Once upon a time there was a family of mice. There was Mamá Ratón, Papá Ratón, and Brother and Sister Ratón. Mamá was smart and had a beautiful voice. She often sang as she walked. Papá liked to think he was strong. He had big muscles (so he thought) and often flexed them to show off.
One day, they went on a picnic. Papá carried the huge picnic basket filled with platanos, frijoles negros, arroz (rice), and lemonade.
After a delicious meal, Brother and Sister said, Mamá, Papá! Vamos a jugar. We want to go play. And off they went. They had so much fun playing hide and seek, fútbol, and rolling on the grass. While playing they came across a fence. Psst! Hermana, I hear a big cat lives behind this fence!, said Brother. I’m not afraid of any cat, said Sister. Me neither, said Brother. I have big muscles (so he thought) like Papá. Let’s go see if the cat is there, he said.
They both looked through the fence and the cat was indeed there, taking a nap in the sun. Feeling safe on the other side of the fence, and thinking the fence was much higher than it actually was, Brother and Sister began to tease and laugh at the cat. Hola Gato! Wake up! Hola Gato flaco! Hey skinny cat! We’re not afraid of you! they shouted while laughing so hard they had to hold their sides while rolling in the grass. You’re no match for these! Hee, hee, hee! Brother shouted to the cat as he flexed his muscles. The cat woke up, annoyed, but didn’t say a word. It didn’t even move a whisker. Sister giggled and they continued to tease the cat. They laughed hard, so hard that they didn’t even notice when the cat jumped on top of the fence.
Fully irritated, the cat peered down at them with it’s bright green eyes. Now in the large and dark shadow of the cat, Brother and Sister looked up. Gulp. Uhhh, uhhh, adiós Gato! and within nano seconds, the chase was on.
Mamá!!! Papá!!!, yelled Brother and Sister. They raced back to their parents with the cat in pursuit. El Gato! El Gato! The cat is going to eat us! Papá stood tall, flexed his muscles, and said, Yo no tengo miedo del gato! I’m not afraid of the cat! Then, Papá saw the cat. Gulp. Mamá! he cried, and with Brother and Sister, he jumped behind Mamá.
Mamá’s heart pounded. Only she stood between the big cat and her familia. She didn’t know what to do, but with the courage a mother feels when her family is threatened, she stood up tall on her hind legs, looked straight into the green eyes of the great big cat, and from somewhere deep within her she said…
WOOF!!! WOOF, WOOF!!! WOOF, WOOF, WOOF, WOOF!!!! Woof! Woof!
The cat stopped and thought, This is weird. A barking mouse?! No vale la pena. It’s not worth it, the cat decided, and turned around. He was gone in a flash.
Wow! said Brother.
Awesome! said Sister
I knew I married the right woman! said Papá.
When they all got back home, safe and sound, Mamá said, You see kids? Es muy importante hablar otro idioma! It pays to speak another language!
I came across this charming story, The Barking Mouse, by Antonio Sacre while visiting a bookstore in Miami, Florida last week. When traveling, my husband and I often visit local bookstores to see if we can find any interesting and/or bilingual books for our son.
Sacre first heard of this story, the barking mouse, from his Cuban grandmother who encouraged him to speak Spanish. I’ve slightly shortened and altered Sacre’s story here, but the gist is the same. You can also find other versions of this story in several different countries. The story not only shows how language is one key to surviving difficult places, but also shows the joy and value of being bilingual…and, the strength of a mother!
When I returned from Miami, I was inspired to make Frijoles Negros Cubanos, Cuban Black Beans. Cuban immigration has greatly characterized modern Miami, creating what is known as Cuban Miami.
I had the great pleasure of visiting Cuba several years ago. There, you’d rarely see a meal served without arroz con frijoles negros. In Miami, the tradition continues.
Frijoles Negros Cubanos (Cuban Black Beans)
Serves about 10
1 pound dried black beans, soaked overnight and rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 4 large pieces
½ teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cumin, ground
2 bay leaves
6-8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth or water
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
olive oil, to drizzle before serving
lime wedges, to serve
fresh cilantro, to serve
avocado slices, to serve (optional)
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ onion, diced
½ green pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
freshly ground black pepper
rice, to serve (I used brown rice)
Cover dry beans with water and let stand covered overnight. Rinse, drain and discard water.
In a large pot, sauté onions for about a minute. Add garlic and cook for about another minute. Add the large pieces of green pepper, then add oregano, cumin and bay leaves and give it all a stir. Add cleaned black beans and 6 cups of broth (or water). Bring the beans to a boil, reduce heat to low, add salt, cover, and cook until the beans are tender (but not mushy), about 1-2 hours, adding more broth if necessary. Keep in mind that frijoles negros cubanos should be soft and a little mushy, never soupy. When the beans are cooked, they break open and make a rich black/dark brown broth.
Meanwhile, make the sofrito. In a small saucepan, sauté onions in olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute or so. Add bell peppers and cook until softened. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
When the beans are tender, remove the large pieces of bell pepper and the bay leaves and discard. Add salt. To thicken the beans, remove about 1 cup of beans and mash them to make a thick paste. Return the mashed beans back into the pot. The beans should be tender and the broth a bit thick. Drizzle with olive oil. Taste and adjust salt. Optional: at this time you could add the sofrito to the pot, stir and then serve. Or, ladle beans over brown rice and garnish with the sofrito, as I do.
Either way is acceptable and delicious. Garnish with cilantro, and avocados. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.
Before adding the avocados, I like to toss them in a dressing of olive oil, fresh lime juice, salt and pepper. I love to dress avocados like this before adding them to dishes.
Notes: Cuban cuisine has been influenced by Spanish, French, African, Arabic, Chinese, and Portuguese cultures. It is not supposed to be spicy. Most of Cuban cuisine relies on a few basic spices, such as garlic, cumin, oregano, and bay (laurel) leaves. Many dishes, as this one here, use a sofrito as their basis. It’s what gives the food its flavor. I happen to like my food spicy. So when I make Cuban black beans, I often add some pepper to my plate, not the pot, turning my serving into a Cuban “inspired” dish.
When making the sofrito, the green pepper should be softened and cooked. Although the green peppers in the sofrito photographed above may look raw, they are not. Typically, Cuban black beans (and Cuban cuisine in general) does not include raw bell peppers.
When it comes to black beans, many Cuban cooks have a special ingredient or two to add into the pot. Some add vinegar, some add Spanish wine, others a little tomato sauce, etc. The recipe changes from cook to region, but the basics (what you see in the recipe above) remain the same.
Yellow rice or saffron rice is not to be paired on your plate with these kind of black beans. Yellow rice is another recipe. Buen provecho!