Dried black beans (Recipe: moros y cristianos)
Way back when -- we're talking decades ago -- my best friend Joyce had a boyfriend named Tom, who had a series of uninspired jobs to support his dream of hosting a public-radio show about military history.
The jobs, all odd and of fairly short duration, were entirely forgettable. All but one, which involved the packaging of glass stopper-topped jars, presumably for storing chemicals, as the tops were quite tight-fitting. The jars came in a whole range of heights, from just a couple of inches to, well, spaghetti length.
Now you see where this is going.
Of course Joyce and I began to stockpile the jars Tom would bring home (Were they seconds or damaged? We never knew.), and we would fill them with pasta, nuts, peppers, M&Ms, and beans and pulses of every imaginable size and color. No matter that we could spend a lifetime soaking and cooking all of the beans we collected. We were "evolving" (i.e., decorating) our kitchens with beautifully filled glass jars.
Of all the beans, my favorite, then and now, are dried black beans.
I love that these beans (often labeled frijoles negros on the package) aren't really black, but more of an inky purple. I love that they're called turtle beans, though they taste more like mushrooms than turtles. I love that they are classified as "common" beans, yet they are uncommonly good for you.
Black beans provide a huge dose of dietary fiber, with cholesterol-lowering benefits and the ability to help stabilize blood sugar. Recently I learned that the darker the bean, the higher the level of antioxidants it contains -- and what could be darker than black?
In soups and stews, black beans frequently cohabit with epazote, which gives me an excuse to have that wonderful herb on my spice rack. It's supposed to reduce the rooty-toot-toot, as Julia Child used to say, and to aid in digestion.
Dried black beans will keep for a year or more in a tightly sealed bag or jar. Beans do get stale, so try to use them as soon after purchase as possible. To cook dried beans, first soak them for eight hours, or overnight, in water to cover by several inches; before cooking, remove any stones or beans that look unhappy (often their unhappiness will cause them to float on the surface). Discard the soaking water and give the beans a good rinse before cooking.
In my pantry I keep both canned and dried beans. They are not entirely interchangeable; at times, only the texture of dried beans, cooked from scratch, will do. For dips and salads, use the canned beans; for soup or stew, start with dried beans.
And, if you're lucky enough to have a best friend whose boyfriend works in a jar factory, why not start your own bean collection?
Moros y cristianos (black beans and rice)
La Bodeguita del Medio is one of the most famous eating and drinking places in Old Havana. Started in 1942 by Angel Martinez as a small bodega (grocery store), it evolved into a mecca for Cuba’s leading writers and artists. Even Hemingway was said to have dropped in for a mojito or two. “Moros” is a staple at every Cuban meal. This recipe, adapted slightly from La Bodeguita, serves 6-8. (By the way, it is the tradition to sign your name on the wall at La Bodeguita; if you go, look on one of the second floor door frames. I hope my signature is still there!)
1-1/2 cup dried black beans
1/2 cup vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 small green pepper, minced
1 small onion, minced
4-1/2 cups rice
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
Soak the beans in cold water overnight. Drain, and place in a pot with fresh water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce to the simmer. Cover, and cook for 1 hour, or until beans are tender but not falling apart. Drain the beans, but reserve all of the cooking water.
In a stockpot, add the oil, and saute the garlic, pepper and onion for 3 minutes. Add the black beans, rice, and the bean cooking water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to simmer and cook until the rice is tender. Add lime juice, stir, and serve.