Ingredients:

  • Uncooked black beans (about half the volume you want to end up with)
  • Garlic cloves
  • Onion
  • Oil (I use olive, Nicaraguans use cottonseed (which they consider a poor substitute for lard, which is hard to get), you also can use any bland oil like canola or safflower, or you can use none)
  • Salt to taste (optional–I never used any for a long time but started again after too many emergency room trips for dehydration. The beans taste fine either way, depending on your tastes)
  • Chopped fresh tomato (optional)
  • Lime (or lemon) juice (optional)
  • Additional seasonings of your choice

I learned this recipe while living in Nicaragua, so it is authentic (the family I lived with even had the same type of pressure cooker I do). I have not changed it at all except where indicated. I recommend using black beans (also known as turtle beans) because this recipe is designed for them and I think they taste the best. But you can experiment with any kind of beans you like or have access to (try Mexican style with Pinto beans or Dominican style with pinkish-white beans (whose name escapes me at the moment)).

This is an easy recipe, but it does take a lot of time (like baking bread).

Seasonings: Nicaraguans didn’t use anything else. My last batch had fresh dill and cilentro (yum). You can also add hot spices or anything else you like (add at the end and taste the beans first, you may not “need” anything at all. Clean (sort out bad beans and rocks, if any) and wash beans. Cook until soft. I use a pressure cooker; it takes about 2 hours. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, soak the beans in cold or room tempurature water overnight and cook in a pot. As they begin to cook is the time to add salt, if you use any, and some whole cloves of garlic (unpeeled is fine). You should end up with extra bean-water.

Prepare a large frying/saute pan or a pot. I recommend non-stick if you have it (especially if you plan not to use oil). The family I lived with used cast iron. You have a choice here of refrying all the beans, or just enough for one meal (pick the size of your pan/pot accordingly).

Heat oil in the pan and add chopped onion (chopped garlic too if you forgot it when the beans were cooking or just like it a lot). Saute onions until slightly brown. (Note: if you don’t use any oil, add the onions after you add beans. The onions will have a different flavor.)

Take the pan off the burner for a second, quickly add as many beans as you plan to cook and lots of bean water (stand back, it will splatter). Now comes more waiting. If you are impatient (or hungry), cook the soupy beans down once (30-45 minutes). If you want more flavor (and have the time), cook the beans down several times (keep adding bean water or regular water (cold or room tempature)). This process can take several hours. The longer you cook the beans, the sweeter they will be. The texture will be softer and smoother too, so don’t do this if you like your beans to have individual personality. If you only add a little water at a time, you can stop the process on quicker notice (disadvantages: you are more likely to burn the whole panful). Stir a lot when there is little water, a little when there is a lot of water.

Zero to 10 minutes before you finish cooking, add any of the following optional ingredigents: chopped tomato, fresh herbs, lime/lemon juice (about one teaspoon per large serving of beans–this adds flavor and helps cut any greesiness).

Serve. These can be a side dish or center piece dish. Serve with rice, tortillas, potatoes/yuca (cassava root), fried eggs (if you eat them), or whatever you like. Store in fridge (I haven’t tried freezing) and reheat as often as you like.

Variations: A very common Nicaraguan dish is Gallopinto (‘guy-oh-‘peen-toe–named for the colors of the rooster (gallo) and pinto). To make it, add cooked rice when you add the beans to the frying pan (about 50-50 or to taste or availability). Cook down once.

If you cook the beans down a lot but keep the final version soupy, you will end up with black bean soup. Such soup is a Cuban (and Dominican and Puerto Rican, I think) dish, but I don’t know enough about Cuban cooking to tell you what to do with the soupy beans to make them the full dish.