Like just about everyone else, I guess, I’m trying to incorporate more plant-based meals in my weekly recipe rotation. That’s partly for philosophical reasons, but also for health.
Beans often figure largely into that rotation, because I like them and because they’re good for you. In general, besides being high in protein and fiber, beans are good sources of folate, iron, magnesium and phosphorus. They’re also a pretty nifty source of zinc, niacin and thiamine.
And, of course, beans are economical. When I priced the ingredients in this recipe, its total cost came to less than $5 — that’s a dollar per serving, or less. Such a lot of benevolent beneficence in a bowl!
Last week, handed a gift of dry black beans grown in Cochise County, I suddenly recalled a black bean dish that I really love and had just forgotten about. Remembering it, I realized that I want to re-add it to my rotation.
I was surprised to learn that more than 90% of Arizona’s dry beans are grown in Cochise and Graham counties, Pima County’s neighbors to the east. At least, that’s what the Arizona Farm Bureau tells me. The 2017 USDA Agricultural Census, the most recent available, reported more than 5,000 acres of dry bean cultivation in the state.
Arizona cooks know their way around black beans, for sure. They’re most commonly cooked with a Southwestern flavor profile, ready to eat by the bowl, or in tacos, burritos and whatnot, or mashed as the base of frijoles refritos. These black beans are danged good, and versatile to boot.
Yet sometimes you want something a little different.
These Cuban-style black beans reflect a different Hispanic tradition. Cuban cookery has been influenced by African, Caribbean and Hispanic culinary styles, making use of the lovely local ingredients at hand. The giveaway in this recipe is the citrus juice added to the cooking pot, and the vinegar, which adds its refreshing tartness. Crushed red pepper flakes — like you see in the shaker jars at pizza places — up the zing even more. It’s also typically Cuban to add lots of bay leaves, instead of a single leaf.
Good today, but better tomorrow (like most bean dishes), you can use the leftovers as “gravy” for cooked rice or quinoa or wheatberries or what have you. Scatter some over a salad, if that’s what’s on deck for dinner. You can mash them, too, if you’re leaning that way. But I most commonly eat bowl after bowl, just as they are, and if any remain, they go into the freezer for another night’s pleasure.
If I have the time, I usually cook these on the stovetop, or in the oven. It’s much more common, however, that I completely forget about dinner until late afternoon. That’s when I lean on my electric pressure cooker, so that I can eat dinner before 10 p.m. The popular Instant Pot is one brand and happens to be what I have, but the instructions I include in the recipe will work for any electric pressure cooker.
Cuban-style black beans
Makes 4 to 6 servings
These are fast and easy to make if you have an Instant Pot — ready in about 30 minutes. Directions for preparing these beans that way are below. Note that the beans don’t need to be soaked for the Instant Pot, but you’ll need to add more water or broth.
1 pound black beans, cleaned and rinsed, soaked overnight
1 large red onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
2 tablespoons wine vinegar or cider vinegar
Juice of 1 large orange
Juice of 2 limes, plus more limes for serving
½ to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, optional
1 to 2 cups beef, chicken or vegetable broth, or water
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon salt
Sour cream or crema, for serving
Thinly sliced green onions, for serving
Place the soaked beans and chopped onion in a heavy pot with a close-fitting lid. Add water to a depth of 2 inches from the top of the beans. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, cover and reduce heat to simmer.
After 45 minutes, add olive oil, garlic, vinegar, orange juice, lime juice, crushed red pepper and broth. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes longer.
Add bay leaves, cumin and salt, and cook an additional 30 minutes, until beans are soft and tender.
To serve, spoon beans into a bowl. Top with a dollop of sour cream or a drizzle of crema and a tablespoon or two of green onions.
Pro tip: These are even better the next day. Reheat leftovers as a bowl of beans or thicken the cooking liquid slightly by mashing some of the beans to serve over cooked rice.
Instant Pot directions: Place unsoaked dry beans and all ingredients except salt, sour cream or crema and green onions into the Instant Pot.
Add 6 cups liquid – any combination of water and broth to equal 6 cups. Secure lid and cook for 30 to 35 minutes on high pressure. Allow pressure to drop naturally for 10 minutes, then release remaining pressure manually. Stir in salt. Serve with sour cream or crema and green onions.