To prepare a hearty batch of classic black beans requires just a few key ingredients … cumin, bay leaf, onion and a piece of smoked turkey or pork product if you are a meat eater.
This flavor combination is quite standard among many Latin cuisine cooks. But YOUR black beans can stand out among the rest by toasting your whole cumin seeds and grinding it in coffee mill. Buy a separate coffee grinder just for grinding spices. To avoid flavor transfer in between uses, the folks at Cooks Illustrated say to grind rice to dry-clean your grinder. It really works! The rice absorbs the flavor of the previously ground spice.
Prior to grinding, enhance the cumin flavor by briefly toasting the cumin seeds (for just a few minutes) in a hot, dry pan. While grinding, shake to distribute the seeds and a fine cumin powder will adhere to the top of the cap. Then, you can sift grounds over a fine mesh strainer to yield some usable ground cumin. Alternatively, you can roll up your sleeves to manually grind with a mortar and pestle.
To add an onion flavor without dealing with the strange texture of diced onion bits, I suggest adding your onion in halves or quarters on bamboo skewers. Once they’re cooked and the onion flavor is released, the onion pieces can easily be removed. Out of habit, I personally prefer to soak beans to hydrate, but it’s not really necessary as long as you don’t mind cooking them longer.
A second tip to make your black beans stand out in a subtle way is to incorporate an avocado leaf into your recipe. Either a complete substitution for the bay leaf, or use both. Avocado leaves have a sweeter anise-like flavor.
- 1 lb (16 oz bag) dry black beans
- 6 cups water
- 1 bay leaf (or avocado leaf)
- 3 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
- 1 white onion, peeled and halved
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- In a large pot, pour boiling water over dry beans and let sit for 2 hours to hydrate. Water will turn deep black in color.
- Add smoked meat, bayleaf, cumin, onion and kosher salt to the pot of soaked beans and bring to a brief boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer until beans become tender and meat is falling off the bone, about 2-3 hours. Remove onion, bay leaf and any bone fragments.
- Serve as a side in its own broth, or over any rice of your choice. Freshly chopped cilantro is recommended, but certainly not required.