Cuban-style red beans or frijoles rojos is a traditional Cuban recipe that is a guaranteed crowd pleaser and all-around comfort food. My good friend Maria is known for making fantastic Cuban red beans so I asked her to teach me how to make her tried and true recipe. It is important to me to learn and document the traditional Cuban recipes I grew up eating, so that these recipes can be passed on down to future generations. I never got to learn how to make my abuela’s red beans, but I know Maria’s mother taught her all the classics.
Cooking with friends is fun, but blogging with friends isn’t the easiest. Normally we would just cook and go with the flow, but blogging adds another dimension of patience and pictures- lots and lots of pictures. Maria was kind enough to be very patient through all my picture and note-taking, but I had to make sure I got her amazing Cuban red bean recipe just right!
Like many classic Cuban dishes, the base of the red bean soup is a delicious sofrito made of green peppers, onion, and garlic with added tomato paste. Large chunks of pumpkin or Calabaza naturally sweeten the dish and add buttery creaminess while the sliced chorizo gives a little spice and fatty richness to the red beans.
We used a pressure cooker to make the red beans. I must admit I have always been intimidated of using this daunting kitchen device, scared off with stories of exploding pressure cookers and food blunders, but my friend Maria wielded the pressure cooker like a real pro. My abuela was fearless of the pressure cooker too, and she used hers daily. Like my abuela, Maria’s ear was attuned to the various hissing and whistles of the pressure cooker and needed no timer to get the Cuban red beans just right.
The red beans served over Jasmine rice were amazing! The calabaza was incredibly soft and fork tender- even the skin was supple enough to eat and added lovely bite and texture. The red beans were creamy, gently spiced with the rich chorizo, and the whole apartment smelled of comforting Cuban flavors that remind me of home.
Maria’s Cuban Red Beans
3 cups of large red beans
10 cups water
2 teaspoons salt or more to taste
1 green bell pepper
Olive Oil to sauté the sofrito
½ cooking pumpkin (calabaza) cut into large chunks, seeds removed, skin on
3-4 chorizo links, skin removed, sliced
1 onion diced
3 garlic cloves minced
1 6-ounce can of tomato paste
¾- 1 cup of water (to add to sofrito)
1 packet Goya Seasoning con Culantro y Achiote
Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
Put the red beans in the pressure cooker with 10 cups of water and half of the green pepper. Lock the pressure cooker and put the burner on high. Once you start to hear the pressure cooker hiss, cook for 10-15 minutes. This initial step will soften and begin to cook the beans. During this step prep all of your veggies, the pumpkin, and chorizo for the red beans.
Remove the pressure cooker from the heat, and let out the steam or pressure slowly. The pressure cooker might have too much pressure so do this step cautiously. Maria placed the pressure cooker entirely in the sink during this step until it released enough pressure to be opened. The green pepper was totally softened and added to the savory aroma.
Once the pressure has decreased- after 15 minutes or so- it is safe to unlock the lid of the pressure cooker. Place the pressure cooker back on the burner with the heat on high uncovered. We tossed in the chunks of calabaza and chorizo to the cooking red beans.
While the red beans are cooking with the pumpkin and chorizo, heat the oil in the pan and add the garlic first. Yes I know, this seemed backwards to me, and I insisted that peppers and onions take longer to cook than garlic. Maria rolled her eyes at me and swore up and down that the garlic gets added first. I obliged her and the garlic turned golden and perfumed the air. We let it cook for only 30 seconds to a minute, lowered the heat, and added the peppers and onions. They softened right up and I have to admit- she was right. The sofrito was perfect.
Next we added the tomato paste in large dollops and mixed with the softened peppers, garlic, and onions. This cooked for just a moment before adding around a cup of water to make a saucy sofrito base for the red beans. Stir in the packet of Goya seasoning. Once the sofiro was ready we poured it into the red bean soup, added the salt, red pepper flakes, and cracked black pepper, and then put the lid back on the pressure cooker and locked it shut.
After the pressure cooker was howling for 15-20 minutes the red beans were nearly ready to pour over white Jasmine rice. Once again allow the pressure to decrease and let the steam out before unlocking and opening the lid. At this point, if you want a thicker dish you can put the pressure cooker back on the burner (lid off) to boil off some of the water, and add more salt if you like.
Serve Cuban red beans as a side over white Jasmine rice with your choice of protein or as a soup with the rice. Buen provecho!