Black Beans: Cuban Frijoles Negros

Life happens. I know you’ve been there. There’s more on your plate than you can chew on – whether it’s work, family, unexpected twists and turns, or simply keeping up with the day to day.

I’m not complaining. Just keeping it real.

At times like these, I turn to some staples. Near the top of my list of go to foods are frijoles. In most Latino homes, you’ll find some beans ready to eat. My kitchen is no different. I’ve got an assortment of dried beans and cans in the pantry. Yet, It’s the black beans in the freezer and the fridge that are prized and a necessity.

That wasn’t always the case. Growing up, pinto beans were king. That is, until I fell in love with their black cousin.

Frijoles negros, “turtle beans,” “caraota,” and “habichuela negra,” are just a few of the names for this small, shiny, sweet legume that is predominantly used in the Carribean, central Mexico, the Yucatan, and African cooking.

Despite the fact that I’ve yet to visit Cuba, I’ve been making this recipe with slight variations for nearly two decades. It’s my go to recipe for a big pot of beans – some to eat and the rest to stash in the freezer in quart containers.

Cuban black beans are spiced with bay leaves plus a freshly-made and cooked sofrito of olive oil, peppers, onions, cumin, and lots of garlic. If you’re hip to Cuban food, you probably know that black beans are typically more common to the western region of Cuba, while red beans are more popular in the eastern region’s cuisine.

Regardless, these beans are a must try. Half it if you don’t want to make such a large amount. You can also modify this recipe to make other cultural variations of frijoles negros. Make a Puerto Rican version with my sofrito with culantro and cilantro or a Mexican version using epazote.

We’ll be using these beans for more recipes. Stay tuned.

Salud!

Tidbits on Black Beans:

  1. Black Beans and other “common” beans originated in parts of Central and South America.
  2. Beans were introduced into Europe in the 15th century by Spanish explorers returning from their voyages to the New World and subsequently spread to Africa and Asia by Spanish and Portuguese traders.
  3. Purchasing black beans:  buy newer beans when possible since they cook more quickly than “old” beans.  Store in a sealed container in a cold, dry place. If you have leftover black beans and you purchase more beans, do not mix old and new beans since they have different cooking rates.
  4. Cooking black beans:  add salt during the last hour of cooking. I add a tiny pinch of baking soda to my black beans to deter discoloration; this, according to some, is also a method to aide digestion and reduce the incidence of flatulence.

Turtle Beans About

Cuban Black Beans

Makes about 4 quarts

Ingredients

4 1/2 cups (2 lbs.) dried black beans , sorted and rinsed

12 cups water

2 large bay leaves

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/8 teaspoon baking soda, optional

1 large red bell pepper, chopped

1 large green bell pepper, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

2 tablespoons ground cumin

10 cloves garlic, minced

1 – 2 serrano or jalapeno chiles, diced finely

4 teaspoons salt

Method

1.      Sort beans and rinse well. In a large heavy pot, add beans, water, bay leaves, 1 tablespoon olive oil and baking soda. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 hours.

2.      After 2 hours, in a separate skillet, on medium-high heat, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil and saute sofrito ingredients:  peppers and onion for a couple minutes; add cumin, garlic and chiles; saute for 1 – 2 minutes, careful not to burn garlic. Add sofrito to the pot of beans and salt. Stir gently and cover. Note: During Step 2 & 3 the beans should be covered by at least 1 to 2 inches of liquid; if not, add additional hot water. I prefer to have at least 2 inches of liquid.

3.      Simmer for 60 to 90 minutes more until beans are tender.Test a few beans by pressing between fingers; they should be soft and creamy. Adjust seasoning. If you want beans to be creamier like a soup, puree about 1/3 of the beans and return to pot.

4.      Serve hot topped with fresh pico de gallo or other salsa and diced avocado. Freezes well.

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45 Responses to Black Beans: Cuban Frijoles Negros

  1. Another inspiring post! Thanks.

  2. Karen Harris says:

    My son loves black beans. For a guy who eats nothing but meat, this is a huge step in the right direction so I try to make them often, but not so often that he gets burned out on them. Your version looks delicious. I’ll try it out on him soon.

  3. Wow, that’s different from the way I make them and sounds great! Although I think I’ll only make half the recipe. That’s a lot of beans. : )

  4. Susan says:

    Great tip on not mixing old and new beans. It’s kind of a “duh” but I’m sure I’ve done it. Won’t do it anymore!

  5. I love beans. I am going to make these this weekend. Another awesome post.

  6. Lana says:

    I just made a pot of black beans last week, and sure enough, a half is resting in the freezer:) I have never cooked them with baking soda – another little trick Iearned from you:), but I was always disappointed when they turned brown on me:(
    We cook a lot with beans in Serbia, but black beans were a novelty for me. Nonetheless, they became a favorite of the whole family.

  7. I like the idea of making a big pot of beans and freezing them to eat later. With only 2 of us in my house it takes awhile to get through a big pot of anything and I always feel guilty throwing food away.

    I definitely want to make these black beans. I might even set a cup or two aside and make a dip out of it :)

  8. Carol says:

    Can’t wait for the next ‘burst of cool days’ to try your recipe! Canned black beans are ‘just OK’, while beans in the freezer are PRIMO!

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