Why It Works
- Opting to use a pressure cooker drastically reduces the cooking time and eliminates the need to soak beans overnight.
- Browned pork belly adds a savory richness to the beans.
- The beans and rice provide a fortifying base for a variety of proteins, condiments, and embellishments.
When my wife and I make our regular trips to Bogotá, it's virtually guaranteed that three things will happen within the first 24 hours:
- I'll massively misjudge my ability to mix alcohol with altitude and end up sleeping in and feeling sick the entire second day.
- Through their insane ability to always assume the best of people, my in-laws will explain it away and apologize because my stomach "must not be used to Colombian food."
- My wife will talk to her aunt and request a full frijoles spread.
Colombians take their beans as seriously as they do their potatoes and arepas, which means they rank somewhere up there between family and religion. The fat red beans common to the Colombian Andes are not merely a side dish, they are the focal point of a gigantic meal.
At its core, a meal of frijoles needs nothing more than cooked seasoned red beans and rice, but from there it can grow in many directions. The greatest bean dinner is a fast-worthy plate called the bandeja paisa, and it reminds me of a full British breakfast in its makeup and extensive application of fried foods. Beans, rice, arepas, fried green or black plantains, avocado, a thin slice of grilled steak, chicharrones (deep fried pork rinds), a chorizo or two, a side of ají to sauce everything up, and a fried egg to top it off.
It's a ridiculously hearty meal eaten for lunch and meant to fuel the hard-working mountain folks through the afternoon. My family tends to use it as an excuse to take a nap.
No matter what you serve on the side, the most important element is the beans. I've never seen the big fat Colombian red beans on sale in the States, but the largest red beans you can find (or even dark kidney beans) will do the trick. When my Aunt Gloria makes them, she's inevitably making crisp fried chicharrones as well, so she uses the fried pork belly chunks to season the beans as they cook, along with onion, tomato, and a pinch of sugar.
Back home, where we eat far less fried pork belly, I just crisp up some raw pork belly in the pot before adding the beans and remaining aromatics.
1 pound large dried red beans (kidney beans work fine)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 pound pork belly, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 medium tomatoes, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 large onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups cooked white rice
To Serve (all optional):
Place beans in a large bowl and add 2 tablespoons salt. Cover with cold water by 6 inches and allow to sit at room temperature overnight. If using a pressure cooker, this step can be skipped.
The next day, drain beans and set aside. Heat oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or pressure cooker over high heat until shimmering. Add pork belly and cook, stirring occasionally, until well-browned and crisped on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Add tomatoes and onions and cook, stirring frequently until softened, about 3 minutes.
Add beans, sugar, and 1 tablespoon salt. Cover with water by 2 to 3 inches and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally and adding water as necessary, until beans are completely softened and liquid is thickened but still soupy, about 3 hours. (If using a pressure cooker, cook on high pressure until beans are tender, about 45 minutes).
Season beans to taste with more salt and sugar and serve with cooked rice, avocado, plantains, fried eggs, steak, and ají as desired.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 6 to 8|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 10g||13%|
|Saturated Fat 3g||13%|
|Total Carbohydrate 62g||22%|
|Dietary Fiber 10g||34%|
|Total Sugars 5g|
|Vitamin C 9mg||45%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|