I’ll be completing three recipes for the Boiling & Simmering section of the online cooking school at America’s Test Kitchen. In this post, I’ll be covering my experience with the Cuban Black Beans & Rice recipe. I’ve got some opinions on this one, so I’ll sprinkle those throughout.
I’ve always wanted to try Cuban food. I’ve been hearing good things about it for years. I’ll tell you one thing – as I was going about preparing this recipe, I liked what I saw in the way of ingredients and flavor development. Tons of garlic, onion and pepper. That’s my kind of food. The thing is, some areas of this endeavor just didn’t make sense and other parts could have been improved upon. But like I mentioned above, I’ll talk about all that below. Overall, this is a well crafted and tasty glimpse of Cuban cuisine that you should definitely give a try. There’s a lot you can do with it and it’s fairly open to interpretation.
I doubled the ingredients of this one because I wanted to have a lot of leftovers. Since everything involved was on the less expensive side, I figured that it couldn’t hurt to have a refrigerator full of nice, filling rice and beans. It’s the perfect lunch. So, when looking over the ingredient list below, be aware that I adjusted for what I was after. And just to let you know, I ended up with about 3 quarts of food when I was finished. That’s about half of what my Dutch oven can hold. With that said, you’ll need a rather large Dutch oven for this recipe. If you have something smaller than my 7 quart, you should adjust the recipe below accordingly.
2 Tablespoons Regular Table Salt
2 Cups Dried Black Beans
4 Cups Low-Sodium Vegetable Broth
4 Cups Water
4 Large Green Bell Peppers
2 Large Red Onions
1 Head of Garlic
4 Bay Leaves
3 Cups Long-Grain White Rice
4 Tablespoons Regular Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Minced Fresh (or Dry) Oregano Leaves
8 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
4 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
1 Bunch of Scallions
There are quite a few steps to this recipe. When I first began, I thought I was putting together some simple rice and beans. Boy was I mistaken. To develop the flavors necessary, there’s some cooking involved.
Rinse & Soak the Beans
Unfortunately, if you’re planning on cooking this today, you most likely won’t be able to. Dried beans take a long time to soften. From our experience here at the house, letting them soak overnight is the best. I’m sure it’s possible to coax some sort of softness out of them faster by boiling and letting them sit, but I’ve heard bad things from those who have done that. So, the trick is to rinse the 2 cups of dried black beans, add 1 1/2 tablespoons of regular table salt to about 2 1/2 quarts of water in a bowl and mix everything together. Then, let the bowl and the ingredients rest on your kitchen counter for about 24 hours. This is what you should have after that period of time.
Drain & Rinse the Beans
Once the beans have finished soaking and softening, go ahead and rinse them off. Put them aside for later use.
Cut & Clean Green Bell Peppers
At this point, it’s time to cut the 4 bell peppers in half and remove their stems. Also, try to remove as many seeds as you can. Like the beans, put these aside for later use.
Cut & Peel Red Red Onions
Take the red onions and cut them sideways, or across them. Please see the photos below. After they’re cut, peel the outer layer off, keeping the ends in tact. We’ll be adding two halves to the mixture in a bit, so they need to stay together.
Just as an FYI – it’s not critical to use a red onion for this recipe. You can use regular cooking onions or yellow ones. It’s up to you. I like the sweetness of the red after it’s cooked, so I used it for this recipe.
Cut & Mince the Garlic
From the head of garlic, remove about half of the cloves. After that, cut the remaining head in half, so the slice goes right through each of the attached cloves.
After that’s done, take the loose cloves and peel them. Once they’re peeled, go ahead and mince them up and save separately for later use.
By this point, your kitchen should begin smelling pretty good. I was getting excited at the prospects.
Combine Ingredients in Dutch Oven
It’s time to get the ball rolling. Take out your Dutch oven and place it up on your cook top. Combine the beans, all the vegetable broth (4 cups), 4 cups of water, 2 halves of pepper, 2 halves of red onion, the halved head of garlic (what’s still stuck together), 4 bay leaves, 2 teaspoons salt and cover with the lid.
Cook the Above Ingredients
The goal here is to coax flavor from the ingredients you just added to the Dutch oven. To do this, you’ll need to bring the liquid inside of it to a simmer over medium-high heat and then to reduce the heat to low. After that, cook until the beans are soft. This took a half hour for me. I used my wood burning stove though, so I would save a bit on electricity cost.
Remove Onion, Garlic, Bay Leaves & Pepper From Dutch Oven
We’ve made it to my first opinion. The recipe I used said to remove the onion, garlic, bay leaves and pepper and to discard them. At the time, I thought that was strange, but once I removed them and had an entire quart of wonderful tasting ingredients that I was supposed to discard, I thought this was very strange. Here’s my advice – remove these ingredients and save them for later use (except for the bay leaves). I made this recipe yesterday and just today, I warmed up these extra ingredients and mixed them with some leftover rice. They tasted great.
Drain Beans & Save Liquid
Inside your Dutch oven, you should have your beans and some dark looking liquid. If you taste this liquid, you’ll see that you did, in fact, take a lot of flavor from the above ingredients. For this step, you’ll need to drain your beans and save the liquid. You’ll need about 5 cups of the liquid, although, for some reason, I had to use all of mine, so be sure to keep everything you’ve got.
This is a picture of just one cup of liquid. I wanted to demonstrate the color of it.
Your Dutch oven should now be empty.
Depending on the speed of your oven, you may need to preheat it now. There are probably 20 minutes of preparation to go still, so you can do this later if you’re not concerned with time. As I mentioned earlier, I used my wood burning stove for this entire recipe, so I didn’t preheat anything. I simply added a few logs to increase the temperature of it.
Rinse the Rice
I’ve got some photos of rice for you below. This first one is some in a measuring cup.
This photo is of dry white rice before rinsing.
Dry rice has tons of starch sitting on the outside of each grain. We want to remove as much of that starch as we can. So now, go ahead and rinse the 3 cups of rice with a strainer and be sure the water coming from the bottom of the strainer turns clear before you stop. After the water turns clear, shake the strainer to dry the rice as much as possible and store it in a bowl for later use.
Cut Remaining Onion & Pepper and Add to Food Processor
You should still have 2 halves of uncooked onion and 6 halves of uncooked pepper. At this point, cut the butts off of the onion and process (with your knife) all the ingredients into 2 inch pieces. Add some to a food processor and pulse until it’s shredded. This may take a few batches, depending on how much you’re making.
Like in the photo above, store these ingredients in a bowl for later use.
Measure Out Oregano
You can either do this step now or wait until later. It really doesn’t matter. I measured out my 2 tablespoons of dried oregano and added them right to the bowl of shredded onion and pepper above.
Heat Olive Oil & Add Ingredients to Dutch Oven
Like I mentioned earlier, your Dutch oven should be empty. If that’s the case, add 4 tablespoons of olive oil to it and heat to medium. Once the pot is warm again, add the bowl of onion, pepper and oregano. You can also add the 8 teaspoons of ground cumin.
Mix Ingredients & Cook Down
After everything is properly in the pot, mix it all together.
Keep on stove over medium heat for about 15 minutes, until everything cooks down a bit.
When the above ingredients look good, add the minced garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. Your kitchen should start smelling quite wonderfully.
During the process of cooking the garlic, keep stirring. It’s important to allow the minced pieces to reach and touch the bottom of the Dutch oven.
Remember that bowl of rinsed dried rice? Well, it’s now time to pour the entire thing into the Dutch oven and mix it with what’s already in there.
Yes, I know. It’s odd adding dry rice to cooked ingredients. Don’t worry, it’ll come together in a moment or two.
Add Beans & Liquid
Again, remember those cooked beans and the liquid you reserved for later use? Well (again), it’s time to mix the beans together with the rice mixture.
Also, measure out 5 cups of the dark liquid you saved and pour them into the Dutch oven as well. Be sure to save any extra because you may need it. Finally, add the 4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a teaspoon of salt.
Cook the Ingredients
On your stove top, bring everything to a simmer. Once that’s going well, place the entire covered Dutch oven in your oven and cook for about a half hour. The task is to get the rice cooked and soft. Once that’s completed, it’s ready to come out. Again, I cooked this on the top of my wood burning stove, so that’s an option if you have one. Since the walls of my Dutch oven are so thick and made of cast iron, everything was heated consistently.
Now, the reason I suggested that you save the remainder of that dark liquid is because your rice may need it. After a while, you might check on your mixture and find that it’s looking dry and that the rice is still somewhat hard. If this is the case, as it was for me, simply add some more liquid. I had to add it all. If you do this and need even more, you can use water.
Once you’ve got everything cooked the way you’d like to see it, remove it from your oven and let it rest on your stove top.
Since my recipe was doubled, I was liberal with the scallions. I’m usually generous with these in general because I love them so much. I sliced 4 scallions and stored in a small bowl.
I also sliced my lime into a few wedges. This will be used as flavor and as a garnish.
The Final Product
After scooping some rice and beans into a bowl and garnishing with some scallion slices and a few wedges of lime, I took some photos of it and gave it a taste.
This is what I found. First, I was somewhat disappointed that the rice had taken on the color of the dark liquid. After some analysis, I think that if the recipe somehow called for cooking the rice separately, it would have stayed white and would have been more visually pleasing. I think everything that cooked together in the Dutch oven ended up sort of grey. When I pulled the top from it, my heart sank. This recipe was 39 steps and to end up with a grey mass was not what I was expecting.
Next, after tasting the rice and beans and after eating a bowl for dinner, I thought it was just okay. I really like the fact that so much garlic, onion and pepper was used, but it seems that by cooking all these ingredients together, the flavors were really muddled. For minutes on end, I felt as though I was some sort of a food critic, rolling everything around the inside of my mouth. After a while, I concluded that I couldn’t find any flavor separation. The beans tasted like the rice and vice versa. Based on the flavors of all the dynamic ingredients used, I wanted some sort of a pop. I didn’t get it. I did get very full though, so with some modification, I may keep this recipe for later use.
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