My cookbook shelf runneth over. Some specialized books merely stand at the ready, in case say, the tagine is clamoring for its annual outing. Others, generally the fat, heavy ones, are so loved they look like fingerprint cards at a prison where chocolate or tomato sauce has replaced ink. These are my bibles, from “The Joy of Cooking,” or Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” to Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Cake Bible,” and it is extremely hard to break into their ranks.

America’s Test Kitchen’s “The New Family Cookbook” arrived with a weighty thud last month, fairly demanding with its size and breadth (1,100 new recipes!) to join my collection of food bibles. I was prepared to be grudging – at this stage in my life, I require no instruction to make deviled eggs – but when I opened to the two-page spread featuring Cuban Black Beans and Rice, I got interested. This is exactly the kind of new basic that dear old Joy isn’t jazzy enough to trust on and can’t be found in my collection of beloved Latin cookbooks, which all skew Mexican.

I soaked some beans, got out the salt pork and went to town on a double batch. America’s Test Kitchen delivered big time, first on the clarity of this carefully outlined recipe (with 8 pictures, in case I needed visual hand holding) and then on the taste level. They were scrumptious initially, only got better by day three and gave me many happy lunches. It’s the season for dry beans in Maine, so I may get stuck on the Rice, Grains, and Beans chapter for awhile (Boston Baked Beans are next). Which might mean this book doesn’t actually get closed and put on the shelf for awhile, but make no mistake; it’s a keeper.

Cuban Black Beans and Rice

Makes 6 to 8 servings


1 cup dried black beans, picked over and rinsed


2 cups chicken broth

2 cups water

2 large green bell peppers, halved, stemmed and seeded

1 large onion, halved crosswise

1 garlic head, 5 cloves minced, rest of head halved crosswise with skin left intact

2 bay leaves


6 ounces lean salt pork, rind removed, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 teaspoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano

11/2 cups long-grain white rice, rinsed

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar


2 scallions, sliced thin

Lime wedges

Dissolve 11/2 tablespoons salt in 2 quarts cold water in large container. Add beans and soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours or up to 1 day. Drain and rinse well.

Combine drained beans, broth, water, 1 green bell pepper half, root end of onion half, garlic head halves, bay leaves and 1 teaspoon salt in Dutch oven. Bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook until beans are just soft, 30 to 40 minutes. Discard bell pepper, onion, garlic and bay leaves, then drain beans in colander set over bowl; reserve 21/2 cups bean liquid.

Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Cook salt pork and 1 tablespoon oil in now-empty pot over medium-low heat, stirring often, until lightly browned and fat is rendered, 15 to 20 minutes. Coarsely chop remaining bell pepper halves and onion half, then pulse in food processor into 1/4-inch pieces, about 8 pulses; set aside.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, processed vegetables, cumin, and oregano to salt pork. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until vegetables begin to brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in rice until evenly combined.

Stir in drained beans, 21/2 cups reserved cooking liquid, vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to simmer. Cover pot and transfer to oven. Bake until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, about 30 minutes.

Fluff rice and beans with fork. Let rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Serve with scallions and lime wedges.

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