Last night we had rice and beans, a dinner staple and one of David’s favorites. I learned how to make beans many years ago from my Puerto Rican mom, but I’ve changed/adapted her recipe over time. I think this has happened partly because I have a hard time following recipes to the letter since I like to experiment, and partly because I’ve been living in Sunset Park for a long time, where the flavors and ingredients lean Mexican and I can’t resist produce like the beautiful poblano peppers, tomatillos, and little chilis available everywhere. My beans *kind* of taste like my mom’s, but not quite; my sister’s beans, on the other hand, taste exactly like my mom’s do, which is always kind of shocking and awesome to me.
These beans are best made ahead of time, like any stew – the sauce will thicken and the flavors will come together to make one true dish, as opposed to tasting like a handful of ingredients in a pot. The base is a sofrito, which is a blend of aromatic ingredients starting with garlic and onions. My mom makes hers in big batches in a blender and then freezes it into ice cube trays, making the first steps of bean-making very convenient and simple. I am currently out of my mom’s sofrito, though, so this time I chopped and sautéed from scratch.
Sofrito: Garlic, onions, cilantro, peppers, spices
My sofrito consists (usually) of: garlic, onions, cilantro, chili peppers, green peppers (often poblano, my favorite green pepper), and ground oregano, cumin, and coriander. My mom’s is generally the same, though without the chilis, and she will usually use green bell peppers. If you can find it, this should/can also have fresh culantro, which is an herb you might find labeled as Mexican or long coriander (in Puerto Rico it’s known as recao).
Beans (Any variety you like except for white, which will break down into mush in a recipe like this one. I try to use dried rather than canned or boxed beans, which I soak and then cook in a large pot of water with a bay leaf for about two hours, until tender. We usually have plain beans ready to go in the freezer; it pays to do the soaking and cooking in bulk. Freeze the beans with some of the cooking liquid – you’ll be able to use this liquid when you’re making the dish.)
Chilis (optional; I also like to use chilis in adobo sauce sometimes; rinse the sauce off before you chop the pepper if using. You can find these in little cans in any market that sells Mexican products.)
Green pepper (any variety you like)
Culantro leaves (if you can find; these aren’t as readily available as cilantro)
Coriander (if you don’t have culantro)
Bay leaf (one per pot of beans)
Tomatoes (I generally use canned or boxed tomato puree; my mom usually uses tomato paste). How much you use will depend on how big a pot of beans you’re making – eye it for color and consistency; this is totally up to your own tastebuds)
Salt to taste
- Start with the sofrito base: Saute the garlic and onions until turning translucent, then add the rest of the herbs and spices. Cook until soft and fragrant.
- Add the beans: If you cooked your own, use the cooking liquid; if you’re using canned or boxed, throw that water away, as it will have too much salt. You’ll fix the total cooking liquid with fresh water later.
- Once the beans have cooked a little with the sofrito, add the tomatoes and some fresh water to achieve the desired consistency. Some people like this dish very soupy, but I like mine a little bit thicker. Remember that this sauce will thicken the longer it sits; you may need to add more cold water when you reheat.
- Simmer on very very low heat for 20-30 minutes.
I made seasoned rice to go with these beans (usually called “Spanish” rice in restaurants and recipe listings). We have a rice cooker, so I made the sauce on the stove top first, then added that to the rice and water in the cooker.
White rice (I prefer short or medium grain, but when we were kids my mom always made this with long grain rice)
Tomatoes (again, your choice: puree or paste; you’ll use much less for the rice than for the beans)
- Saute the garlic, onions, and spices until soft and translucent.
- Add a little bit of tomato. For this dish, you want just a bit of sauce, enough to coat the rice but not overwhelm the dish into soup; you want more of a light orange/yellow rather than deep red color.
- Let the sauce cook for a few minutes, until nicely fragrant.
- If you’re making rice on the stove, add the rice and appropriate amount of water and olive oil/butter (see the rice package for exact amounts); if you’re using a rice cooker, transfer the sauce into the cooker with the rice/water/oil. White rice usually takes about 20-25 minutes.
We served this with (totally out of season but delicious) corn on the cob. David made tacos (using soft flour tortillas) and I had mine on a bed of soft corn tortillas, and we topped them with the tomatillo salsa I made the other day. Excellent with sour cream and/or grated cheddar and hot sauce.
Rice and beans: Kind of Puerto Rican, kind of Mexican
What we drank: