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.


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


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


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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52 Responses to Black Beans: Cuban Frijoles Negros

  1. This “Black Bean Recipe” is awesome because it’s vegan friendly and free meat
    and it’s byproducts, especially pork!!!

  2. David says:

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