They are everywhere, the road side vendor has them in packs of 0.5 Kg ( 1 Lb); the supermarkets have a very extensive section on them; in public markets there is always a sector of stands specializing on them; they come in every color, size and shape, beans the most basic staple in Latin America, the poor people's last resort; there is even a joke: a poor young man asks his mother what is for lunch and she responds, beans and rice, with what? the young man asks, and she responds, with luck son, with luck!!!.

When I travel in Latin America I always visit public markets to see what people eat in a particular region, I usually judge the region's prosperity by the variety of beans offered, the greater the variety the more prosperity there is. In the city of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, I visited a wholesale market where there were 17 different types of beans offered, people there seem to eat beans in every meal and prepared in every way imaginable.

The common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris, is an herbaceous annual plant domesticated independently in ancient Mesoamerica and the Andes, and now grown worldwide for its edible bean, popular both dry and as a green bean. Beans, squash and maize constituted the "Three Sisters" that provided the foundation of Native American agriculture. Beans are a legume and thus acquire their nitrogen through an association with rhizobia a species of nitrogen-fixing bacteria, so planting beans at the base of plants or trees provides fertilizer. If you want to learn about growing beans follow this link: Growing Beans

Even though beans are considered a poor man's food, many people who are not so poor love them, Latin American politicians in particular seem to be very fond of them, when they are campaigning for votes you always see them eating some local recipe of beans and saying how good they are, their counterparts in the north of the continent seem to have similar taste, I heard the US senate's restaurant offers a famous bean soup.

I myself am a fan of beans prepared in any way. Growing up there were always beans in my diet; when I went to college in Massachusetts, USA, I loved the Yankee Dinner of Frank & Beans offered on Saturdays at local diners and homes. My wife makes some black beans that are delicious.

There is an enormous variety of beans but the most popular are: Black Beans, very popular around the Caribbean, especially in Cuban dishes; Navy beans, the best bean for baking although they can be used for Chili stews and other dishes; Pink beans, the best beans for making beef Chili; Red beans, they are the best to combine with rice but can be used in Chili and for refried beans paste; Pinto beans come in many colors, they are the best for soups and salad applications. For a more detailed look at bean variety follow the link: Varieties of Beans
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Phaseolus vulgaris


LOCAL NAMES: Frijol (spanish), Frejol (Peru, Ecuador), Porotos (Panama, Argentina), Caraotas (Venezuela), Feijão (Brasil), Habichuelas (Caribbean)

PRODUCTS: Canned beans

PROCESSING: Before cooking beans they must be soaked in water, making sure the water covers them. If the beans are to be cooked in a regular pot they should be soaked overnight, if a pressure cooker is to be used then you only need some 2 hours of soaking. When cooking flavoring agents such as pork maybe added but herbs, spices and salt should be added after the beans are cooked and tender.

STORING: Dry beans can be stored forever in a paper bag in a cool dry place, to avoid bugs place some hot chilies or black peppercorns among the beans.

BLACK BEANS STEW: Prepared black beans are a common ingredient in many dishes around the Caribbean. Soak 1 Kg (2 Lbs) of black beans in water overnight making sure the beans are covered in water. If you are going to use a pressure cooker you only need to soak them a couple of hours. Cook the beans without any seasoning until they are tender, in a regular pot some 3 hours, in a pressure cooker 45 minutes. During the cooking you may add a pork bone, piece of pork or bacon for flavoring but nothing else. Meanwhile prepare a spicy sofrito with 1 onion, 1 red pepper, 2 green onions, 1 leek, 5 cloves or garlic, finely chop everything and cook over medium heat in 1/2 cup of oil until aromas are released, about 8 minutes. Once beans are tender remove any bone, add the sofrito, 1 tablespoon of dry oregano leaves, 1 tablespoon of ground cumin, which is the essential seasoning and stir to make the stew somewhat creamy; turn off heat and add 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro, salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste. This method can be used for any of the other types of beans. Black beans are good companions to white rice and saucy beef.

MOORS AND CHRISTIANS: From its name this dish probably originated in Spain but it is very popular around the Caribbean, particularly among Cubans who call it Congri rice. Over high heat fry 1/2 cup of chopped onions in 1/4 cup of oil until aroma is released, add 3 cups of black beans stew and stir for some 5 minutes, add 4 tablespoons of brown sugar (grated raspadura, panela) and stir for some 2 minutes until it dissolves completely; add 2 cups of cooked white rice and stir to mix well and cook for a couple of minutes. Use a coffee cup to mold and spray some fresh chopped parsley, cilantro or green onion to serve. It goes very well with pork dishes.

CHARRO BEANS: Very typical Mexican dish, Charros are the Mexican cowboys. Cook 1 onion minced in 2 tablespoons of oil until aroma is released, add 3 cups of cooked pinto or kidney beans (porotos) with their liquid and stir, cook some 5 minutes over medium heat; meanwhile on a separate pan heat 1 tablespoon of oil and cook 4 slices of bacon coarsely chopped and 2 chorizos (spicy sausage) cut in 8 slices, once browned add to the beans with 1 16 Oz can of diced tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of ground cumin, 6 finely chopped sweet or hot chilies or mixture of both, cook stirring some 5 minutes, add salt and pepper to taste, to serve spray some chopped fresh cilantro.

BLACK BEAN & CORN SALAD: 2 red and 1 green bell peppers diced, 1 small red onion diced, 1 16 Oz can of corn drained, 1 large clove of garlic finely chopped, 1 teaspoon of chopped cilantro, 1/4 cup of oil, juice of 1 lemon, 3 Tbs of vinegar, salt, pepper to taste, mix everything and add 2 cups of cooked black or other color bean, drained and rinsed, toss well and serve with corn or plantain chips over a bed of lettuce. This salad goes well with grilled meats.


  1. So for the beans stew (which I am assuming is similar to the one mom makes) do you cook the beans in the same water where they were soaking? Do you cook them in just enough water to cover them?

  2. No, your mom cooks them in new clean water. However in north america people use the same water because they do not add many seasonings and the soak water acts as a flavor enhancer. Latin black beans as your mom makes have so much seasoning that the soak water will not contribute much.