bring-me-back black beans

Serves eight

These are the real deal: the frijoles negros I grew up on in Miami – the kind my family always has bubbling away on the stove in preparation for any feast, even Thanksgiving. This recipe has all kinds of quirks and special touches passed down from my grandmother and vetted by both my mother and aunt, so try it first as it is and then adapt as you will.

1 lb dried black beans, preferably Goya
1 large onion
1 large red bell pepper
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bay leaf
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dried cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tsp sea salt
1 large ripe tomato or two plum ones, de-seeded and chopped
3/4 cup pitted Spanish olives with pimentos
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Rinse the beans and cover them with water in a lidded pot.  Add a quarter of the onion, a quarter of the bell pepper, two of the garlic cloves, and the bay leaf.  Soak for at least seven hours.

Leave the beans in the soaking water and put the pot over high heat.  When the water boils, reduce heat to keep the beans at a fervent simmer for about an hour, until they are soft.  You may need to keep adding water so that the beans are covered.

Meanwhile, make the “sofrito”: chop the rest of the onion, bell pepper, and garlic cloves and add them to the olive oil in a skillet.  Mix in the spices and cook on medium heat until onions are soft but not brown.  Add the mixture to the beans along with the salt, tomato, and olives.  Continue cooking the beans for about another 1/2 hour (uncovered), stirring frequently until they are thick and very soft.  Use the back of a wooden spoon to smash some of the beans against the side of the pot to thicken the mixture even more.

When beans are done and your house smells like Havana, take the frijoles off the heat and stir in the vinegar.  Serve alongside white rice and plantains.

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