 T olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced small

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1 T sugar

1 T vinegar

1 T dry white wine

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a large sauce pan or Dutch oven, cover the rinsed beans, the green bell pepper that’s sliced in half and a bay leaf with the water and soak over night. Once the beans are plump, cook in the same water for about an hour until beans become tender. (If you prefer not to soak over night, bring the beans, pepper, bay leaf and water to a boil for 2 to 3 minutes over high heat, then bring heat to low and allow to about 2 hours until beans are tender, and proceed to next step.)
  2. In a separate skillet over medium-low heat, sauté diced pepper, onion and garlic until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Take about a cup of the cooked beans and pour into the skillet. Mash the beans with the back of a wooden spoon and stir until the sofrito becomes creamy. Add this to the rest of the beans.
  3.  Add oregano, cumin and sugar to the beans, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer over low heat for another hour, adding water if the beans become too dry. Add the vinegar and white wine and simmer for another hour.
  4.  Stir in the tablespoon of olive oil just before serving. Makes 5 cups.


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