Always together, rice and beans are the staple of Brazilian home-cooking. As a child growing up, I had them many times every week, alongside beef, chicken, pork, or even seafood. In Rio de Janeiro black beans are more common, whereas in Sao Paulo you’ll see a more reddish variety. I’m from Sao Paulo, but my Mom was born and raised in Rio, so in our home you never knew what kind of beans to expect. Indeed, cooking beans is a weekly endeavor in Brazil: you make enough to last the whole week, then you make it again. And again. And again. It sits in the fridge, waiting, getting better each day.
I’m not talking about “feijoada“, Brazil’s national dish “par excellence“, made exclusively with black beans. I’ll post a feijoada recipe in the future, but for now here’s a much simpler preparation that you can adapt in many ways to suit your tastes. The only thing that I won’t endorse (or forgive) are canned beans. If you go that route, you’re on your own. 😉
BRAZILIAN-STYLE BLACK BEANS
2 cups dried black beans, picked
2 bay leaves
1/2 T vegetable oil
2 very thick slices of bacon, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 t ground cumin
red pepper flakes
ground black pepper
fresh cilantro (optional)
Place the beans in a bowl and cover them with two inches of water. Allow them to soak overnight (I normally do that early in the morning and cook the beans in the evening). Drain, discarding the water. Place the soaked beans in a pressure cooker, add cold water to cover by 1 inch, add the bay leaves, and bring it to a boil. Cook under pressure for 15 minutes, then release the pressure. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, help the economy and buy one right away! 😉 Actually, you can cook them in a normal pan, but it will take 1 to 2 hours. Cook until the beans become tender (they can be prepared up to this point and then kept in the fridge overnight).
Heat the oil in a small frying pan. Sautee the bacon pieces until they are golden, add the onion and sautee more, until dark golden. You do want some color here. When the onion is getting dark, add the garlic and cumin and sautee for a couple of minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper, add red pepper flakes.
If you made the beans the day before, heat them until boiling, then add the bacon/onion mixture plus all the oil accumulated in the pan. Mix it all well and allow the beans to simmer for a while (10 to 30 minutes), uncovered. Remove some of the beans into a small bowl and smash the grains with a fork, forming a paste. Return the paste to the simmering pan and cook everything for 5 or 10 more minutes. Add salt to your taste; add more pepper and cilantro if you desire. Remove the bay leaves.
Serve over white rice with the meat of your choice. We had it with pulled pork and arugula salad, served on the same plate, the way my family likes to do it…
to print the recipe, click here.
Grill or fry some hot sausages, cut them in thick slices and add to the beans together with the onion mixture. In this case, no need to use bacon.
Use pancetta (about 6 thin slices, diced) instead of bacon, add celery to the onion mixture, and some flat leaf parsley at the end instead of cilantro.
Add some hot pepper sauce for extra heat…
Comments: Cooking time for beans vary a lot. With a pressure cooker, it is possible to overcook, therefore, check them out after 15 minutes, and continue simmering off-pressure. Buy different brands, experiment, and decide which is your favorite. Personally, I think nothing compares to Brazilian beans, but here in the US I go for Mexican.
Play with the amount of liquid, some people like their beans very soupy, some prefer a thicker version. All you have to do is gently cook it down, uncovered. Do not add any thickening agent, such as a roux, or cornstarch. Those have no place in this dish.
These photos give you an idea of the amount of beans to use when making the paste, no need to worry about precise measurements:
Finally, I should add that each Brazilian family has its own way to cook beans, just like Italian families won’t ever agree on a single bolognese sauce. 😉
This is my Mom’s recipe, an 86 year old lady who still makes THE BEST black beans in the world…