I was lucky enough to learn how to make black beans from a Cuban woman who’d been making them her entire life. It's not that that automatically qualifies her as an expert, but it was a great place for me to start learning to make my own. Her recipe did, however, include a good deal of pork products, which I understandably omitted when I tried a version. Although I never tasted her beans, which I have to say she was respecting of, it was clear that mine did not turn out as well as hers. By scent alone, they lacked that deep, salty, umami pork-ness that’s such a classic pairing with black beans. Nevertheless I kept making them and trying to improve upon a vegan version until I arrived at the recipe below, which I think is pretty damn good.
This recipe doesn’t pretend to be a pork version; rather it hits some of the same notes while focusing more on the veggies. Similarly, it’s not really a Cuban recipe either. I guess you could say it’s a general Latin black bean recipe. However you describe it, it gets a ton of flavor from the smoked carrots that hit you first in the nose. They also lend a nice sweetness that often offsets the need for added sugar. The shiitake powder and nutritional yeast are there to ramp up the umami. The spices are straightforward but can be adjusted to taste.
I like to eat these beans as a main course with a big bowl of rice, avocado, cilantro and a fresh salsa. But they obvious work in their traditional role as a side dish to any number of Latin dishes. And beyond tacos and burritos they’re a necessary component to my ‘huevos’ rancheros (recipe coming soon).
Makes about 2 quarts
-1 lb dried black beans
-1 white onion, diced
-6 cloves garlic, minced
-3 carrots, cut into 4 inch sticks
-2 poblano chilis, diced
-2 cups vegetable stock
-2 cups filtered water
-¼ cup dry white wine
-¼ cup vegetable oil
-2 tbsp white wine vinegar
-2 tbsp nutritional yeast
-2 bay leaves
-1 tbsp cumin
-1 tbsp dried oregano
-¼ tsp cayenne pepper
-2 tsp brown sugar (optional)
-¼ cup shiitake powder (optional)
-2 tsp salt + additional to taste
1. Cover black beans with water and soak overnight. Alternatively, cover with boiling water and allow the beans to soak for about an hour. Drain.
2. Put a large stockpot over medium heat and add 2 tbsp of the vegetable oil. Add ½ of the diced onion and cook for several minutes or until onions become translucent before adding ½ of the minced garlic. Continue cooking for 1 minute. Add the white wine and cook for another 30 seconds before adding the soaked black beans, bay leaves, vegetable stock and enough filtered water to cover, usually about 2 cups. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer with the lid ajar for about 60-90 minutes or until beans are tender. Remove and discard bay leaves.
3. While beans are cooking, put carrot sticks in a stovetop or other hot smoker and smoke with hickory or maple wood for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool. When carrots are cool enough to handle, give them a dice.
4. Put the nutritional yeast in a heat resistant glass. Boil 1 cup of water and pour over the yeast. Let it sit for about 20 minutes.
5. Also, while the beans cook, make your sofrito. Put a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the remaining 2 tbsp vegetable oil and then the remaining diced onions, the poblano chilis, the smoked carrots and a pinch of salt. Sauté for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables start to soften. Add the remaining garlic and cook for another 1 minute.
6. To the stockpot with cooked beans, add the sofrito, white wine vinegar, cumin, oregano, cayenne, brown sugar, shiitake powder, and 2 tsp salt. Also pour in the yellow liquid only from the nutritional yeast mixture, discarding the clump of yeast at the bottom of the glass. Stir to combine and simmer for about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust salt and seasonings accordingly. Keeps for about a week in the fridge.