Wednesday January 3, 2007

How to cook Cuban Black Beans and Rice. Skip the post, and head straight for Firefly’s comment. “Who’s ever heard of ‘draining’ a can of black beans?” Agree there, though beans, rice, and cheese on a tortilla sounds pretty good to me, delusions of Cuban cuisine aside.

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  1. Manuel A. Tellechea    Thu Jan 4, 01:10 AM #  

    20 years ago, I remember an episode of PBS’s “Frugal Gourmet which was dedicated to Cuban cuisine. Naturally, the chef made black beans and rice. He first cooked the beans and then the white rice. When both were done he tossed them together like a salad.

    He did not, however, garnish it with cheese and put the mixture in a taco.

  2. alesh    Thu Jan 4, 01:23 AM #  

    In fairness, most Cuban restaurants in Miami serve black beans in a bowl that you dump over your rice. Also, the beans have no visible traces of garlic, onion, or green pepper that I can detect.

    Uh oh . . . I feel a schoolin’ coming on.

  3. Manuel A. Tellechea    Thu Jan 4, 08:26 AM #  


    What the Frugal Gourmet was trying to make is something called moros y cristianos (also known as congrí). To make this dish you cook the black means and the white rice together.

    The TV chef didn’t cook them together. Instead, he made white rice in one pot and black beans in the other. Then after each was cooked he tossed them together. Like a salad. This is not acceptable. Whether at the finest restaurant or the worst dump, any Cuban served such a concoction would toss it at the waiter.

    Even if he had asked for white rice and black bean soup, a Cuban would still regard the presumption of the chef in blending them together for him as unacceptable and revolting. His reaction would be comparable to yours if you ordered a steak and it was served to you cut into bite-size pieces.

    The glory of Cuban cooking, what makes it superior to all other cusines, is that the spices are very respectful, that is, they are never seen or heard — you can’t say “Well, there’s the garlic” or “There’re the peppers.” The spices are so perfectly balanced and compatible that they become a distinct flavor greater than its parts. And mild. Always mild.

    The Cuban palate will not tolerate Mexican food because of its hot blatant spices. Perhaps I should have said the traditional Cuban palate. Because in Cuba today they will eat anything and have.

  4. Alex    Thu Jan 4, 08:41 AM #  

    The purists at Babalu should give it a rest. To make the black beans properly you have to soak them from the night before, then cook them slowly for a couple hours. If I plan ahead I like them better that way too, but if I didn’t, a can of Goya or Iberia works just fine. Tip: use two cans and put half of one through the blender first, it makes the congrí darker and thicker. Boxes are a no no, with one exception: Zatarains black beans and rice. It’s not really Cuban but it’s gooooooood and fast.

  5. Manuel A. Tellechea    Thu Jan 4, 08:47 AM #  

    It is true that the beans must be soaked overnight. If you don’t you’ll have to boil them for 4, not 2 hours. And who would want to do that in your capital of Humidity?

  6. Jonathan    Thu Jan 4, 09:35 AM #  

    You can cook beans in much less time with a pressure cooker. Easier to use canned beans, though.

    Also, what’s the deal with rice around here? It’s long-grain this and long-grain that. If you ask for short-grain at the Publix they say “sure” and bring you long-grain. If you ask for short-grain brown rice they think you’re nuts.

    Mark my words: Miami won’t be a world-class city until Publix sells short-grain brown rice in 25-Lb. sacks.

  7. alesh    Thu Jan 4, 10:36 AM #  

    I dunno, I like the purists.

    Personally, I use El Ebro or Kirby when I’m making my own Gringo style Cuban black beans. I use Goya for other stuff, because the sauce is thinner.

    The food processor is a good idea; I’d imagine a potato masher works just as good with less to clean. When I’m making my Pasta Fagioli, I put in one can of white beans, mash with the masher, then add the second can.

  8. Mexican Red Bean    Thu Jan 4, 11:07 AM #  

    Sheer racism let me tell you! Just because you’re black and sleep with rice, and I’m red and sleep with a tortilla, you don’t like me! Sob!

  9. Manuel A. Tellechea    Thu Jan 4, 01:19 PM #  

    Mexican Red Bean:

    You are totally useless. Nothing, nothing compared to the Cuban black bean. You are even beneath gandules. In Cuba we would feed you to the pigs and the pigs would spit you back.

  10. Alex    Thu Jan 4, 02:03 PM #  

    You’ll want a thin sauce for this, the idea is to get as liquid a consistency as possible. Otherwise the rice comes out sticky.

    I like Kirby and El Ebro too. Anything but Progresso.

    Jonathan, short grain brown rice can be bought in bulk at Wild Oats.

  11. Val Prieto    Thu Jan 4, 02:48 PM #  


    I beg to differ on one thing thing:

    black beans and rice are called “moros”

    “Congris oriental” is red beans and rice.

  12. Val Prieto    Thu Jan 4, 02:52 PM #  


    If you wantto be a real purist of Cuban cuisine, you not only soak the beans over night, but you must sift the rice and remove all the imperfect grains prior to cooking, like my grandmother used to do.

    When I make black beans from a can, i still make a quick sofrito with cebollitas, aji and a bit of garlic in a small amount of olive oil before tossing in the can of beans.

  13. Manola Blablablanik    Thu Jan 4, 02:59 PM #  

    Actually, Val, that’s my favorite way of cooking any beans, especially if you let the sofrito soak in for a while.

  14. Manuel A. Tellechea    Thu Jan 4, 03:14 PM #  


    You are right. That is a useful distinction between moros and congrí, but one which Havanans do not faithfully observe.

    The rice, however, must not only be sifted but washed to remove the powdered starch residue and added vitamins, which if not removed would cause the rice to be pasty and watery.

  15. Jonathan    Thu Jan 4, 06:09 PM #  

    Thanks, Alex. I will check out Wild Oats. I don’t think the Publix where I shop is ever going to carry it.

  16. Manola Blablablanik    Thu Jan 4, 07:38 PM #  

    Jonathan, where do you shop? The Publixes on the beach have brown rice in plastic jars (I think the brand is Tex something, like Basmati is Texmati). Also, it’s a stretch, but Kosher World on 41st street has some interesting rice selections too. Wild Oats is probably your best bet though.

  17. Dead Che    Fri Jan 5, 10:42 AM #  

    Cuban cuisine far superior?! Spices are never seen but heard?!

    Give me a break. That’s a fancy euphamism for “cuban food is bland”, which it is. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so disappointed as a whole with a particular cuisine. What is wrong with being able to taste a spice? What’s the point if you can’t taste it.

    Now, show us those famous Cuban tempers of yours and let the “Cuban Pride” fly. Especially you Val. I’ve seen your work. Anything not calling for the death of Castro is evil, and cubans are in all ways superior.

  18. Manuel A. Tellechea    Fri Jan 5, 11:50 AM #  

    Dead Che:

    Originally, spices were used to conceal the putrefaction of meat, which was its natural state before refrigeration. In those days, meat was practically embalmed in layers of spices. Those days are no more. Now, you actually get to taste the meat and shouldn’t disguise its flavor with heavy spices.

    If you love spices so much, why not just eat them with a spoon?

  19. Dead Che    Fri Jan 5, 11:57 AM #  

    While I appreciate the clarification, I think your point is a bit moot. I know what spices were originally used for, but like you said, that’s no longer the case. That doesn’t mean that we must stop using spices because the meat is no longer rancid. The majority of world-renowned chefs use spices…is that to cover up their rancid meat?

    And besides, no offense, but 95% of the cuban restaurants in town, including the famous Versailles, do not serve meat that is anything better than average. Don’t act like Cuban cuisine has forgone spices because “the meat is so good you need to taste it”.

  20. mkh    Fri Jan 5, 12:54 PM #  

    Manuel and Dead Che:

    You may be interested in this Wikipedia entry. The “common knowledge” of spices being used to disguise meat has been discredited.

    “A common modern-day misconception is that medieval cooks used copious amounts of spices, particularly pepper, to disguise the taste of spoiled meat. A medieval feast was as much a culinary event as it was a display of the host’s vast resources and generosity. Most European nobles had a wide selection of fresh or preserved meats of domestic animals, game, fowl, fish and seafood to choose from when arranging a banquet. To waste astronomically imported spices on rotten meat would have made no sense either gastronomically or economically and no evidence for this type of usage of spices has been found. The medieval host would hardly have ruined his reputation by serving foul-tasting, spiced flesh at a banquet intended to reflect high social status.”

    Perhaps early Cuban cuisine used local spices in a more extravagant way, but I suspect that they simply developed their own usage styles, as with most other cultures. Comparing national or regional cuisines is a fool’s errand, as it always comes down to a matter of taste.

  21. Manuel A. Tellechea    Fri Jan 5, 01:10 PM #  

    Dead Che:

    Cuban cuisine does not eschew spices, but it uses them with a light hand and avoids the hot spices. It is the blend of the right spices, rather than the preponderance of any one spice, which is the hallmark of the best cuisine (including Cuban). Remember that spices are used to add to the flavor of food never to camouflage it much less supplant it.

    The greatest irony is that the hottest pepper in the world is called the “habanero.” I have never seen it used in any Cuban dish.

  22. Manuel A. Tellechea    Fri Jan 5, 01:20 PM #  


    The great spice trade of medieval times was fueled by the need to conceal the rancidity of unrefrigerated meats. Even gold couldn’t buy fresh meat back then. The proof is that spices were more valuable than gold.

    Everyone except the nobles ate their meat putrid if they ate meat at all. Europeans in fact have preserved their taste for rancid meat. It is their custom even today to “age” wild foul for months (sans refrigeration, of course).

  23. Cubana Beanlarden    Fri Jan 5, 01:30 PM #  

    Actually, the only truly useful “spice” used in Cuba and the Caribbean to preserve meat was good old salt. And generally speaking, salt cod and salt beef were imported from abroad, mostly from Ireland.

    MKH, you are absolutely right. Spices and teas were even considered currency in those days!

    It’s possible, however, that hot peppers, which grew naturally in the Caribbean, had some antiseptic and healing properties in the sweltering tropics. I don’t remember where, but I recall reading something about early settlers using peppers for such purposes.

    Historically, Cuban cuisine reflects Spanish and African influence with the use of regional produce, but this is true of all Caribbean islands (you’ll see Dutch/African influences in the Netherlands Antilles, for example).

    Yuca, yams, plantains — all ground provisions the slaves ate in Africa before they came to the west. These crops were adopted over the years by the ruling classes. Cassava and dasheen were already there, eaten by the Tainos and Caribs.

    If you look at the Caribbean as a whole, the Spanish-speaking islands didn’t take on hot peppers in cooking as in other islands. I think it might have to do with the fact that these islands were largely ruled by one country for a longer period of time, mainly Spain. Traditional Spanish cooking, while tasty, is not “hot.”

    Trinidad is the perfect antithesis to it — the Chinese, Hindi and African influences are very apparent in that island’s food.

    It’s silly to compare one cuisine to another in terms of superiority. The truly enlightened person enjoys them all for what each and everyone has to offer.

    And yes, compared to other cuisines, Cuban is relatively bland. I’m Cuban so I can say that with complete sincerity.

  24. Manuel A. Tellechea    Fri Jan 5, 01:46 PM #  

    Cubana Bean*lard*en:

    The lard in your name reminded me of a very important fact: genuine Cuban cooking uses lard. Real lard. From pigs. This is a custom that has been largely abandoned here and it is the reason that the traditional Cuban food of 50 years ago tasted so much better than its contemporary variant.

    Lard. Yes, lard. The gift of the gods.

  25. Steve    Fri Jan 5, 02:26 PM #  

    “Pork fat rules” — Emerol Legassi

    Actually, when it comes to spreading lard around, a cruise through the blogosphere cuts the mustard.

  26. mkh    Fri Jan 5, 04:36 PM #  

    Manuel, the link I provided puts that old “spice to cover rancid meat” tale to rest; it simply isn’t true. Frankly, if you wish to test the theory, allow some hamburger to go bad and use as much spice as you like to mask the taste. It doesn’t work. A case can even be made for the rise of this legend’s popularity as an attempt by white northern Europeans to discount the more varied flavors and spices prevalent in southern and tropical cultures.

    Spice was an expensive a status symbol, and excessive use of spice was just conspicuous consumption, the diamond-studded Blackberry of its time. Use of small amounts was a matter of taste.

  27. Steve    Fri Jan 5, 05:37 PM #  

    Here is a reference suggesting that spices WERE in fact used (by the Romans) to disguise rancid meat,

    and here’s (another) one that says it’s a myth.

    (Wish I knew how to work that a>href trick and make colorful links.)

    Why do I keep thinking this has something to do with Frank Herbert’s Dune series?

    Manny: “aged” meat (or poultry) isn’t “putrid.”

  28. alesh    Fri Jan 5, 05:42 PM #  

    Remember the Two Fat Ladies on food network a couple of days ago? They had a thing about “using all three,” and they meant oil, butter, and lard.

    They died of heart attacks.

  29. Manuel A. Tellechea    Fri Jan 5, 06:00 PM #  

    “Manny: ‘aged’ meat (or poultry) isn’t ‘putrid.’” — Steve

    I didn’t say it was. Please note that I put aged in quotation marks, signifying that I was not using it in its conventional meaning.

    My point was that you cannot age meat by letting it rot. Nevertheless, in Europe they do precisely that with wild foul and do not eat it until the initial stage of putrefaction.

  30. Manuel A. Tellechea    Fri Jan 5, 06:05 PM #  

    Tellechea Laureate (aka Alesh):

    I do remember the “Two Fat Ladies” (only one of whom has died, by the way). They were wonderfully comforting in their rotundity. And they will die happy, thanks to oil, butter and lard.

  31. Manuel A. Tellechea    Fri Jan 5, 08:10 PM #  

    To disabuse those who claim that I am blind when it comes to the virtues of Cuban cuisine, I offer this critique:

    The chief objective of our Cuban brethren who make ham croquettes for commercial purposes is to create the sensation of ham without actually using any ham, or using the least possible amount of ham. I really don’t understand this capricious economy because no meat is cheaper than cooking ham, which rarely costs more than a dollar per lb. And, of course, the hammiest ham croquette would require much, much less than a pound of ham to make (though they sell for as much or more than a pound of ham). Still, there seems to be some equivalence in the Cuban mind between ground ham and gold dust, because ham is used as sparingly in the confection of so-called ham croquettes as gold is in gilding, with this diffeence: an ounce of gold leaf can cover an entire capital dome and it will shine as brightly as if it were encased in solid gold; but an ounce of ham will not impart any of its essence to a dough-mix from which a hundred or more croquettes will be made.

    So what exactly do our frugal Cuban gourmets put into their croquettes? Well, parsley, lots of parsley. And, of course, bijol to color it a pleasant pink. And, finally, a good amount of salt to disguise the blandness.

    The final touch the hapless customer adds himself: namely, his recollection of the taste of ham, which he wraps around these flour-missiles like a protective second coat to make them palatable.

    Apparently, the hamless croquette makers believe that aging improves the flavor of their vegetarian concoctions. So, in effect, there is no such thing as an “old” croquette, and they will sell them until the skin literally separates from the “masa.” It is only when penicillin cultures develop on the croquettes that they will deign to dispose of them—usually by recycling them in a new batch of hamless croquette dough.

  32. Jonathan    Sat Jan 6, 12:17 AM #  

    Manola, thanks, but the Publixes I’ve been to only have long-grain brown rice, and that boutique stuff in the cutesy little jars doesn’t cut it. I gotta check out Wild Oats or some Asian groceries.

  33. Jonathan    Sat Jan 6, 12:19 AM #  

    “Flour missiles” — I must remember that term.

  34. Manuel A. Tellechea    Sat Jan 6, 03:14 AM #  


    You are entitled, of course, to your preference in rice length, but, seriously, short-grain rice is good for only two things — rice pudding and arroz con pollo a la chorrera It is impossible to cook this rice without producing some kind of mush. Cubans, of course, prefer the extra long-grain rice which maintains its integrity through the cooking process, each grain remaining perfectly intact and unfused to the others.

    Long grain rice (available everywhere) will cook-up closer to short grain rice than extra long grain rice. You will find long grain rice more than acceptable to your purposes.

  35. Cubana Beanlarden    Sat Jan 6, 11:10 AM #  

    Jonathan, I was at Apple a Day yesterday and they had Lindbergh brand (?) grains/rices. Wild Oats probably carries them too. This is the only type of rice I will eat once I get past my low-carb tune-up so actually I am glad to find a place that carries non-refined rice & grains. I used to think that place was more pricey but actually everything I brought was discounted!

    Manuel, LOL you are starting to sound like my viejo. He always talks about how everythign tasted better and lard being one of the reasons. Oh and you never heard of a heart attack. I think though that life was less stressful and Cubans didn’t eat processed foods.

    Recently a few health movements have returned to “natural” fats as opposed to processed fats. A little bit of lard is better than hydrogenated crap. I think the worst enemy in our diet is processed and refined sugar products.

    The spanish use short-grain for paella but when done right it’s never mushy (although I have yet to eat a paella that’s done really right). I also had a plate of risotto in Madrid that was to die for.

    Manuel, Spanish croquetas are better because you can still taste the ham and they omit the breading. There is just way too much breading on the Cuban croquetas and you’re right it takes away all the flavor. The Spanish style just uses a bechamel sauce with the ham and then they are fried crispy.

  36. Manuel A. Tellechea    Sat Jan 6, 04:21 PM #  

    Cubana Beanlarden:

    Your father, of course, is right; and he’s not the only one around to attest to the truth of it: Lard makes a meal taste good.

    I think lard may be making a comeback even among Anglos. The craze now is for potato chips fried in lard; they call them “kettle fries.” Let’s hope potato chips are the gateway food that leads us to a new Golden Age of Lard and Lard By-products.

    I have never tasted croquettes as you describe, but I am anxious to do so now. I must tell you that I had some intimation of this years ago. Where the croquette was not completely covered with bread crumbs or where the croquette had been fractured in the cooking, the fried apertures of bechamel were always the tastiest and scrunchiest.

  37. Manuel A. Tellechea    Sat Jan 6, 05:11 PM #  

    Cubana Beanlarden:

    Before the Revolution, Cuba’s supermarkets (yes, we had them) were stocked not only with all the American processed foods but with their Cuban variants as well. Incredibly, Cubans produced for themselves every processed food which they imported from the United States! And the Cuban consumer did not gravitate automatically towards the American product because its Cuban equivalent was often better and always cheaper.

    In fact, I have a 1907 Cuban postcard with a Magnolia Condensed Milk advertisement in the background.

    Sadly, the last 48 years is the period in our history when Cubans have eaten the fewest processed foods since the inauguration of the Republic (1902). That sentence would be correct also if I had merely said food period.

  38. Manuel A. Tellechea    Mon Jan 8, 09:32 AM #  

    This thread deserves more prominence. Do not let it die.

  39. Jonathan    Mon Jan 8, 12:51 PM #  

    Arise, thread!


  40. Cubana Beanlarden    Mon Jan 8, 01:00 PM #  

    Jonathan, I was at the George Jetson Superpublix yesterday. They have short grain brown rice in the health food section, just behind the regular produce section.

    Manuel, my dad used to drink condensed milk and malta and apparently that was what the poor kids drank in order to fatten up (which he never did). I think the condensed milk thing though was Caribbean wide. Robert Antoni writes about it in Divina Trace. (Carnation brand)

    My first bf, the Nazi, took me to Germany and before we left we had a farewell special dinner with his grandparents. For appetizer we had a delicacy called goose lard spread on crackers. It was actually quite delish although I almost puked at first just thinking about it.

  41. Manuel A. Tellechea    Mon Jan 8, 01:35 PM #  

    Cubana Beanlarden:

    All my life I’ve been familiar with condensed milk and malta. I really don’t think that its consumption was limited to poor children. In fact, for the cost of a malta and a can of condensed milk you could also have bought a ham sandwich.

    There was one food in Cuba which was considered déclassé — the frita. Why this should be so I do not know. But nothing was thought more vulgar by the bourgeoisie than to partake of these savories. Now, of course, they are nostalgic time machines.

  42. Jonathan    Mon Jan 8, 06:33 PM #  

    M. Cubana, thanks! You mean the newer Publix near the Venetian, right? I will check it out.

    BTW, I kind of like the idea of flour missiles sin jamon, if you know what I mean.

  43. Manuel A. Tellechea    Tue Jan 9, 10:45 AM #  

    “Klotz” as in Blood has referenced this thread as a possible cause for New York’s recent gas emergency. We must not allow it to die now that it’s gaining national attention.

  44. Cubana Beanlarden    Tue Jan 9, 11:26 AM #  

    Jonathan, yes that’s the one. It’s right off Sunset Harbour.

    It looks like we might have sent some gas missiles to NY, apparently. :-)

  45. Manuel A. Tellechea    Wed Jan 10, 03:43 PM #  

    Back to the top where you belong and where you shall stay.

    Do not leave this space without posting a comment.

  46. alesh    Wed Jan 10, 04:20 PM #  

    Uh-oh. New possible comments policy rule:

    Don’t ping the threads!

  47. Manuel A. Tellechea    Wed Jan 10, 04:25 PM #  

    Are you acquainted with the name Nitza Villapol? She is the “Julia Child of Cuba,” Julia, that is, with an empty refrigerator and pantry.

    Villapol is the author, of course, of that classic of Cuban cookery “Cocina al Minuto.” No book by any Cuban author has sold more copies in the United States than Villapol’s manual; yet she has never made a cent from it. Why? Because she chose to remain in Castro’s Cuba, where for 47 years she has run the Cuban Institute of Culinary Arts and hosted a cooking show on Cuban tv.

    For every recipe she has to suggest a hundred substitutions, knowing that her viewers don’t have at their disposal the original ingredients or the substitutes. Speak of surrealism in Third Dimension!

    Well, the indomitable Villapol published 15 years ago a new revolutionary edition of her classic cookbook. It was very “revised,” to be sure. Where shall I begin? I better not, for where should I stop? If you want to know the full extent of our national tragedy you have only to compare the pre-Revolution to the post-Revolution edition.

    The first edition of “Cocina Al Minuto,” was published in the 1950s when Cuba was the largest consumer of beef in the Western Hemisphere after Argentina and Uruguay. Of course, things have changed: cows in Cuba today are models for statues, not for human consumption.

    In fact, in the 1st edition Villapol chided her countrymen for eating so much beef and ignoring the island’s rich variety of seafood. For the latest edition of her book, published in Havana, in 1991, Villapol wrote a new “Introduction” where she now claims that beef was never a staple of the Cuban diet and that only 4 percent of the population consumed it on a regular basis. To prove her point she quotes several Communist economists and Blas Roca in what sounds like an introduction to “Socialismo Al Minuto.”

    She ends on the triumphant note that despite the embargo and all manner of U.S. predations Communist Cuba still exports food products. This should be a comforting thought for those who try to follow her recipes (where everything is a substitution of a substitution of a substitution).

    Would you like to make mayonesa without oil? Or perhaps you would like to make it without vinegar? Or without eggs? Well, she tells you how to do it. In fact, the only thing she doesn’t substitute is the air. By the way, nobody ever made mayonaisse by scratch in pre-Revolutionary Cuba. That’s what supermarkets were for.

  48. Manuel A. Tellechea    Wed Jan 10, 06:26 PM #  


    Fancy hearing from you! No acknowledgement of the 2007 Tellechea Prix or the Special Seal of Approval but boorish edicts against “pinging,” whatever that is (and Spanish suggests several possibilities).

    Please read the very considerable post above and if the spirit moves you add your comments to it.

  49. mkh    Wed Jan 10, 07:30 PM #  

    Almost every forum I frequent — not too many, I admit — frowns upon or bans “bumping” to keep a topic alive. Most people just get their own blogs whereon they can discuss whatever they like ad infinitum.

    That’s just me, though. Some people like the idea of endless free-form conversation in the comments of an utterly unrelated post, kind of like a bunch of yahoos standing on a street corner drinking out of paper sacks talkin’ shit.

    Or like Clerks or Seinfeld, I suppose, but without the funny bits.

  50. Manuel A. Tellechea    Wed Jan 10, 08:30 PM #  


    With my own blog I would have no time to comment on other people’s blogs, which would not be a welcome development for them.

    This particular thread has stuck to its theme — Cuban cooking, with no “utterly unrelated posts.”

    And, of course, it is constitutionally impossible for me to “talk shit” or write anything without “funny bits.” At my age I think that this is something I can brag about.