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Cuban Black Bean Stew

(recipe, Sally Swift & Lynne Rossetto Kasper)

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Cuba's black-bean soup ranks with France's steak frites and Italy's spaghetti with red sauce as a national obsession. It is a touchstone dish of the Caribbean. Usually made with dried beans (definitely worth the extra cooking time when you have it), the dish can nonetheless be adapted to a streamlined model with canned beans. One way to make up for a lack of long simmering is to blend the beans and some liquid into a highly flavored sauté and give everything a short time on the stove. The soup blossoms with a rest off the heat, and an overnight stay in the refrigerator gives it even fuller flavor. This soup demands a finish of onion and lime juice or vinegar (sherry vinegar is our pick).


    1. 1 or 2 meaty smoked ham hocks (about 1½ pounds total)
    2. Good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
    3. 3 whole cloves
    4. 2 medium-to-large onions, chopped into ½-inch dice
    5. 1 small-to-medium green bell pepper, cut into ½-inch pieces
    6. 1 small-to-medium red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch pieces
    7. 2 tsp. kosher salt
    8. 2 cans (14 ounces each) chicken or vegetable broth
    9. 3 bay leaves, broken
    10. 2 tsp. ground cumin
    11. 1½ tsp. dried oregano
    12. ¾ to 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
    13. 3 generous Tbsp. tomato paste
    14. 3 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, drained and rinsed
    15. 3 limes, halved, or about ½ cup sherry, wine, cider or palm vinegar
    1. 1 cup chopped mild onion
    2. ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
    3. Hot sauce


    1. Trim the meat away from the ham-hock bone, cutting it into small pieces. Don't be too fussy; leaving some on the bone is fine. Film the bottom of a 10-quart stockpot with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Stir in the meat, bone, cloves, onions, bell peppers, and salt. Sauté for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the vegetables are sizzling and there's a brown glaze on the bottom of the pan (the vegetables need not brown, and take care not to let that glaze blacken).
    2. Add a little of the broth along with the garlic, bay leaves, cumin, oregano, black pepper, and tomato paste. With a wooden spatula, scrape up the glaze as you simmer the mix on medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Then add the beans and the remaining broth. Adjust the heat so the soup bubbles gently. Cover the pot tightly, and cook for 20 minutes.
    3. Stir in the juice from 2½ limes or ⅓ cup of the vinegar. Taste the soup for seasoning. Adjust the salt, pepper, and lime juice or vinegar to taste.
    4. Ladle the soup into bowls, topping each serving with a heaping tablespoon of chopped onion and a little fresh cilantro. Have the hot sauce on the table. In Cuban style, you could ladle the stew over rice.


    We use a 10-quart pot because its size provides a broader cooking surface. Cooking that all-important sauté on the larger surface discourages steaming and helps build up a flavor-packed brown glaze on the pot. That glaze is key to the soup's success. Don't worry if the vegetables don't brown — the glaze is the thing. This, and the pork, creates the heart of the soup. If you only have a 6-quart pot, do Step 1 in a big sauté pan, then combine the sauté with the beans and broth in a 6-quart pot.