Once You Go Black…
Black beans and rice are soul mates as far as I’m concerned, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I am Brazilian and my peeps national dish consists of the aforementioned babies. Nah, it’s far more than simple genetics that accounts for my adoration. Black beans, glistening and gorgeous from a slow-simmer with a ham hock in the bath with them, are a treat that gets exponentially better the longer you let them hang out. Serve ’em up the next day and they’re gloriously fat from soaking up all the juices from the onions, garlic and spices. Inky and complex, I crave them fortnightly and will grow frantic (nay, manic) if I don’t make a pot to quell the storm that is my craving.
As for the rice, it’s an easier itch to scratch – as my great-grandmother showed me ever so long ago, there is nothing better in this rag tag world than the smell of onions frying in olive oil in preparation for a pot of white rice. That scent is atavistic for me, reminding me that whatever the accompaniment is for the meal du jour, I’m only 25 minutes away from tucking into something damn delicious. And in this case, because we’ve been dancing our way through Cuba together this week, black beans are on the menu.
Anytime I work with ham hocks, I break out my pressure cooker to handle the tough job of tendering the darlings up. But if you don’t have a pressure cooker, not to worry – just leave more time for simmering. And if meat ain’t your thang, skip it altogether and go to town with beans and veggies all by their lonesome. Believe me, they know what to do together without meat at the party.
Cuban Black Beans and White Rice
1 lb. of black beans, picked over for rocks and soaked overnight*
2 green bell peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
10 cloves of garlic, minced
2 ham hocks (optional)
1 bay leaf
4 tbs. of olive oil
1 tsp. of ground oregano
1 tsp. of cumin
1 tsp. of black pepper
2 tbs. of white rum
1 tsp. of brown sugar
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 tbs. of olive oil
2 c. of converted white rice
scant 4 c. of water
1/2 tsp. of salt
In a large soup pot, heat the 4 tbs. of olive oil over high heat and add the green peppers, onion, jalapeno and garlic. Cook until fragrant and translucent, about a minute. Toss in the ham hocks, bay leaf and 4 c. of water. Bring to a boil and then let simmer until the ham hocks are extremely tender, about 1.5 hours. Remove the ham hocks and set aside. Drain the soaking liquid from the beans and add to the pot. Add the oregano, cumin, black pepper, rum (2 shots in the pot and 2 in your belly) and brown sugar. Simmer the black beans over medium heat until tender but not mushy, about 30 minutes. Before the beans are finished, remove the meat from the ham hocks and add back to the pot of beans. Discard the skin and bones.
While the beans are simmering away, grab a pot with a lid for the rice. Warm the 3 tbs. of olive oil over high heat and add the onions. Cook until translucent and then add the rice. Toss the grains to coat in the onions and olive oil and then add the water. Bring to a boil and then cover the pot. Lower the heat to medium-low and allow to cook for 25 minutes undisturbed. Check your rice after 25 minutes and if the water has all absorbed, fluff with a fork, take off the heat and cover until the beans are finished.
When you are ready to eat, lavish your plate with a mound of hot rice and top with a ladelful of majestic beany goodness. If you can make the beans a day ahead, fucking do it. They, much like George Clooney, get even more delicious with age.
* If you have a pressure cooker, follow the same method for the beans, only cook the hocks for 45 minutes under high pressure and then the beans for 20 minutes.