From Nonna's Kitchen: Angela’s Magic Cuban Black Beans
In my office, I have a large world map where I pin each country my Heirloom Kitchen has visited. In addition, I have big circles around regions and countries I have yet to hit. I remember when I began this journey, Cuba was one of the first places I circled. Hence, when I met a wonderful first generation Cuban woman, Micaela, right here in my town, I was thrilled when she was willing to have me to her home to cook with her mother, Angela. I knew I was in for a treat.
I have always been fascinated with Cuba. A place where the culture is dynamic and rich and yet, riddled with struggle and oppression causing so many to flee the country they love. Upon arrival from Cuba, they flocked to where other Cubans had already landed, taking each other in, and helping until a family of aunts, grandparents, parents and children could carve out an American life for themselves.
These communities assimilated quickly to American life by working hard and learning English. However, like so many other immigrants, they also held onto their traditions and delicious food from their homeland. Pride of culture is very strong and their heritage has been preserved for generations to come.
Angela Diaz Porta came to the US when she was seventeen years old. She is an incredible person and talented cook. Angela cooks traditional Cuban food for her daughters and grandchildren to this day. A strong matriarch who came here with her family, she immediately found work and carved a successful life by working a number of different jobs, each one leading her to the next.
Born in Havana, she told me of her family’s dream to move to the US when conditions in Cuba became increasingly uncertain and dangerous. Her English is impeccable thanks to her parents, who valued her learning. She was tutored from the age of five. Therefore, when they realized they could no longer stay, her family left everything behind and moved here to start over. With a fierce work ethic instilled in her by her parents, Angela began working immediately to help move the family forward and also to guarantee a successful life for her and her sister.
In addition to working in the medical profession as a bookkeeper, she dabbled in real estate, retail and also found her way to professional cooking by working for a café and catering company. She was always looking for a better job, increase in wages and keeping her family comfortable. And, it should be noted, she still came home to cook for her family every night. She’d walk in, drop her bag and start mixing the pot on the stove.
Surprisingly, when she married, she couldn’t cook. Since her husband could only make a few dishes, she knew she needed to learn. Always, an avid student, she enrolled in a cooking school. On her first day, the instructor asked her why she wanted to learn to cook. Her response? “Because I like to eat.” Right to the point! Angela and I spoke about cooking equipment, recipes, cookbooks, and many other interesting topics. She cooks many delicious dishes, but for me, she made Cuban Black Beans. A staple to any Cuban dinner table, served with rice, this dish is simple and yet spectacular.
I call these beans magic for a number of reasons. One, they only have a few ingredients yet have a depth of flavor that is truly magical and second, her grandson ate them for breakfast and then went off to his baseball game for a huge win! I believe it was the beans!! And I also believe, there is something about the cooking of Nonnas or in this case, an amazing Abuela, that gives grandchildren nutrition, love, strength, any maybe a few super powers.
Angela’s Magic Cuban Black Beans
2 ½ lbs black beans, Angela likes Goya
1 large green pepper, top removed and cored
11 cups of water, approx., just make sure water is one inch above the beans
10 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
½ cup apple cider vinegar
Cuban Sofrito ingredients
1 ½ lbs green peppers, chopped medium dice
1 ½ lbs white onion, chopped medium dice
2 cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Angela prefers Spanish oil
6 ½ oz fancy pimentos, pureed in food processor
In a large stockpot, add black beans, green pepper and water. Angela measures to make sure water is 1 inch above the beans. Allow the beans to soak overnight.
The following day, bring the beans to boil in the soaking liquid and then reduce to simmer for 1 hour. At that point, remove foam and bring back up to a boil.
While the beans are simmering, make the sofrito. In a large stockpot, add 1 cup of oil and add chopped onion and green peppers. Sauté over medium heat until onions are translucent and peppers are soft but not browned, about 20 minutes. Add pureed pimentos and simmer for five more minutes. Pour the mixture into the food processor a puree until smooth.
After an hour and 30 minutes, carefully remove the pepper from the beans and add the ground sofrito and simmer for one hour. (Cook’s Note: before adding the sofrito, make sure beans are soft, if not, cook until tender) Then, add 1/3 cup of oil and mix to combine. In 15 minutes, add another 1/3 cup and then after an additional 15 minutes, add the last 1/3 cup.
At this point, you can add the kosher salt, pepper and vinegar. Mix to combine. Allow another ½ hour of cooking.
Angela’s beans are usually made a few days in advance as they taste better with each day that passes. These beans can also be frozen.
Final note from Angela: Different black beans cook at different times. She finds Goya beans to cook faster than some generic brands. So, taste as you go, making sure beans are getting soft before adding sofrito.