Abuela’s Recipe for Cuban Black Beans and Rice
The following dialogue is from my dad explaining a Cuban recipe for black beans and rice that his mother, my grandmother, used to make. She passed it along to her three children—my dad, my uncle, and my aunt—along with her secret ingredient for the dish.
“Soak a bag of black beans overnight. Chop an onion and about three cloves of garlic and a teaspoon of cumin, and then you put two tablespoons of olive oil, the onion that you chopped, the garlic you minced, and the cumin, you sauté that in the oil until the onions get soft. Then you add eight cups of water and the black beans that you soaked overnight. And the secret ingredient is one teaspoon of sugar, and you cook that—you bring it to a boil, and you turn it down to simmer and then you cook it under low heat simmering for two hours ‘till the beans get soft. Then you’re done, and it can either be served as a soup or over white rice.”
I’ve grown up watching my dad, grandmother, and other family members make this dish, and everyone knows the recipe—or the version of the recipe they’ve altered and like the best—so well that they do not bother with any kind of instruments to measure the ingredients. Instead, they add in what they estimate to be the best amount of each ingredient. While they are cooking, they frequently take a spoonful of what they have so far to taste, and adjust what they add into it from there. I’m not sure exactly how long the recipe has been in our family, or if it has remained the same, since everyone cooks the dish based on how it tastes throughout the cooking process instead of anyone ever writing the recipe down. We all refer to it now though as “Abuela’s arroz con frijoles,” or “Grandma’s rice with beans,” but it could have originated earlier than her.