Recipe: Cuban Black Beans & Rice

When I was a kid in Florida, my father was occasionally called on to be a guest preacher at various churches throughout the state. Florida has a large Cuban population, and for some reason he was in demand at their churches, where he would often preach through an interpreter. While my younger brother and I loathed sitting in church (we could recite Dad’s two sermons backwards and forwards), we always looked forward to visiting those churches and were especially well-behaved because of the huge potluck lunches afterward – with all the black beans and rice you could eat!

Always on the hunt for new vegetarian recipes, my Mom learned to make Cuban Black Beans & Rice after seeing how my brother and I wolfed it down every chance we got. I make it several times a year to this day, and never tire of it (the leftovers keep well in the freezer, too). This is one of the heartiest vegetarian dishes you’ll ever eat. Pair this with a salad that includes a few slices of avocado, and you’ve got yourself a fine vegetarian meal. Cometolo todo!

Black Beans & Rice and a Green Salad topped with Avocado and Queso Fresco

The Beans:

1 pound dried black beans
7 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
2 bay leaves
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped green bell peppers
¼ cup canola oil

Bring 7 cups of water to a boil in a large stockpot. While the water is heating, rinse the dried beans in a colander or mesh strainer, picking out any stones or shriveled up beans. When the water is boiling, add the beans. Bring them to a full boil and then turn off the heat. Cover and let them stand for at least one hour up to two hours.

Drain the beans again, and rinse thoroughly. (This helps get rid of about 80% of the gas-causing compounds beans are infamous for.) Rinse the stockpot thoroughly and re-fill with 7 cups of water. Add the beans and bring back to a boil. Let them boil until tender, about one hour.

While the beans are boiling, heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté until just softened. Stir in the chopped green bell pepper and continue to sauté for another 10-15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft but not browned. Stir in the salt and add the bay leaves.

Add the onion-pepper mixture to the beans after they have boiled for about one hour and are tender. Simmer until most of the water is absorbed and the flavors have blended. The beans should be the consistency of a very thick soup.

The Rice:

1½ cups brown rice (long-grain or basmati is preferable)
2¾ cups water
½ tablespoon canola oil
½ tablespoon salt

Sour Cream
Tabasco Sauce
Sliced Green Onions

If using basmati rice, rinse and drain. If using long-grain, there’s no need to rinse first. Add the salt to the water in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the rice and the canola oil, stir, and turn heat to low. Cover and cook for 45 minutes, or until all of the water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork.

Serve in mounds on a plate or in a large soup bowl. Top generously with the cooked black bean mixture, and garnish with a dollop of sour cream, a splash or two of the Tabasco sauce, and the sliced green onions.

Yield: 4-6 servings

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