Black beans have shiny black skins and a soft white center. They are eaten throughout the Caribbean, but Cuba is well known for its use of black beans in salsas, soups and rice dishes. These beans have an earthy flavor and they retain their color when cooked creating a dramatic presentation when served next to white rice in the dish moros y cristianos.
There are several varieties of white beans available. Cannellini, great northern, and navy beans come to mind. White beans have a mild flavor and can consistently replace most other varieties when a recipe calls for dried beans, so use what’s available. A great recipe for white beans is white bean soup.
Pinto Beans are relatives to kidney beans. The skins are speckled with orange-pink splotchy skin. The specks disappear when the beans are cooked. This type of bean is native to the Americas and commonly used on the Spanish speaking islands of the Caribbean and the mainland countries that have a Caribbean coastline.
Red and Pink Beans
Like white beans, there are several assortments of red and pink beans from large red kidney beans to small round pink beans. These types of beans hold their color and shape well when cooked. The texture becomes soft and a little grainy that are delicious in a red bean and pepper soup or pink beans cooked with yellow rice.
Black Eyed Peas
Beans are often called peas throughout the Caribbean. Black-eyed peas are actually small white beans with a black spot (eye). This variety of bean was brought to the Caribbean from the coast of West Africa during the time of slavery. They cook rather quickly and absorb the flavors of whatever they are cooked with earning them a place in stews and curry dishes. They are also cooked with rice and added to salads.
Pigeon peas go by several names including gungo peas, gandules, and Congo peas. African slaves brought pigeon peas to the Caribbean. They are brown or green in color and about the size of a garden pea. Pigeon peas are available fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. There are many dishes that feature pigeon peas such as arroz con gandules and doved peas.
Buying and Storage
Fresh beans are best when they are young and tender. Look for vivid, glossy skins and firmness. Older beans will look dull, withered and tough. Fresh young beans need very little preparation other than shelling, trimming, or stringing. In the grocer’s freezer section, beans are usually frozen fresh.
Dry beans are widely accessible. Choose unbroken, smooth, shiny and smooth beans. Dried beans become tougher and duller looking with age. As well, the older the dried beans are, the longer they take to cook. With proper storage conditions, dried beans can last for years. The beans should be placed in airtight containers and stored in a cool dark place. Before cooking, dried beans should be rinsed, picked over, and soaked in water for dehydration.
Canned beans are just as available as dried. Canned beans are convenient because they do not require soaking or lengthy cooking times, but they should be rinsed before using. Look for varieties that don’t have added salt.