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Ritual and Repetition

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a talk at my Brooklyn’s Book Court between Thomas Keller and Peter Kaminsky.  Though technically about Keller’s latest cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home, it wasn’t strictly about food and cooking.  From process and baseball analogies, he got to ritual and repetition and I realized what I’d been missing.  Trying to post regularly, I’d become sharkish, cooking in constant motion.  I’ve gotten used to being just a few clicks away from French-Italian-Regional-Seasonal-Indian-Mexican-Caribbean.  It’s tempting to jump from one to the other, trying everything once then moving on.  Having set out to write about traditional food in a new medium, I forget that the best part can be going back, trying again, and making it a little better.  I had ritual, but my repetition was lacking. 

Looking back over my posts, the one dish that I’ve wanted to try again was frijoles negros.  The first time I wrote about them, I was finding my way through my grandfather’s recipe.  Not sure of where I was going, I focused on what came next – peppers, onions, bay leaf, simmer.

Retracing my steps through the same recipe, there were no major changes just small surprises – the way the black beans, purple tinted white onions and green peppers form orchids in the pot, the whole mashed garlic cloves that disappear into the beans, the olives I’d forgotten to add.  I was also more confident that I could correct mistakes.  Over cook them and you only need to add more water, turning back the clock to the time before you decided to answer that email or pick-up your cell phones, they’re generous little beans.  Easy to make well but hard to make great, this batch turned out better than the last.  In a few days it’ll be gone.  If I want to know more, it’s up to me to soak, chop, simmer, and repeat.

Abuelo Pelaez’s Frijoles Negros
Click here for the original post.  I’ve revised the recipe in both locations to reflect 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 cup 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 beans. Stir in sherry vinegar, wine and olives, and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened and cooked through. Remove both bay leaves, and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and add sugar. Serve as soup or a side dish, or over white rice.

Off the heat, add the sugar.  Serve as soup, over white rice or as a side dish to just about anything.

Makes 8 servings.

15 Comments Post a comment
  1. I had a hankering for black beans the other day, but I put off making them because I obviously lacked the foresight to soak the beans (darn those sudden cravings!). Your recipe sounds like it will hit the spot.

    3 March 2010
  2. These frijoles look delicioso. All you need now is a big pile of white rice and you are good to go!

    8 March 2010
  3. Hola Sofia,

    I am 1/2 Cuban and grew up on A LOT of delicious Cuban food including Frijoles Negros, my family makes some really good Cuban black beans, but I tried your recipe today for a change of the usual, and DAMN these are very very good, my family said it was one of the best Cuban black beans. I really like how deep the flavors are because it’s layered (the simmering with the peppers, onions, etc. then the sofrito, the umami from the olives, etc. and finishing it off with sugar) it’s a winner 🙂 I also made em in a clay pot which added to how good they were

    18 March 2012
    • hungrysofia #

      That’s great to hear. I’m so happy it worked out!

      18 March 2012
  4. I am getting ready to make this black bean recipe after seeing it in the NY times – do you drain off the water that you soaked the beans in, and add new water to cook them in or do you just cook them in the same water you soaked them in? (?seems like you should drain off the soaking water?)

    21 September 2012
    • hungrysofia #

      This is always debated. I make mine in the same soaking water which helps retain the color and some feel it makes for a thicker broth. Let me know how it works!

      22 September 2012
  5. Lynn #

    What white wine is ideal for this recipe?

    16 December 2012
    • hungrysofia #

      Ideally, whatever wine you use to cook with you should also want to drink. I usually go to the wine store and ask them to recommend something good but inexpensive so I don’t regret pouring it into the beans.

      17 December 2012
  6. Drew #

    Thanks for the recipe, have the beans soaking now and will make tonight. Making veggie burritos for friends and plan to use your (your granddad’s) beans.

    Have a couple of questions on the olives. What is the unit of measure? The recipe says “1/4 green olives stuffed with pimentos, thinly sliced”, but doesn’t mention unit of measure. Also, don’t see where it says when to add the olives. Did I miss something?

    28 March 2013
    • hungrysofia #

      That’s supposed to be a 1/4 cup! Thank you for catching it and good luck with the beans!

      28 March 2013
      • Drew #

        Thanks, when do I add the olives?

        28 March 2013
        • hungrysofia #

          With the sherry vinegar and the wine:)

          28 March 2013
          • Drew #


            28 March 2013
  7. Wendy Cox #

    THANK YOU! I just made these and am waiting for them to be done. Can’t wait! I am a W.A.S.P. originally from suburban Philadelphia so my cultural heritage is…well…nil! So I adopt the heritage of others based on my taste. Black beans are a favorite! I found you recipe on the NYT Cooking site which led me to your blog! Hooray!
    ps – I am also in the film biz and was a feature production coordinator (in Los Angeles) for 12 years! You go girl!

    2 August 2016

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