Cooking Cuban cuisine in Kentucky

By Mayra Diaz-Ballard

My native birthplace is the tropical island of Cuba. Even though I immigrated to the United States in 1954, eating black beans still remains a part of my culture today.
You eat these beans as you would Great Northern Beans, served as black bean soup or over white rice, adding the chopped raw onion as a garnish.
This dish is a definite must-have when celebrating Noche Buena, which is Christmas Eve.
The second recipe for flan de leche was handed down to me by my beloved Tia Luisa, a wonderful cook who lived in Tampa, Florida.

Black bean soup
1 pound black beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bay leaf
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 medium green pepper, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 ham hock

Wash beans and discard the imperfect ones. Soak overnight in a covered 3- to 4-quart pot with water 2 inches above the beans. Next day, add remaining ingredients to beans, and if necessary, add additional water so liquid is 1 inch above the beans. Bring to a boil; then lower heat to moderate. Cover and cook until beans are soft.

1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 level teaspoon oregano, crushed
1/4 cumin
1 tablespoon salt
Chopped raw onion (optional)
Corn starch for thickening

In a skillet, heat oil and sauté onion and green pepper until transparent. Add garlic, oregano, cumin, wine vinegar and salt. Stir to mix well. Cook two minutes and add to beans. Cook beans for another 30 to 45 minutes on low heat to make sure beans are tender. Add some cornstarch to thicken.
Serve as soup or over white rice.

Tia Luisa’s flan de lèche (caramel custard)
4 large eggs
2 large cans evaporated milk
1 large can condensed milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 cup sugar
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 325 F degrees. Blend first six ingredients in a mixer and set aside. In a 2­-quart round baking casserole dish, blend sugar and water. Bring to a boil and keep stirring constantly until mixture is a golden caramel color. Be careful not to burn it.
Rotate the casserole so that the caramel evenly covers the entire bottom of the dish. Set aside to cool. Once the casserole is cooled, pour batter on top of the caramelized sugar. Place uncovered dish inside a roasting pan that has been partially filled with water. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes — no more than 1 hour 30 minutes — until custard is set. Remove from oven and let cool. Once cool, cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least four to five hours.
To serve, loosen from sides of the dish with a flat knife and very carefully invert into round deep­-sided dish.

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