Thursday, March 13, 2014

Recipe for the unofficial dish of Centerpointe Section 9

Requiem for a Meme:  This post is dedicated to whoever crafted this anonymous gem:
There's no attribution, which makes it even more powerful, because this guy could be any one of us who still knows how to cook real food in a fast-food universe.  
As Section 9 of our subdivision is now turning four years old (!), I'll mark the occasion by presenting a well-received recipe in the sections below.  I am presumptuous enough to declare this to be our dish.  And it's a heck of a lot better for you than birthday cake.

The good news, and the specific reason I chose this dish, is that everyone can eat it regardless of ethnic, religious, health, age, or other lifestyle restrictions.  Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus have all eaten this and declared it to be worthy, and if I could find some Jews in here, I think it could be made kosher also.  Vegan and non-vegan neighbors have both approved it irrespective of their ethnicities.  It is gluten free (I think - see notes below) and none of the ingredients are particularly allergenic (that I know of), so no limitations on that dietary front either.  It's also very simple as recipes go, so cooking skill is no bar.  And furthermore, it costs only pennies per serving.  In sum, I can identify no resident for whom this would not be a suitable healthy dish to make and eat.

The bad news is, on the day when I last made this, I was preparing three dishes simultaneously, and so I was a bit distracted when I was taking the prep photos.  My photo spread is a bit disjointed as a result, but here goes.

Cuban Black Beans

(This ingredient list makes 7 to 9 quarts - cut recipe down for smaller batches)

  • 4 cups dried black beans (Whole Foods organic from the bulk section are good)
  • 2 cups dried kidney beans (ditto)
  • Approximately 6 large Spanish onions
  • 1 to 2 full heads of garlic (depending on taste), split into cloves and minced
  • Approximately 0.5 to 0.75 cups of virgin olive oil
  • 4 large bunches of cilantro
  • 28 to 36 ounces of canned diced tomatoes
  • 0.5 to 1 cup of British malt vinegar (any issues with gluten or kosher?)
  • Salt to taste (usually a few tablespoons)
  • Water

Like many dishes that include only simple ingredients, the taste derives from proper preparation, which is a 3-day*, multi-step process that goes something like this (*the good news is that you can freeze this which means you don't have to cook batches of it very often).

Start on the evening of the first day, perhaps before you go to bed, putting up the dried beans to soak in water.
First pour out the dried black and kidney beans onto a clean, flat surface such as your dining room table.  Inspect carefully and remove any small rocks, wood chips, etc.

Then, put them in a large pot and cover with several inches of water.  They're going to swell up considerably, so they need a lot of water.

In this photo, it looks like I have many more kidney beans than black, but that's only because the kidney beans tend to float better.  
On the afternoon of the second day, after the beans have soaked for at least 12 hours but perhaps as long as 14 or 16 hours, begin the cooking.

Turn the heat on under the soaked beans, making sure that there is about 1.5 inches of water remaining over the top of them (bean purists debate whether the soaking water should be discarded and replaced with fresh water for cooking... I tend to retain the soak).

Bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer with the top of the pot on, but cracked open.  Add some salt.

Then dice four of the onions and most of a head of garlic (depending on your taste for garlic).

Fry in at least a quarter cup of the olive oil.  The olive oil is the only real fat in this dish, and there has to be enough of it to transmit the tastes.

In this photo, I also threw in a handful of frozen tomatoes from our garden, but you can ignore that part (I make it a point to include something I've grown myself in each dish I make).  This isn't my full four onions, either.  I added more after this pic was taken.  
After the onion/garlic mixture is sauteed, add it to the pot of simmering beans.  I don't have a pic of that step.

Allow this initial mixture to simmer for several hours before moving on to the next step.

OK, now for the potentially novel part of this cooking experience.  What distinguishes this bean dish from others we know more commonly (e.g., Texas pinto beans) is the inclusion of a concoction known as sofrito.
Screengrabbed from Google.  
To make a black bean sofrito, continue with the following steps.

Chop the other two onions, the rest of your garlic, and saute in more of the olive oil.

After you get done sauteeing, you'll need to add a great deal of chopped cilantro.
I make such large batches of these beans that I get lazy with the cilantro.  Cilantro tastes best if you strip the leaves off the stems, but if I tried to do that here with the volume of cilantro needed, it would take me about a week.  It's easier for me to just buy four bundles and cut off the top sections, discarding the stem-rich remainder.  That still gives me four large fistfuls without having to do a lot of work.

By the way, I've since built for myself a much more effective chopping board.  You can see that here if you're interested.  
The cilantro is one of the two main components supplying the aromatics to this sauce.  You actually throw all that cilantro in there and cook it down - you reduce it, but somehow that does not totally kill the taste of the cilantro - don't ask me why not because it seems like it should be more fragile.  
After the cilantro has had a chance to reduce, you add the canned tomatoes.
Bean purists often used canned rather than fresh tomatoes in cooked beans because they claim that canned helps keep the dish from spoiling.  It prolongs the refrigerator life, in other words.  Or so people say.  But if you freeze most of your beans like I do, that shouldn't be an issue either way.  
So here's what the intermediate stage of sofrito looks like.  You'll need to cook the heck out of this one, too - at least 45 minutes.  
After the above sofrito ingredients are well-reduced, you add about a cup of malt vinegar.  This is the other component that supplies the aroma.
I like this brand.  A little maltose goes a long way - it's a very distinctive taste (Negra Modelo beer is an example of another product that has a lot of maltose in it and people tend to either love it or hate it).  If you're not sure that you like this flavor, start with a half a cup and then later add a bit more to the bean pot if you feel like it.  I use a full cup.  
Keep cooking the sofrito until the liquidity is again reduced.  Another 20 minutes at least.

Then, the sofrito is added to the main pot of cooking beans.
This is one of those moments when I wish I didn't have an over-the-range microwave oven because it's hard to get it in there when the pots are so large.  
Stir thoroughly and (you guessed it) continue to cook on low heat (barely simmer) for another hour or so.  Taste to adjust the salt if needed.

This is where I cover and turn my pot off and go to bed, leaving it on the stove overnight.  This is a 15-quart pot you see here, so the beans are still warm when I wake up on the morning of the third day.  I then turn the pot back on for another hour or three on very low heat.

The cooking duration sounds extreme, but it's really hard to screw this dish up by cooking it too long.  You'll be able to tell when the beans are done by the texture when you taste them - they should be slightly firm but not stiff, and generally smooth.  If you're using conventionally grown beans, the litmus test is to separate some beans from the sauce and blow on them to see if their skins split.  Yes, you heard correctly:  if the skins split, they are sufficiently done.  However, I've found that Whole Foods organic beans have skin that either barely splits or does not split at all no matter how long they are cooked.  I don't know why this is so.  With those beans, you sample them to taste for texture and smoothness to tell if they are done.
They should look something like this at the end of the long, long cooking process.  The surrounding liquid becomes like a thick gravy. 
Into the freezer for multiple future servings.  
The advantages to this incredibly long cooking period are as follows:
  • Optimal taste.  Ask numerous of my neighbors.  This recipe is unexpectedly good.  No other home cooking that I share around here is met with as much enthusiasm.  
  • Little (if any) gas.  Long cooking times help break down the indigestible cellulose that causes gas.  If you eat beans and a lot of gas results, one or more of these three issues is at the (f)heart of your problem:
    1. Your beans were not cooked properly.  Most commercial sources (restaurants, packaged food manufacturers, etc.) simply cannot afford a two to three day prep cycle, and so this has a lot to do with why beans have a bad reputation.  The preparers cut corners and poor digestibility results.  
    2. You don't eat beans often enough.  If they are a regular part of your diet, your body gets used to them and doesn't react by producing gas (that whole beneficial gut bacteria thing again).
    3. You eat beans as too large a fraction of your total meal.   They need to be a component balanced out by other servings.  I like to have mine with a hearty brown rice and maybe a piece of grilled chicken breast and a small salad.  Diluting the beans makes your body better able to handle any indigestible components that may remain.   
If you abide by those three pointers above, you should have no problem.  Happy noshing.  And Happy Birthday, Section 9!
Four years ago almost to the day, we were regaled by these genius tradesmen.  Rather than carrying the drywall up all those stairs, they cut a tiny slit in the wall of the house and simply passed it in through the side.  Texas ingenuity!!!

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