Friday, March 13, 2009

Black beans and rice, Cuban-style

The wonderful thing about rice and beans is that it has enough innocence to take on any combination of flavors one can come up with. Wanting to shake things up a bit and move away from the Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisine so popular here in the Sonoran desert last night I thought I'd try my hand at this delectable dish from my sister-in-law. Working as a manager and caterer of the society elite here in Tucson at the Dakota restaurant she is exposed to the culinary creations of the chef that prepares food in a variety of inventions. It came out wonderful! Sadly there are no leftovers because I prepared only half of the recipe since it says it is enough for 16. I should have known better raising two sons and a husband. I would suggest making the whole recipe and freezing the leftovers because at this point I can only imagine that it would become better as the flavor meld over time. Another thing I would like to recommend is to be aware of the amount of water in the beans as they simmer. Because most professional chefs cook over a gas flame, with electric burners the beans will take longer to cook and because they take more time to cook, keep an eye on the amount of liquid in the beans so they don't become too dry or burn. Adding salt during the last thirty minutes or so will also prevent the beans from becoming tough in texture.

This is a real start from scratch hands on dish so be sure to plan well in advance. Make sure you have all the ingredients on hand the day before; starting in the late morning is a good idea. The house will be filled with wonderful warm smells all days long and soon the neighbors will come over wanting to know when will dinner be ready?

Beans

Ingredients

Spread out dry beans and remove any foreign particles then rinse in cold water In a large put them in cold water; about one inch over the top of the beans. Let them soak overnight.

Oops! Forgot to put them to soak? That's okay you can still parboil them.

Cover the beans with cold water and bring to a rolling boil for two minutes. Remove them from the heat and let them soak for an hour.

Drain the beans, put them in a large pot with 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil reduce the heat and simmer gently about 60-90 minutes, or until tender. Stir them carefully to avoid breaking the skins. Taste for salt.

While the beans are simmering, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions, bell peppers and garlic. Sauté until the veggies begin to brown, about 10 minutes.

Remove one cup of beans with a slotted spoon and mash them with a fork. (a hand held potato masher works even better). Add these freshly mashed beans to the skillet full of delicious smelling vegetable. Stir this coarse paste into the pot of beans as a thickener.

Add the white wine, vinegar, oregano, black pepper and bay leaf. Simmer until the beans are tender, about 60 minutes, and mixture is thick, stirring often.

Rice

Ingredients

Add rice lemon juice and salt to boiling water and stir. Bring back to a boil, quickly reduce to low heat, cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork and let it rest for 5 minutes before serving.

For a family style flair you can serve the beans on a large platter with a ring of rice around them. This dish goes well with fresh pineapple, grilled squash and bollito bread. Bollito bread is native to the southwest, but try any crusty bread such as French or Italian as a nice substitute.

You may be wondering why this is called "Cuban" and that's a good question. In many cases, it's the combination of spices that connects a dish to a particular culture or part of the world. Add tomatoes you have Italian, take away the oregano and bay leaf and add tomato it's Tex Mex. Add tomato, substitute green bell peppers with chili peppers and the oregano with cilantro don't add bay leaf it's a southwestern dish.

Savor the flavor! The combination of garlic onion, bell peppers and above all the addition of oregano along with bay leaf makes this Cuban. The transformation of aroma is quite remarkable when these last two spices are added! That's about the time your neighbors show up.


*If you're interested in reducing the amount of fat calories you can reduce the amount of olive oil to 2 tablespoons and sauté the veggies in a non-stick skillet.

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