Monday, August 2, 2010

Cuban Black Beans

I like beans. I think they look lovely, they taste great, they're good for you, cheap, and also (unfortunately) a pain to cook. The problem is the whole simmer for 1 hour or until tender bit which usually makes planning the other parts of the meal a nightmare. However, I've decided that this may not be SUCH a big deal since it usually seems to take 2 hours, and even if they are done early, they hold pretty well on the stove, so really, what's stopping us?! (Probably the soak for 24 hours part, but that's another story.)

ANYWAY, I was rummaging around in the bookshelf the other day and came across Jeff Smith's The Frugal Gourmet. I've had this thing for about 20 years, and really liked it when I first got it. It kind of fell to the wayside during some university moves, and then there were new and flashy cookbooks to buy and try, and, well, I don't think I've used it much for, say, the last 18 of those 20 years. The book isn't much of a feast for the eyes -- it looks like a cheapo old paperback (probably because it is) with a few little graphics tossed in at the chapter headings. There are no pictures, but there is a pile of great recipies and advice in there. Dig yours out if you have a copy! If not, you can probably find it for 50 cents in a used book store. It's worth every penny!

This recipe is more-or-less based on the one in Frugal Gourmet. More-or-less because I forgot to add one of the ingredients (celery) and didn't have another one of them (ham hocks) and am not a big fan of another one of them (parsley). Plus I dolled it up at the end a bit. Thanks to Jeff for the inspiration anyway!

First, soak your beans (1 cup) overnight in plenty of water (they'll double in volume and you want to make sure they stay covered).

I cooked this recipe as a side dish using 1 cup of beans -- double everything if you want to make it a meal. You'll need 1 cup of black turtle beans, half an onion, two slices of bacon (or less depending on how vegetarian you are), 1 teaspoon of pepper flakes (alter to suit your heat tolerance and the kind of peppers you are using), a bay leaf, and some salt and pepper. I also added a sprig of epazote, but since most people don't have this lying around in the garden you can just skip it.

The original recipe says to chuck everything in the pot (except the salt) and boil it up until the beans are ready. I wanted to cook the bacon (subbed for a ham hock) and onions first, so I chopped it up and gave it a little fry. Add the onions once the bacon is crisping up and then add several grinds of pepper once the onions have softened (remember, get the pepper in with the fat to help its flavour dissolve into the dish). The health conscious among you may want to drain some of that bacon fat away before proceeding -- I'm a leave-the-bacon-fat-in-there kind of guy myself.

Once that is done, drain and rinse the beans...

...and then add them, the pepper flakes, and the herbs to the pot. You need to add enough water to just cover the beans -- it took about 1 cup of water for me.

Put the lid on your pot, and simmer "for one hour or until tender." Well, bank on two hours and smile a happy smile if they're ready sooner. "Simmer" is a key word here -- you want it to bubble very slowly so that the beans don't break up. You'll need a pot with a tight fitting lid. The lid of this pot has a hole in it, but you can see the little piece of carrot I stuck in there to seal it off and keep the moisture in.

Add salt to taste once the beans are finished cooking. These beans are nice over rice, so about 20 minutes before they are ready, get your rice going. It's also nice to add a little fresh salsa to the beans.

I mixed up a quick one using a tomato, half a banana (greenish is best), and a tablespoon of diced onion. Banana, tomato, and onion is one of the great unsung flavour combinations out there -- trust me -- it's awesome!

Now, this is about the beans, not the rice, so when you put this in the bowl, leave a big well in the centre of the rice,

and then add the beans.

Serve with the salsa, a wedge of lime (and maybe a nice Mojito), and you're in for a perfect summer treat.

¡Buen apetito!

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