Guess who didn’t like black beans growing up? Yup, ME!
“You call yourself a Cuban?”
“What do you mean you don’t like black beans?”
“What kind of Cuban doesn’t like black beans?”
This went on at every family gathering, at all my friends’ houses. Party after party, restaurant after restaurant, year after year. The story never changed and everyone always acted so surprised as if they were just learning of this most egregious affront for the first time. It was mostly a texture thing; legumes also fell into this category. I hated the idea of biting into something that felt like a thin plastic casing containing the mushy guts of the individual bean, pea or lentil. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s-early 30s that I finally warmed up to them and now I actually enjoy beans very much, although still, not so much black beans.
Nonetheless, I loved watching my mother make them. It was the one food she prepared other than her beef stew(my favorite dish ever) with pure love and the intensity of an artist. No one else was allowed to make the beans for any of our festivities. She had very strong opinions about everyone else’s beans: one made them too salty, one made them too soupy, and this one should be ashamed that she even thinks about making them… She took great pride in her beans and they were very celebrated.
The beauty of black beans is that even though the recipe is pretty much standard, it’s hard to find two pots of black beans that are the same. One ingredient that I think set my mother’s beans apart from everyone else’s was the use of “aji cachucha” (pronounced, ah-HEE ka-CHOO-cha). They’re indigenous to Cuba but can be found in the older neighborhoods of Miami, intertwined in shrubbery. We lived in two houses throughout the course of our life where the peppers grew in abundance, and it was my job to pick them. When they weren’t available, my two great-aunts would pick and can them from their own shrubs. They are not essential to the recipe, but they’re absolutely delicious and if you enjoy gardening, you can buy seeds on Amazon and grow your own.
As with most of my mother’s recipes, there are no actual measurements for the ingredients, just a list of what she put in them, followed by the instructions on how to cook them in the pressure cooker. And please, be careful using a pressure cooker if you have one of the old fashioned kind. She did not fully depressurize a pot of beans once…beans everywhere! Luckily, no one was hurt in we now refer to as Black Bean Incident of 1982. My recommendation is to invest in the 6qt Instant Pot 7-in-1 Cooker(Amazon affiliate link). Fast, reliable, and most importantly SAFE!
- 1 lb dry black beans
- 1 green pepper
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 med onion, finely chopped
- 1/3 to 1/2c olive oil
- bay leaf
- white wine or dry white cooking wine
- Wash beans in a strainer, add to a large pot and fill with cold water 2" above the beans or approx 12 cups of water. Cut the pepper into 4 large quarters and place two in the pot. Let the beans soak for several hours, about 4-6. If you start them before bedtime, they can soak overnight. Otherwise start this process first thing in the morning.
- Do NOT drain the water; bring the beans/water to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the beans are soft.
- In a frying pan, add olive oil, garlic, onion and the remaining pepper, chopped up and at medium heat, gently fry until soft. Remove about a cup of beans from the pot, add to the pan and mash them up a little with the garlic, onions and peppers. Then put all the contents into the pot with the beans.
- Add 1/2 tsp of salt and pepper to taste, 1 or 2 bay leaves, 1/2 tsp of sugar and shake some dried oregano over the top. Bring pot to a slow boil and let the beans cook for about another hour.
- Add about 1 tbsp vinegar and 1 tbsp dry white wine and again, let cook over low heat another hour.
- If after an hour the beans seem too watery, remove the lid from the pot and cook until it thickens up.
- When ready, serve over white rice and garnish with raw chopped onion.(optional)
- On some occasions, my mother would either put a ham hock into the pot in the second hour of cooking or she would dice up some salt pork and fry with the garlic and onions before throwing it into the pot. Since she never measured anything, use the salt, pepper and oregano according to personal taste. If you feel it needs some more, add it. Just take care to not over-salt them.