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The Perfect Side Dish

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Cuban black beans and rice gets my vote.

A favorite side dish for quick fish meals is beans and rice that can be made in advance adn warmed up.

Sadly, side dishes are often overlooked and given less attention than main courses. Soggy French fries, rock-hard baked potatoes and a substance called “rice pilau” appear on plates aside perfectly good entrees of seafood and game. That's a shame, so I offer my recipe for Cuban black beans as a solution.

Cuban black beans are the perfect companion dish. They're flavorful, spicy, and provide just enough starch to offset the protein of the main course. And if your dinner guests are non flesh-eaters, the fact that my recipe is “vegetarian” gives everyone a chance to leave the table satisfied. Actually, a bowl of beans and rice isn't a bad meal by itself.

This isn't a difficult recipe, but it does involve some time in the kitchen. Soaking the beans overnight is essential, as is the long, slow simmer that brings all the flavors together. It's also important to use fresh spices—not the ones that have been in the kitchen cupboard (or on your grocer's shelf!) for years. Cumin, oregano and bay leaves can all get stale, and you'll find a yearly visit to an online seller like Penzey's ( pays off at the table.

This dish actually gets better with time. I make it a few days in advance so the flavors have time to meld in the fridge and then re-heat it as needed. Also, it will keep refrigerated for several days and freezes well in meal-sized packages, ready to perform as the perfect side dish. FS

Cuban Black Beans

2 lbs. dry black beans

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large ripe tomato

2 heads garlic

2 large sweet onions

1 large bell pepper

4 bay leaves

½ cup red wine vinegar

2 tsp. Tabasco sauce

2 tsp. dry cumin

2 tbsp. dry oregano

2 tbsp. salt

In large pot, cover beans with water and soak overnight. Next morning, score skin of tomato; cut one onion in half; cut garlic heads in half crosswise. Cut bell pepper in half and remove seeds. Put ¼ cup olive oil, tomato, 2 onion halves, 1 ½ garlic heads (cut in half), half bell pepper and bay leaves in pot. No need to peel garlic or onion. Add water to cover beans by 2 inches. Bring to boil. Cook over medium heat for an hour or until vegetables are soft. Using tongs, remove skins and pieces of vegetables.

In food processor, finely chop half remaining onion, remaining garlic and pepper, then sauté in large fry pan with ¼ cup olive oil until transparent. Over medium heat, add vinegar, cumin, Tabasco, salt and oregano. Cook 5 minutes, add mix to beans. Cook three hours over very low heat. Serve over white rice (long-grained—not parboiled). Top with chopped onion that has been marinated in red wine vinegar for an hour.

First published Florida Sportsman March 2014

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