Beans and rice should be able to stand on their own as a dish and this recipe does that. Soaked overnight in saltwater, half the liquid saved for the cooking. Fresh oregano in the boil along with garlic that is turning green and the ends of my onions I have just used for sofrito. Nothing is wasted. Timing, layers, flavor, and at the end, acid in the form of tomato paste, capers, and olives make these beans, unlike anything you have tried before. Done wrong and you have tough beans that will refuse to work for you. Done right and you have creamy flavorful beans that don’t take much effort. It is not quite Puerto Rican, it is more “New Yorican” but it is my go-to side for Spanish and Latin dishes.
2lbssmoked, bone in ham steakcut into 1 inch cubes
2largeSpanish onionsdiced (reserve scraps for beans)
6-8clovesGarlicminced (reserve scraps for beans)
2mediumGreen Bell Peppersdiced (reserve scraps for beans)
16 ounce canTomato paste
1bundleFresh Cilantroleaves and stems, chopped plus some leaves saved for garnish
Salt and Pepperto taste
10-12Manzanilla Olivespitted and stuffed
13.5 ounce jarCapersused to taste
2Limesjuice and zest for garnish
8-10sprigsfresh oreganoplus 1 tablespoon chopped for Sofrito
Day Before Prep: Prepare the beans the night before, soaking them overnight in cold water with 1-2 tablespoons of course salt. The beans should be completely covered with water.
Sofrito: Drizzle some olive oil into a large and deep saute pan or dutch oven on medium heat, add the ham steak and brown lightly on all sides, about 5-7 minutes, then remove from the pan and set aside.Reduce the heat to medium-low, add in the onions and saute until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add in the garlic and stir until fragrant then add in the bell peppers and chopped fresh oregano and stir until tender, about 10 minutes. Once the veggies are just starting to caramelize, add the entire can of tomato paste, the browned ham steak, and chopped fresh cilantro to the pot and saute until fragrant and the tomato paste has darkened slightly.Turn off the heat and add a pinch of salt and cracked black pepper to taste. It should be saltier than you would normally like on its own with a rich intense flavor from the tomato paste. This sofrito will be cut in half. Half for the beans and the rest can be refrigerated, frozen, OR added to white rice.
Cooking the Beans: Drain the beans (saving half the liquid) and rinse them well before adding them to a large stockpot with 6 to 8 cups of fresh water, the saved soaking water, salt, bay leaves, oregano sprigs, and the scraps leftover from making sofrito.Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to medium, cover, and let cook for about 2 hours until done. Check them each hour to be sure they have not split on you. They should be creamy on the inside but still hold their shape in the spoon. It is very important that your beans are fully cooked because we are now adding acid to the pot from the sofrito...Add sofrito mixture to the pot and bring back up to a boil, then reduce the heat, stirring to combine and thicken. The sofrito helps thicken the beans even more and adds wonderful flavor. Add salt and pepper to taste and finish with olives, capers, and a bit of the olive and caper brine to taste. The beans should be well seasoned, thick like a nice stew with a touch of bright acidity from the sofrito and the brine.Serve as a side with Spanish rice or on its own, topped with fresh cilantro, lime juice or lime zest.
I should also mention this recipe is delicious with our without the meat it calls for and I have made it vegan several times to meet the needs of guests who don't eat meat. Made with love and memories.