I regret to say this is not a visiting kitchen post. None of my Central American acquaintances have yet to step up and offer to divulge Grandma’s standby recipe for frijoles negros. Maybe that’s a sign that I need to simply ask, but now as the Autumn weather has officially descended on northern Europe, I find it just about time for a hearty soup, authentic or not. And mine, if I may say, is buenísima.
It wasn’t always so. I can remember clearly my first foray into cooking with dried black beans. I couldn’t have been more than 19 and, as I was prone to do as a teenager, got a strange fit of fancy to try something utterly new and foreign in the kitchen. More often than not when this would happen, I would wander blindly over to the stove and simply do what I thought was appropriate. Sometimes it worked. Usually it did not. Growing up, my family was not a bean-loving one, so I decided it was high time to take it upon myself to try to imitate a silky and savory black stew that I had no doubt eaten in some restaurant and had thought, how hard could that be? I recalled hearing somewhere that dried black beans took an incredibly long time to cook, so I thought… ok, like 45 minutes or so, boiled with salt. That should do it. That night I choked down a bowl of little rocks, thinking all the while that there must be something wrong with the bag of Goya beans I bought. Too old, yes that’s it.
Supposedly as we age, we learn that the best things in life require time and patience. This little tale of black beans is a prime example. Instant gratification is not something one encounters when presented with a bag of dried black beans. It certainly requires some waiting around and a bit of effort, but if you embrace this – maybe pretend you are a grandma preparing a huge pot for the family to last the entire week – the fruits of your labor can be splendid.
But even if you are a young person whose busy life does not necessarily allow for Mexican Grandma-like cooking schedules, making frijoles negros from scratch is not SO unrealistic. Just soak the beans before you go to bed to make them for lunch the next day, or in the morning before running out the door if you would rather a black bean soup for dinner. Sure, the cooking time itself is not short either, but when left with a colossal pot of black beans that will yield enough for a dinner party plus leftovers, or give a couple something hearty to eat for a whole week, it’s actually not so bad. Plus, it’s not just about the soup! The beans become thicker and the flavors continue to develop after a day in the refrigerator. Try them simply with white rice or maybe with toast, a slice of avocado and a soft fried egg on top for a quick interpretation of huevos rancheros.
Recipe – Black Bean Soup – Frijoles Negros
*note that this is a vegetarian black bean soup, but you can also add some chopped bacon for an extra kick of salty flavor.
500 grams black beans
1 small white onion, chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small carrot
1 red bell pepper
1 serrano pepper, finely chopped
2 tsp toasted and ground cumin
3 TBSP olive oil
a few whole cloves
2 pinches sugar
sprinkling of red wine vinegar
sprinkling of soy sauce
juice from 1 lime
cilantro (fresh coriander)
1. Soak black beans for about 12 hours or overnight in plenty of water (they will get larger.
2. Add 1 TBSP olive oil, the white onion, 2 cloves crushed garlic and a few whole cloves to beans, and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and simmer for 1 hour, checking regularly and skimming the foam that forms on top.
3. Meanwhile, take some cumin seeds and toast them in a heavy skillet over low heat. Grind coarsely either with a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.
4. Make the sofrito: warm remaining 2 TBSP olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the red onion, carrot, remaining 1 clove of garlic (chopped), Serrano pepper and bell pepper, and sauté for about 5 minutes until soft. Add a sprinkling of red wine vinegar, ground cumin, black pepper and salt, and cook for 2 minutes more.
5. Add the sofrito to beans. Stir in a few splashes of red wine vinegar, soy sauce (yes, this is what I mean when I say it is not authentic) 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. Add sugar, more salt (black beans take a lot of salt), and more vinegar to taste.
6. As you are stirring, crush some of the beans into the bottom of pot or, with a hand blender, partially blend the soup to a consistency you like. Remove from heat and stir in juice from one lime. Add salt and pepper to taste.
7. Serve in a bowl with a spoon of sour cream on top and some finely chopped cilantro (fresh coriander) to brighten the taste.