The Best Frijoles Negros I Never Had
I did not grow up eating arroz y frijoles negros/black beans and rice. This would not be extraordinary except that I’m a Cuban raised in Miami. It would be easier for me to list the things that we don’t serve with black beans and rice, and they’re mostly desserts. On weekends, we would go to my grandparent’s apartment where they would spend all morning preparing a large, traditional meal for us that would of course include frijoles negros. I would sit on the yellow shag carpet in their living room watching reruns of I Love Lucy (I thought it was a documentary) and old Tarzan movies, while they cooked. I knew lunch was almost ready when I heard my grandfather frying the egg that would go on my white rice in place of the beans everyone else would be having. There was never a tantrum, I had just decided I didn’t like them and they were never forced. We’d all sit down to it, and I’d hear my parents and sister rave about the incredible frijoles they were having without feeling the slightest inclination. Abuelo Peláez was my favorite and I was his. Secretly, I think I loved the exception he made for me. Plus, he made the most incredible fried eggs I’ve ever tasted. The tops were a translucent white and the yolks were the perfect kind of runny.
It wasn’t until I was visiting family in Spain that I tasted frijoles negros for the first time. They had made them in my honor with the understanding that Cubans could “not live without they’re black beans and rice,” unaware that I’d managed for twenty years. I couldn’t be rude, so I tried them and realized in an instant that I had made a HORRIBLE mistake. Green peppers and garlic that melted into the heavy textured sauce over the slightly sweet beans that broke apart…how could I have missed this?
I’ve had a lot of black beans since then but they were never my grandfather’s. By that time, well into his nineties, it had been a couple of years since he could manage the large batches of frijoles negros he’d make for neighbors and family. My sister thought to ask him for his recipe before he passed, and I tried making it myself for the first time today. With Cami acting as my Proustian proxy, I tried to follow his notes as closely as possible. Soaking the beans over night, cooking them slowly in the same liquid, skimming the top. I even found a channel playing I Love Lucy. The results were close to what I could remember but not exactly right. At the very end, I put in a touch too much salt and had to add more water and cooking time to adjust. Still, I’ll keep trying. I have to make up for a lot of lost time.
Abuelo Pelaez’s Frijoles Negros
I tried to follow my grandfather’s recipe as closely as possible but had to guess at amounts for the seasonings when he did not specify them. Most black bean recipes suggest taking a cup of the boiled black beans and mashing them into the sofrito before putting it all together for the final simmer. I am not sure why he skipped this step, but I’ll different versions and report if the results differ.
Revised as of 3/3/10 with minor adjustments.
1 pound black beans, rinsed thoroughly
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large white onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, mashed but whole
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large white onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt (easier to add later than take away)
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 green olives stuffed with pimentos, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
Soak the black beans overnight in a large pot with 10 cups of water.
Add the next five ingredients to the beans and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 1 hour, check regularly and skim the foam that forms on the top.
To make the sofrito, warm the remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining onion, green pepper and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes till soft. Add the bay leaf, cumin, oregano, black pepper and salt and cook for about 2 minutes more.
Add the sofrito to the pot with black beans. Add the sherry vinegar and wine. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer and cook covered for about 1 to 1/2 hours, stirring frequently, till slightly thickened and cooked through. Adjust salt and pepper to taste (carefully).
Off the heat, add the sugar. Serve as soup, over white rice or as a side dish to just about anything.
Makes 8 servings.