Can anyone else believe that it is already May? While we aren't going to be able to go back to Nebraska for the ceremony, I graduate on Saturday. The culmination of 21 consecutive years of school. Wow! Besides graduations, May always brings thoughts of swim suits, flip flops, backyard parties. It's almost summer, and what better way to start the party a little early than indulging in a little bit of mexican food to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
We love Mexican food around here and typically do not need a reason to cook up some great southwestern meals. With a reason like Cinco de Mayo quickly approaching, I can guarantee that we'll find a way to work some spicy flavors into our diet :) While this recipe is technically Cuban-based rather than from Mexico, the flavors profile is quite similar. Beans, peppers, onions, garlic, cumin. Sound familiar? If you have never cooked your own black beans, please, please do it for this recipe. The beans make this dish. In fact, plan a couple recipes that week using black beans and cook a whole bunch at one time. They were also great in our black bean stuffed peppers. Cooking the beans does require some planning ahead, but do it. I promise you will not be disappointed!
While the end result is worth it, the process of making the dish takes a fair amount of work (as seems to be typical of Cook's Illustrated recipes). Unfortunately, I don't own a dish that can transfer from the stove-top to the oven. When it came to that step, I poured the mixture into an oven-safe baking dish, and it seemed to work just fine. Because of the long process, we ate this as a main dish rather than as a side, and it was definitely hardy enough to subsist on its own. My husband had never had beans and rice in this manner and was a little skeptical when it appeared on our menu. After dinner, he was bargaining with me to assure that he could have the leftovers for his lunch. I guess it was a hit? Enjoy!
Cuban Black Beans and Rice
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated March and April 2011
1 cup dried black beans, rinsed and picked over
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
2 large green bell peppers, halved and seeded
1 large onion, halved at equator and peeled, root end left intact
1 heat garlic, 5 medium cloves removed and pressed through a garlic press, remaining head halved at equator with skin left intact
2 bay leaves
1-1/2 cups long grain white rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces diced pancetta, in 1/4-inch cubes (recipe calls for 6 ounces diced lean salt pork; I couldn't find it)
1 teaspoon dried oregano (1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves)
4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 medium scallions, sliced thin
1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
Dissolve 1-1/2 tablespoons salt in 2 quarts cold water in a large bowl or container. Add beans and soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.
In a large Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid, stir together drained beans, broth, water, 1 pepper half, 1 onion half (with root end), halved garlic head, bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to simmer over medium-high heat, cover, and reduce to low. Cook until beans are just soft, 30 to 40 minutes. Using tongs, remove and discard pepper, onion, garlic, and bay leaves. Drain beans in colander set over large bowl, reserving 2-1/2 cups bean cooking liquid (if you don't have enough add water to reach 2-1/2 cups). Do not wash out Dutch oven.
Adjust oven rack to medium position and preheat to 350 degrees. Place rice in a large fine-mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water until the water runs clear, about 1-1/2 minutes. Sake strainer vigorously to remove all excess water; set rice aside. Cut remaining peppers and onion into 2-inch pieces and process in food processor until broken into rough 1/4-inch pieces, about eight 1-second pulses, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary; set vegetables aside.
In now empty Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon oil and pancetta over medium-low heat; cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and rendered, 15 to 20 minutes. Add chopped peppers and onion, oregano, and cumin. Increase heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Add minced garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add rice and stir to coat, about 30 seconds.
Stir in beans, reserved bean cooking liquid, vinegar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to simmer. Pour into an oven-safe dish if necessary, and cover and transfer to oven. Bake until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Fluff with a fork and let rest, uncovered, 5 minutes. Serve, passing scallion and lime wedges separately.