This classic recipe is adapted from “Tastes Like Cuba,” by Eduardo Machado and Michael Domitrovich. The secret is the homemade sofrito, but bottled will do in a pinch.
1 ½ green peppers, stemmed and seeded
10 garlic cloves
1 pound dried black beans, rinsed and picked over to remove any stones
1 smoked ham hock
2 bay leaves
5 teaspoons salt, or to taste
¼ cup olive oil
4 slices thick bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 Spanish onion, diced
1 jalapeño, stemmed and finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon turbinado or other brown sugar
1. Cut 1 green pepper into 1-inch squares. Smash and peel 4 of the garlic cloves. Put the green pepper and garlic into a large pot with the beans, ham hock, bay leaves and 1 tablespoon salt. Add 2 quarts water and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and simmer until the beans are tender, an hour or more.
2. Meanwhile, make a sofrito. Cut the remaining ½ green pepper into ¼-inch dice. Peel and finely chop the remaining garlic. Heat the olive oil in a very large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the green pepper and onion and cook, stirring, until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, jalapeño (leave out the seeds if you don’t want it too spicy), oregano, cumin, black pepper and 2 teaspoons salt and stir for another minute. Pour in the vinegar and scrape any browned bits from bottom of pan with a wooden spoon. This is your sofrito.
3. When the beans are cooked, discard the bay leaf. Remove and set aside the ham hock and let it cool. Transfer 1 cup of beans to small bowl, mash them into a paste with the back of a fork and return to the pot. Add the sofrito, then the sugar. Pull the meat from the ham hock, leaving behind any white sinew or gristle. Chop the ham into ½-inch pieces and return it to the bean pot.
4. Stir the beans well and bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes or so, skimming any foam from the top. Taste for salt and serve with white rice.