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Soak beans overnight: Pour beans into a large bowl or pot. Sift through and pick out any small rocks that may be present. Cover beans with water (at least 3 inches over beans) and let sit on the counter overnight. If you forgot to soak the beans (it happens!), use the quick soak method (see notes).
Drain and rinse beans. Place in a large heavy-bottomed pot with a lid. Add onion, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, and ham hock, if using. Add spices (this is also the time to add tomatoes and Mexican spices if you are making that version). Add chicken broth if using and fill with enough water to cover beans at least 2 inches with water.
Place lid on the pot and heat over medium-high heat. Boil beans for 1 minute, then turn heat to low.
Simmer 2-4 hours or until beans are tender.