Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Congri (Cuban Red Beans & Rice)

Black beans and rice are one of Cuba's best-known dishes. Not as well-known, however, is Congri (sometimes spelled Congris), the red beans and rice dish that's ubiquitous in the eastern part of Cuba. In fact, many consider congri to be the "signature dish" of Oriente province, where you'll be hard-pressed to find black beans.

As with black beans and rice, there are almost as many different variations on Cuban red beans and rice as there are Cuban cooks. My version of congri is vegetarian & vegan, which is certainly an authentic way to prepare the dish. It's also perfectly acceptable and traditional to use pork lard or bacon fat instead of (or in combination with) olive oil, and to add chopped smoked ham, cooked bacon or fatback to the dish so feel free to do so if you wish. You can also increase the amount of beans to 1 1/2 cans and reduce the rice to 3/4 cup (reduce water to just over 1 cup) for a heartier dish. For a more robust flavor, you could add up to 1/4 teaspoon of mild smoked Spanish paprika when you add the other spices. And although it wouldn't be authentically Cuban to do so, there's nothing wrong with adding a splash or two of your favorite hot sauce if you insist on adding some heat to red beans and rice.

The following recipe serves two as a main course, or four as a side dish. If you serve it as the entree, good sides include a tossed salad (preferably with avocado chunks and dressed with a lemon or lime vinaigrette), fried plantains and/or boiled or fried yucca with mojo, a thin and tangy garlic infused marinade, dressing and dipping sauce that's also used on roasted or smoked pork. You can double my congri recipe to make more servings.

1 can (15.5 oz) red kidney beans, drained & rinsed
2 Tbs olive oil, preferably a Spanish olive oil
1 bay leaf
Optional: 1/2 Tbs annatto (achiote) powder (available in Latin American markets and some specialty-foods store. Omit if you can't find)
1 small onion, chopped (approx. 3/4 cup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small green bell pepper, chopped (approx. 1 cup)
1 large tomato, chopped
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup raw white rice
1 1/2 cups water
salt & pepper to taste

In a large deep saucepan heat the oil, bay leaf and annatto (if using) over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add onion & garlic and saute until onion is soft and translucent. Add bell pepper & tomato, and saute until pepper is soft and tomato is breaking down. Add beans, rice, oregano & cumin, stir to combine, then stir in the water. Bring to a gentle boil, stir, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 30 minutes without uncovering. Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Uncover, stir, taste and season with salt & pepper as desired. Serve hot.

Zestfully yours,

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