Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cuban Vegetarian Black Beans Using Pressure Cooker


Since my kids are vegetarians, we eat lots of beans. Some of our favorites are these black beans, New Orleans red beans, lentils, and chickpeas. I use a pressure cooker for the basic bean cooking and then finish the dish in a large pot.

Pressure Cooking

Your dad introduced me to pressure cookers. They are widely used in India because they cook foods fast, saving fuel costs. Besides beans, I use ours to cook potatoes, rice, and heat leftovers. They are great for cooking artichokes. Since the artichoke is ready after 5 minutes at pressure instead of the 45 minutes it takes to boil them.

Many people are afraid of pressure cookers because they fear the cookers will explode. I have not had this problem. However, I did melt an aluminum pressure cooker onto an electric stove element. Luckily, your dad was around and was able to replace the element. The melting occurred because I let the pressure cooker run out of water. Before I noticed the problem, I smelled rubber burning. Now, I make sure to use enough water, check the gasket is in good condition, watch and listen for steam escaping, and pay attention to smells while I cook. I have not had a problem with either my second aluminum cooker or a new stainless steel one.

My Bean Method

Sort, wash and soak one pound of dried beans (approximately 2 cups) in water over night or for 6-8 hours. If you are in a hurry, you can boil the beans for 10 minutes in a large pot and leave them to sit for 10 minutes before proceeding. Make sure to sort the beans looking for rocks, dirt, and bad beans. Because of their size, I find more rocks and/or dirt clumps with black beans than other beans.

I cook the beans in two batches in a 1 ½ pan inside my 4 quart cooker on top of the steam tray. I prefer this method because I had problems with bean scum clogging the vent holes and making a mess when cooking beans directly in the cooker. If I had a larger pan and cooker, I could probably cook the beans in one batch. The 1 ½ pan I use is a pot that lost its handle, although it looks like a straight sided dog food dish.

When you are ready to cook, drain the soaking water and rinse beans again. First, put the steam tray (e.g., cooking rack with holes) in the bottom of the cooker. Add water in cooker until it slightly covers the steam tray. Put ½ of the beans in the pan, generously cover with water, and place the pan in pressure cooker on top of tray. Put on cooker lid and weight. Cook on high until it comes to pressure, steam escaping and weight rattling. Reduce heat to medium high and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off heat, and let sit until cool. After the beans cool, I drain the bean liquid and use this liquid to cook a second batch.

Cuban Black Beans

When your dad finds a recipe he likes, he writes it out by hand. We liked the black bean recipe he found, and this version is based on it. The original recipe called for Mojo criollo; I use red wine vinegar or lime juice instead. I also added fresh hot peppers and dried cayenne pepper to the original recipe.


Black beans, dried
Yellow onions, chopped
Bell pepper

Hot peppers, serrano or jalapeño, finely chopped
Garlic, peeled and smashed in garlic press
Mojo criollo, red wine vinegar, or lime juice
Cumin, ground
Olive oil
Cayenne pepper, ground

Bay Leaves
Cilantro leaves, chopped

  1. Cook beans as described above or using your favorite method. 
  2. Heat oil in large pan. Add onions and bell pepper and fry until onions are translucent.
  3. Add garlic and hot peppers and fry 30 seconds.
  4. Add beans and cooking liquid. Bring to a boil.
  5. Add cumin, cayenne, bay leaves, and salt. Reduce heat to simmer and cook about 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves.
  6. Optional to make beans thick and creamy, using a hand held immersion blender, blend a small amount of the beans.
  7. Before serving, discard bay leaves and top with chopped cilantro leaves.

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