Anne’s Irresistible Cuban Black Beans and Rice (Frijoles Negros)

Posted on 13 October 2013

My first taste of Anne Discenza’s cooking was no less than Beef Wellington, perfect tenderloin gift-wrapped in puff pastry. She happily dove into all kinds of cuisines, from epicurean classics to ethnic specialties. She was so generous and passionate about food that she created dishes showcasing local seafood even though her allergies prevented her from taking the smallest taste. She rarely taste-tested as she cooked anyway, since she got all her feedback by simply sniffing aromas mingling in the pan.

Following Anne’s memorial service last month, the family gathered in her and Joe’s kitchen.
Miriam Discenza told the story of her mother-in-law’s irresistible black beans and rice.
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Once you make this recipe, you’ll understand its allure: glistening black beans and tender bits of ham in a comforting sauce of earthy spices, aromatics, and sweetness curbed by a spike of vinegar. The term “sofrito” tipped me off that this is real Cuban cooking. Anne added the coriander, and specified a sherry vinegar splash at the end. I bought Spanish vinagre de Jerez expressly for this purpose, and its bright flavor is worth it.

Provenance of the recipephany

This recipe has its roots in Cuba in the 1950s with Bessie Sams Casas. According to her daughter Mary Casas Knapp, Bessie was “a Southern mountain girl (from Mars Hill, North Carolina, near Asheville) who fell in love with a dashing Cuban and moved with him to Cuba. Her beans were better than or equal to those of the best Cuban cooks, and it was a consternation that a Southern lady had such a perfect ‘hand’ with frijoles negros.”

Mary brought the recipe to the US when she left Cuba around the time of Castro’s takeover. She gave it to Platt Arnold in Miami in the early 1970s. Platt says she still uses the “much be-spattered recipe card” in Mary’s handwriting.

From Platt it went to Anne, from Anne to Miriam, and from Miriam to us with this sweet remembrance.

“Black Beans and Rice, or
How My Mother-in-law Ruined Our Dinner Out (in the Best Possible Way)

“Given what a phenomenal cook my mother-in-law, Anne, was, I’m not sure what my husband and I were thinking that weekend we were visiting when we decided to forego one of her meals and go out to a nice restaurant instead. All I can say is that our children were small and we were seduced by the idea of free babysitting and a quiet meal alone.

“By the time we were dressed and ready to go, incredible smells were coming from the kitchen.

“‘Oh, I just warmed up some leftover black beans and rice for the kids,’ Anne told us. ‘Here, try some.’ She gave us a bowl to share. Knowing we would just take a bite or two each, I felt bad that she had wasted a whole bowl on us.

“After wolfing down that bowl and more, we finally tore ourselves away so as not to miss our reservation. Unfortunately, neither of us was very hungry by the time we got to the restaurant. That was ok, though, because nothing we had that night was half as good as the leftovers Anne casually pulled out of her refrigerator.“

Anne’s Black Beans and Rice

  • 1 bag black beans
  • 1 ham bone with lots of ham still attached*
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Sofrito (see below)
  • Sugar
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Tabasco
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  1. Wash beans and bring to a boil in a large pot of water. Turn off heat and allow beans to sit for 1 hour. Drain and rinse.**
  2. Bring beans covered with water to a boil in a large pot with ham bone and bay leaf. Simmer for 2 hours.
  3. Remove ham bone but keep in as much ham as possible. Add sofrito. Cook 1 hour longer.
  4. Season with sugar, cider vinegar, tabasco, salt, and pepper (not much sugar is needed if ham had a honey glaze).
  5. Serve over rice with chopped sweet onion and sherry vinegar on the side.
  6. Freezes well for 2-4 months.

Sofrito

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 small onions, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon coriander
  1. Combine olive oil, onions, green pepper, and garlic in a skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mushy.
  2. Add remainder of ingredients and combine. (Note: I tend to lay on the spices and use more tomato paste, so feel free to season to taste.)

*If you don’t have a bone, you can substitute a ham steak with a small bone. Tear up the meat into small pieces and it all cooks down nicely.

**For extraordinarily tender and deliciously creamy beans, brine beans overnight. Dissolve 3 tablespoons of table salt in 4 quarts of cold water and soak the beans at room temperature for 8 to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well before using. And instead of simmering on the stove for step 2, cook in the pressure cooker for 20-30 minutes. After adding sofrito in step 3, simmer for about 45 minutes.

Notes from Platt Arnold: “Salt should be added toward the end of the cooking process, as it toughens the skin of the beans if added early on. Serve on white rice (in which case the dish is called moros y cristianos). It’s wonderful served with pork roast. The beans can be made into soup; add tomato soup or V8 to the beans, and some more Tabasco, if you like it zingy.”

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4 responses to Anne’s Irresistible Cuban Black Beans and Rice (Frijoles Negros)

  • Elizabeth Knapp Rose says:

    Thank you for this.

  • Diane says:

    I love Cuban black beans and rice, thanks for the great recipe, can’t wait to try it!

  • Leave a Response

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