I had the simple combination of beans with rice for the first time at this trendy little restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side called La Caridad 78. It sold Chinese-Cuban food, so the menu was split in two , each part focusing on one kitchen or the other.
La Caridad 78, now closed, was a local institution. His food was nothing fancy, but it was reliable and their portions were huge. Their beans and rice was an entry-level version of the dish: not much spice, just a big ball or two of fluffy red beans on top of a mountain of unfancy yellow rice. I was struck by how easily something I had always seen as a side dish could serve as an entrée. Quick and tasty, with no meat hogging the spotlight.
Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the endless variety that can come from this deceptively simple combination. Cajun red beans, Cuban black beans, southern black-eyed peas, Jamaican pigeon peas, curried lentils, Korean sweet black beans, Middle Eastern chickpeas… across borders and cultures, rice and beans in the universal comfort food.
Here is a recipe for red beans in the Latin tradition, taken from “Harlem Really Cooks: The New Soul Food of Harlem” by Sandra Lawrence, published by Lake Isle Press. Sandra credited the recipe to her friend Christina Figueras Colon, whom she described as “the daughter I never had and the cook I wish I were.” Not a bad endorsement.
It’s an easy recipe to follow and the flavorful result provides a touch of consistent heat. As Sandra suggests, I added sofrito to my rice (one tablespoon per cup, but you can add more) for extra flavor.
When you need a quick meal, a can of beans with some vegetables and some spices served over rice is an easy option. When you have a little more time, however, cooking the beans from scratch makes them a bit creamier and flavorful, and results in a little burst of abundance. Whether you start them with an overnight or quick soak, a pot of beans simmering on the stovetop has the power to satisfy you, body and soul.
Click here for the printable recipe.
1 pound dried red kidney beans
1 pork knuckle
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of sugar
1. Rinse the beans and soak them in 4 cups of cold water overnight.
2. Put the ham hock in a large saucepan with enough water to cover and simmer until tender, about 2 hours. Remove the ham from the liquid, reserving both the ham hock and the liquid.
3. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the onion, green pepper and garlic until semi-opaque but not too soft, about 5 minutes.
4. Drain and rinse the soaked beans and place them in a 6-quart saucepan. Add 4 cups of the pork knuckle liquid. Add the sautéed onion, green pepper, and garlic to the pot, along with the bay leaf, thyme, cumin, crushed red pepper, salt, black pepper, and sugar. Bring to a boil, and immediately reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot and simmer for 1 hour. Cut the meat off the pork knuckle and add it to the pan, and cook for another 30 minutes.
5. Serve with rice.
Instead of the ham hock, use 1 tablespoon corn oil and a few dashes of liquid smoke. For the ham hock liquid, use 4 cups of water and a little liquid smoke.
Recipe from “Harlem Really Cooks: the New Soul Food of Harlem” by Sandra Lawrence, Lake Isle Press, 2006
Originally published at https://www.lakeislepress.com on May 5, 2022.a