It was tamale day, and after my first experience, I was hoping for a better assignment then peeling 20 entire heads of garlic. I sat at the old wooden table, covered with a just as old lace tablecloth, which was placed expertly to hide marks from times past, probably from several generations back. My future mother-in-law always had to keep up appearances in her house, with the constant ebb and flow of people. She, Julia, one of many Julia’s in my husband’s family, has that demeanor that makes anyone fall in love with her. She stands about 5′ 10″ and is an impressive woman in both personality and presence. She wears thin framed glasses and almost always is made up simply with lipstick. She was the master of the making of the tamales, I was going to marry her son, and she was the defacto jefa in the kitchen, doling out tasks to the younger ladies who came to help. I sat patiently, but in my mind, I was wanted to scream out and say, “I can sauté, boil, chop, anything but peel garlic!” I didn’t have the courage at that time to interrupt and make such demands yet. Finally, I got up the courage to ask, “Y cómo puedo ayudar yo?”. She thought for a second and declared, “you can peel the garlic.”
Beans are probably the most ubiquitous thing in Cuba, and there are a million different kinds, and they are eaten often. Black beans are probably the most well-known, but red kidney beans are also well-loved. These start with a typical sofrito of onions, peppers, and garlic, and the earthy flavors of cumin and bay leaf are layered from there on. My mother-in-law finally realized that I can do much more than peel garlic, and took some time this past summer to show me how to cook all varieties of beans.
Cuban Red Beans: Frijoles Colorados
Notes: Every batch of beans differ slightly, so keep an eye on their cooking, and test for doneness by tasting. Almost all Cuban bean dishes are really almost like bean stews and are sometimes referred to as “potajes de [type of bean]”, which means stew. Therefore, while you are keeping and eye on the liquid levels, keep this in mind. These get better the longer they cook.
- 1 lb of red kidney beans
- 1 medium onion
- 1 half of a large green pepper
- 6 garlic cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon of cumin
- salt to taste
- 1 half teaspoon of black pepper
- oil for sauteing
- water (at least 8 cups)
- bowl for soaking the beans
- knife for chopping vegetables
- dutch oven
- saute pan
- wooden spoon
- The night before or at least 6 hours before serving, place beans in a large bowl, and check for any bad beans or pebbles.
- Pour lukewarm water over the beans and fill the bowl.
Let the beans soak for several hours, until they have plumped up.
- In the dutch oven, add beans with their soaking water, and and enough water to cover the beans by about 2-3 inches.
- Cook the beans over medium heat for 1-2 hours or until the beans are tender.
- While the beans are cooking, begin the sofrito process by sautéing the onions, peppers, chorizo, and all of the powdered spices, including salt, together. Cook this mixture until everything has softened a bit. Set this mixture aside until the beans have gotten tender.
- After the beans have been cooking for an hour or two, check the beans for tenderness. You want to still have a good amount of liquid in the beans once the beans are tender, that is almost like a soup consistency. If too much water has evaporated, add more water at this point, so that there is about 1 inch of liquid above the beans.
- After making sure the liquid level is adequate (you will be cooking these for at least another 30 minutes), add the sofrito.
- Cook this whole mixture over medium heat for at least another 30 minutes, or as long as you would like to, the longer the better. Just be sure to keep liquid in the beans do it makes almost like a bean soup.
- Serve over rice, and enjoy!