I’m pretty sure I could serve my husband black beans and rice every day and he’d be fine with it. Well, as long as I packed him his customary salad for lunch! The night before deployment I made his favorite roast pork tenderloin with black beans & rice and a side of plantains. He loved it. Some people might want a fancy dinner out before leaving or after returning home, but he always wants his Cuban favorites. He is always most excited about made from scratch Cuban black beans, but those take a long time to make and are usually a truly special occasion treat. He’s bragged on my homemade black beans to his dad, so I figure they must be pretty good!
On normal days, I use canned black beans, but I doctor them up a bit. This “weeknight” black bean recipe is what I’m sharing here today. In addition to using canned black beans, I also use bacon in this recipe instead of smoked ham hocks. The bacon really adds that certain something, but it is optional. If you don’t have bacon or don’t eat it, feel free to leave it out for a vegetarian-friendly dish.
Yes, those are dominoes in the background! I hate to stereotype, but Cubans love their dominoes. Dominoes is the national game of Cuba. Traditional Cuban dominoes is played a little differently (with two teams of two) and is almost always played with a “double nine” set (which this set is!).
I don’t know exactly where Papi Chulo got this particular set of dominoes (we currently have three sets), but I was surprised to find what looks like the same set of Cuban dominoes on Amazon! That’s nice to know because these ones are really scuffed up and have obviously seen a lot of wear.
I classify black beans and rice as both an entree and a side. This recipe makes enough that four people could easily have it as a generous side helping, or two could eat it as and entree (probably with a few leftovers). We’ll have them as a side sometimes, but I know how much Papi Chulo loves black beans and rice. Or, honestly, even just rice. We have this special rice wooden rice spoon from Cuba that he conditions with Beekeeper’s Gold, a cutting board conditioner, and we use it every single time we have rice.
So now that you know how to make your black beans and rice experience extra-authenic with a game of dominoes and a prized rice spoon, let’s get to the recipe!
- ⅓ cup of chopped onion (chop fairly fine, but there's no need to mince it!)
- ⅓ cup of chopped green bell pepper
- 2 strips of bacon, cut into ½" pieces (if not using, substitute 1 tablespoon olive oil)
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- ½ teaspoon thyme
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 (15 oz) can of black beans, rinsed and drained (but hang on to the can!)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup of rice (or as much as you want)
- 1½ cups of water (or as directed by your rice package)
- 1 teaspoon of olive oil
- Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat and add the pieces of bacon. If you're not using bacon, simply add about one tablespoon of olive oil and skip ahead to the fourth step.
- Cook the bacon until a lot of the fat has rendered out and the pieces have almost halved in size, but are not crispy. There's no need to crisp the bacon because it just gets soggy again when you simmer it with the beans!
- Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove the bacon and set it to drain on paper towels. Leave the bacon fat in the saucepan.
- Add the onions to the hot bacon fat and stir to coat. Turn heat down to medium-low and cook for about 2 minutes, until they've reduced in size but aren't crisping or caramelized. They should be beginning to turn translucent and soft, but not quite there yet.
- Add the bel pepper and stir to coat, then cook for about 2 additional minutes.
- Add the garlic, thyme, cumin, salt, and pepper and stir. Cook until the spices become noticeably fragrant - just about 30 seconds.
- Add the drained black beans and stir, then add a can's worth of water. Stir again, then add the bay leaf.
- Partially cover and increase heat to medium-high. Once the beans are simmering, reduce heat to medium low and keep partially covered. This allows the beans to keep simmering while some of the liquid cooks off.
- Allow the beans to barely simmer, stirring occasionally, until the volume of liquid has reduced down by about half. Realisatailly, you can eat the beans any time, but allowing them to simmer partially covered for 20-30 minutes results in better flavor and texture. If they get too dry before the rice is ready, just stir in a little more water. If removed from the heat and allowed to sit, they will quickly develop a "scummy" layer and won't look very pretty at dinner time!
- Before serving, remove the bay leaf and mash about half of the beans with a fork, potato masher, or back of a large spoon.
- Once the beans are simmering, start your rice. Cook it according to the package directions, but use olive oil instead of butter (or whatever fat you usually add). Use about 1 teaspoon of olive oil per cup of rice.
- Fluff with a fork when done.
- Top the rice with the black beans and serve, or serve the two separately.
I know that looks like a lot of steps, but it really is easy and ever so tasty! It’s not what your abuela would do, but black beans are also really good with some cheese. He loves adding feta to them. A bit of a cultural mishmash, I know, but it really is delicious.
If you’re not going with the vegetarian option and want even more flavor, use chicken stock instead of water. It adds a little something extra!
If you want to make a full, Cuban-inpired meal, make sure to check out the “Cuban” option on the drop down recipe tab at the top of the page! I have several Cuban-tested and approved recipes posted, and I add more fairly regularly.
This may seem like an odd question, but how do you prefer you beans and rice? Do you like them separate, or do you stir them all in together?