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Black beans are probably my favorite treat when I am in Belize…and my husband makes the very best ones I’ve eaten, hands down. They are so creamy and filling and hearty that we have been known to have a large soup bowl of stewed beans with shaved cheese and condiment on top for dinner! It’s a perfect meal. And during my most recent visit, my two and four year old grandkids really loved these beans and gobbled them up for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Who knew?
This formulation came from various people: A Mayan woman in Punta Gorda, who made these beans over a fire in a cast iron pot, told us about using Culantro (wild cilantro) to flavor the beans. I could write pages about Culantro! Sadly, it is hard to find in supermarkets even here in Belize but I’m usually able to find some at Big Tree Produce. It resembles dandelions without the flowers.
The idea of including baking soda was mine, a concept from the Jerusalem cookbook. I’m not sure of the chemical reaction here, but the addition of baking soda helps break down the skins of the beans and make them ever so soft. The vegetables used from the onset almost make a vegetable like stock that infuses savory flavors into the beans and makes them taste more like a stew.
If you really believe that canned beans taste the same as cooking them yourself, I dare you to try these. You’ll never go back!! In order to get Wayne to share his recipe, I had to divulge a couple of my own“secret” recipes including how to make homemade corn tortillas and salad dressing. But I was finally able to pry it out of him and am happy to share it here!
Belizean Black Beans
Yields 16 cups
- 2 lbs black beans
- 1 large peeled white onion, diced ½ inch
- 1 small head garlic cloves, peeled and minced (at home I will use 8 cloves since the heads of garlic there are larger)
- 1 whole medium tomato
- 1 whole scrubbed but unpeeled large carrot
- 1 Tbsp sea salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Season All
- 2 scant tsp baking powder
- Two bunches culancho or cilantro, cleaned and roots removed – bruise by twisting the leaves with your hands (divide into two bunches).
Clean the beans well to remove stones and dirt then rinse them with fresh water in a colander. Place in a large pot and add cold water to cover the beans by 2 ½ inches.
Soak cleaned and rinsed beans overnight at room temperature or for at least 10 hours. Drain thoroughly and add fresh water to cover the beans by 2 ½ inches in a large soup pot (6-8 quart) and bring to a boil. We don’t skim the grey gunk that rises to the top but rather stir it in. My wanna-be-chef husband insists the foam adds nutrients (!).
Reduce heat to a medium boil. Add the remaining ingredients (reserving one bunch of culantro) to the pot once the beans are boiling.
Once the vegetables and seasonings are added, reduce heat to a medium boil and mostly cover the pot for 1/2 hour (I leave a tiny bit uncovered so the steam can escape), stir and then completely remove the lid and continue on medium heat for 30 minutes to an hour until the beans are pretty soft.
With your tongs, fish out the carrot, tomato, culantro or cilantro and add the remaining bunch of fresh culantro along with two or three teaspoons of salt.
Continue cooking with the lid off on medium heat until the beans are much softer, about another half hour . The water should still be one inch above the beans, so add more water if you need to. Taste and season to your liking. Remove culantro or cilantro when done.
Let the beans cool for another 1-2 hrs in the juice, then put half in the freezer with the juice and half in the fridge to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner! These will last five days in the refrigerator. The bean juice thickens by the next day.
Serve with grated hard cheese (Edam or Parmesan) on top and condiment (link) or chopped tomato.
Notes: If you are serving this to people who dislike cilantro, omit the Culantro or cilantro. In Seattle I substitute bunches of cilantro for the culantro since cilantro is much easier to procure. Also, the black beans here in Belize are fresh and tiny and cook quickly, so it might take longer to get packaged black beans to soften. Just keep tasting! You can also use these drained beans in salads or omelets, or blend them for refried beans.