Recipe: Berta’s Cuban Black Beans

This recipe is from Llano Seco‘s dear friend and culinary mentor Niloufer Ichaporia King, a specialist in tropical cuisines and author of My Bombay Kitchen: traditional and modern Parsi home cooking (University of California Press, 2007).

Folklorist Berta Montero Bascom of Havana used to bring a vast vat of these beans, expected and appreciated, to any occasion where food was shared. Below is Berta’s family recipe recounted as we cooked them together in her Berkeley kitchen. This is a dish you can and perhaps should make days ahead. Quantities are elastic, and you can halve or expand this recipe without running into trouble. Two pounds of beans will serve 15-20 people depending on what else you’re having.

1. Soak 2 lbs of Llano Seco Black Turtle beans for several hours or overnight. Cook with or without ham hocks, 3 ham hocks for 2 lbs of beans. When beans are tender but not mushy, say 1 1/2 to 2 hours, remove the ham hocks and reserve them.

2. Make a sofrito from 2 large onions, finely chopped, 2 green peppers chopped, 6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped, 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, pounded, about 2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled, and 2 bay leaves: Saute the onion, garlic and green pepper in 1/4 cup olive oil until soft. Then add the cumin, oregano and bay leaves and saute another minute or two. Add the sofrito to the beans. Deglaze the frying pan with red wine or sherry vinegar and add that to the beans as well and if you have any still drinkable bottle ends of red wine, here’s a great place for them. Add salt to taste, being conservative as the cooking liquid will reduce.

3. Bring the beans to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer the beans, stirring from time to time, until the flavors are combined. This second cooking should take another hour and a half or so, and can be done on top of the stove, which requires attention, or in a slow oven, about 300 degrees. Add reserve ham hocks, cut up, for the last half hour. After the beans have rested but are still warm, adjust the salt again.

Note: In Berta’s mother’s house, beans for special occasions were served garnished with julienned ham and sieved hard-boiled eggs yolks and whites.

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