2 October 2013

The Virtual Supper Club Shakes it Up in Cuba with Cuban Red Beans and Rice

Cuban Red Beans and Rice - photo from All Recipes
A few years ago I was lucky enough to travel to Cuba for several weeks. Although staying at an all- inclusive resort in Varadero is a relaxing way to spend a vacation I would not be satisfied with this type of vacation for more than a few days. In true MTBT fashion we travelled farther afield and tried to immerse ourselves in Cuban culture. In Havana we found a glimpse of the true Cuba even if only briefly. Do not leave Havana without visiting one of its private restaurants known as “Paladars”. These are one of the few private businesses the government has authorized to Cubans and some of them are really excellent. What better way to immerse yourslf than to eat in the home of a wonderful Cuban cook!!! 
Havana is really one of a few cities in the world that still conserves a very characteristic and unique charm. The Havana city we met was one of fascinating contrasts and the ironies wrought by history and circumstance. In Havana, you'll discover some neighborhoods filled with houses that are crumbling behind their ornate Corinthian columns. You'll see 1950's Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles traveling beside Soviet-made Volgas and Ladas, tiny motor scooter-powered coco-taxis, and ciclo-taxis (bicycle rickshaws) for two. The air can be almost asphyxiating, the heat and humidity is relentless (keep in mind we travelled there in July), and most things are in disrepair. Yet all this only strengthens Havana's allure to me. 

Cuba is famed for its beaches, diving, lifestyle and dancing. But one aspect of the Cuban holiday which is often overlooked is the Cuban cuisine, which is unfortunate because the mixture of cultures from Spanish, Chinese, African, Portuguese, French and Arabic combine to make a truly unique combination of flavours and textures. The country’s cultural influences are so diverse and add a unique flavour to the food.

 Let me go on record to say that I love Cuba and all it has to offer!!!! "If I get lost look for me in Cuba", wrote the Spanish poet Garcia Lorca. Cuba is the home of simple snacks and light treats. Masitas de Puerco Fritas (lightly fried pork cuts, slow cooked until tender), Pinchos (kebabs) and Fritas (the Cuban hamburger, spiced with shoestring potatoes and onion) all put our own country’s fast food to shame not only in terms of value, but flavour. You will not find a McDonalds or a fast food restaurant anywhere that I could see, and this suits me just fine.

Most of their food is sauteed or slow-cooked over a low flame. From what I have read very little is deep-fried and there are no heavy or creamy sauces as in some cuisines. Most Cuban cooking relies on a few basic spices, such as garlic, cumin, oregano, and bay laurel leaves. 
Many dishes use a sofrito as their basis. Sofrito consists of onion, green pepper, garlic, oregano, and ground pepper quickly fried in olive oil. The sofrito is what gives Cuban food its flavour. It is the main ingredient for almost every traditional Cuban dish next to olive oil.

 "A Cuban household without olive oil is like a bath without water"

Here at the Cooking Light Virtual Supper Club we have dreamed up a menu on the healthier side. 

We always appreciate you joining us for this monthly event where a group of ladies and one gent in two neighbouring countries get together on the first Wednesday of every month to create a delicious meal from appetizers to dessert with a theme in mind. In its fourth year this is a team effort where we continue to share a love for healthy eating and living. We look forward each month to strengthening our bonds, and enjoying each others company virtually. This months theme "Memories of Cuba" was chosen by our very own Sarah of All Our Fingers in the Pie.

Let's see what our group has brought to the party....

Sarah of All Our Fingers in the Pie wowed us with our main dish which brings back memories of Cuba with Cuban Style Beef and Peppers.

Jerry of Jerry's Thoughts, Musings and Rants made a delicious presentation with a Cuban Black Bean Dip.

Sandi of Whistlestop Cafe Cooking warms our cockles with a Chipotle Black Bean Soup.

I was in charge of a side dish which brought to mind Cuban Red Beans and Rice (Congri) This favourite Cuban recipe blends red beans and rice with a classic Latin sofrito—pork fat, tomato paste, onion, garlic, bell pepper, herbs, and spices—giving this dish complexity. Prepare it the night before, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate; reheat single servings in the microwave the next day.

Susan of The Spice Garden rounds out our meal with a luscious Arroz con Dulce.

**Cuban Red Beans and Rice (Congri)**

8 bacon slices 
1 teaspoon olive oil 
1 1/2 cups chopped onion 
1 1/2 cups chopped green bell pepper (about 1 medium) 
4 garlic cloves, minced 
2 tablespoons tomato paste 
2 cups uncooked long-grain rice
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
2 cups water
3 (14-ounce) cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth, divided 
3 (16-ounce) cans red beans, rinsed and drained
Sliced green onions (optional) 

Cook bacon in a Dutch oven over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving 1 tablespoon drippings in pan; crumble bacon, and set aside. Add oil to pan. Add onion and bell pepper; sauté over medium-high heat 4 minutes or until onion is tender. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute or just until garlic begins to brown. Add tomato paste; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add rice, oregano, cumin, salt, and black pepper; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Place reserved bacon and bay leaf in pan; stir in water and 2 cans broth. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Remove from heat; discard bay leaf. Stir in remaining can of broth and beans. Cook 5 minutes over low heat or until heated through, stirring frequently. Garnish with green onions, if desired.

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips


  1. How fortunate you were to visit Cuba. Not many people have that chance. I know I would enjoy your lightened up version of Cuban beans & rice.

  2. When you come to New York I will be so happy to cook for you....just made a batch ofblack beans...Great job on this dish...

  3. What a great experience!

  4. I'm a huge fan of the Cuban Beans and Rice! I agree, olive oil is just necessary to bring out all the flavors.

  5. What lovely flavors! Looks delicious. :)

  6. It's hard to believe it's been 17 years since my husband and I "snuck" into Cuba for a wonderful vacation. We also stayed in Varadero, and also traveled through as much of the island as we could in the time we had, including Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad, and several days exploring Havana. We ate twice at paladars, and in one I had the chance to cook alongside Rosa, the woman who ran it. The dish she taught me is still one of my favorite dishes and I make it often.

  7. There was a Cuban restaurant in Hollywood called “Paladar”. I just assumed it meant palace, I don't know why. Well now I know the real meaning! GREG

  8. Oh Val this reminds me of how I went through this crazy phase of eating leftover beans and rice with a runny egg, mixed with hot sauce and lime.
    GAH that was so good.
    Don't get me started on cuban coffee!
    That stuff is good (and strong!)

  9. What a fine dlsh of beans and rice! It goes perfectly with the beef main for this month's virtual supper! I may be slow, Val, but I finally got to my contributions ... the rice pudding is a gorgeous dish and the cocktail is ... rum and sweet juices! Enough said ...

    So sorry that life got in my way on the deadlines this month!


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