1 pound kidney beans or pinto beans
4 dried red chiles
4 cloves garlic -- sliced thin
6 cups water
1/2 pound pork side meat (fatback or bacon)
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne -- optional
1 teaspoon ground cumin -- optional
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano -- optional
Wash beans in a colander, sorting carefully discarding stones and odd materials. Rinse and place into a large Dutch oven together with the dried chiles and sliced garlic; add water and soak overnight.*
Drain beans and return to the pot. With a sharp knife, score fatty side of meat in criss-cross pattern; nestle into beans. Add bay leaves and pepper. Bring to a boil; lower heat; cover and simmer over very low heat about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Stir in salt, cayenne, cumin and oregano used; cover and simmer about 1 hour longer. Discard meat, chiles and bay leaves. Beans are now ready to be used in chili, or serve as a side dish for a barbecue, or as a main dish on a cold, windy, snowy winter night with lots of hot cornbread.
* Alternative to soaking: Bring beans, chiles, garlic and water to a boil; boil 2 minutes. Remove from heat; cover tightly and let sit 2 hours without uncovering.