Quick weeknight dishes that carry the same comfort and flavor as project pieces are gems for home cooks to find and for us to create. For this dish, we use foolproof methods such as toasting the rice in oil (to keep it from turning mushy) and work with canned beans to make the process fast and simple. Keep reading to see how I chose the best ingredients and methods to create this ultimate comfort side dish.
Cuban-style Black beans and rice are a common side dish in Miami. But it can take days to make, from softening and cooking the beans to building the layers of flavor that characterize the dish. I wanted a simpler way.
Many versions of beans and rice are built on sofrito, a fragrant, flavorful base of vegetables and herbs. So that's where I started. In many kitchens, green bell peppers, sweet red ají peppers, and onions make the base for a sofrito. Unfortunately, ají peppers are not widely available, but a side-by-side test showed that my tasters liked a sofrito made with only bell peppers just as much here.
Instead of pureeing the mixture, as many sofrito recipes call for, I opted to dice the vegetables and cook them in a nonstick skillet until they just started to brown. I then added garlic, potent oregano, and cumin for warmth.
Traditionally, the rice is cooked in the pot liquor left over from precooking the dried beans, giving it an inky hue and a bit of earthy flavor. Since I was using canned beans, I reserved their liquid after straining them and bolstered it with enough chicken broth to cook the rice. It was a perfect stand-in for the pot liquor.
For the rice, I started by rinsing away its exterior starch so it would cook up fluffy. After cooking the sofrito and setting it aside, I toasted the rinsed rice in the skillet for a few minutes to unlock its nutty flavor. I added the sofrito, along with the beans and liquid, to the toasted rice and covered the skillet. After about 20 minutes, I had lovely rice and beans that had stayed intact.
Cuban-style beans and rice often includes salt pork, a commonly available but frequently overlooked ingredient. Nestling a few cubes of it into the rice just before adding the liquid allowed it to render its fat, delivering porky flavor and silky texture throughout.
As labor-intensive as the original? Not even close. But every bit as comforting and flavorful? You bet.