I got my latest edition of the Victoria’s Secret Catalog in the mail. For the life of me, I don’t know why they keep sending me this stuff. Sheesh, I haven’t bought anything from them in over a year and I haven’t even worn a negligee in at least six months. However, I am disappointed over the fact that I haven’t gotten an invitation for a soirée from Fran Lebowitz lately.
Several of my friends say I should have my head examined. “You’re upset about getting Victoria's Secret Catalogs but you’re depressed that you haven’t received an invite from Lebowitz? What gives?”
Here’s what gives. I admit, the Victoria’ Secret models are beautiful. Stunningly so. But the pix have no soul. No depth. And even though Fran Lebowitz has been recognized by Vanity Fair as one of their Best Dressed Women, I doubt she would ever be chosen to grace the pages of Victoria's Secret. Or would want to.
But given a choice between holding court with her and others like her (Dorothy Parker, may she rest in peace, comes to mind) around a resurrected Algonquin Round Table; or snuggling with a couple of models from the Spring issue of Victoria's Secret at a corner table in the Rose Bar... well, I’d cast my lot with the likes of Fran and Dorothy.
Someone once said that beauty is only skin deep. That may be true. But wit, wisdom and the beauty of one’s soul runs deeper. And while I am not one to avert my gaze as a gorgeous woman passes by, there’s something winsome, earthy and simple in the writings of women like Fran Lebowitz that is remarkably attractive.
And how do Cuban Black Beans fit into the equation? Easy. I’m also drawn to meals that are winsome, earthy and simple. Dishes that have delighted both humble families and self-important monarchs. Cuban Black Beans is one such dish. Depth, history, comfort, and spice. It’s all there. I'm sure there are as many recipes for this as there are cooks. I whipped up a batch for 80+ people who dropped by the house this past Sunday. I’ve included it below. Scaled down, of course. This will make enough for 4 to 8 depending on what else you are serving and how hungry you are (freeze the leftovers for another day).
Now, you’ll have to excuse me. My cab just pulled up to take me to West 44th Street for a delicious lunch and scintillating conversation with a cadre of writers, illustrators and journalists – and more than one delightful ghost.
CUBAN BLACK BEANS
1 pound dry black beans
½ pound smoked pork (2 or 3 ham hocks are fine)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon cider or red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon rum
3 or 4 dashes of hot sauce, or to taste
1. Rinse black beans and remove any stones or small sticks. Place in a 5-quart Dutch oven or pot and add 6 cups water. Soak for 5 hours or overnight.
2. After soaking, add the smoked pork and bring the beans to a boil over high heat then turn heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the beans are barely tender, 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the age of the beans. Skim any foam that rises to the surface.
3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and peppers and sauté until the onions are soft and translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes. Stir in the oregano and cumin and sauté 1 additional minute.
4. Add the onion and pepper mixture, bay leaf and brown sugar to the beans. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Return heat to low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Season with salt and simmer until beans are soft, about 30 minutes more.
5. Remove the bay leaf and smoked ham and pick off and dice meat. Return meat to the pot and stir in the vinegar, pepper and rum. Season with hot sauce and additional salt to taste.
Serve in bowls or over steamed white rice.