Congrí, a heart- and belly-filling one-pot dish combining Cuban black beans and white rice, is considered one of Cuba’s national treasures. Deservedly.
”This black beans and rice dish has been enjoyed in many Cuban households across the country and especially in mine,” says Emily Gonzalez of Chicago. A 22-year-old student studying healthcare marketing, Emily is proud to share this family-famous recipe with the Familia Kitchen community, proudly crediting it as essential to celebrating her Cuban-Mexican heritage.
”Arroz congrí can be served as a side dish or a main course because it is extremely filling,” says Emily. ”Variations exist that include additional ingredients or unique regional twists such as meat or Spanish Manzanilla olives, which is how we like to make it.”
The word congrí reflects the influence of African culture in Cuban cuisine. Influential Cuban scholar and anthropologist Fernando Ortiz, an expert in the country’s Afro-Cuban and Indigenous history, has linked the dish’s origins to the Haitian enslaved (Haiti is Cuba’s eastern island neighbor in the Caribbean). The early Spaniards in Cuba mispronounced the French for what they heard as ”Congo riz” or Congo rice, resulting in congrí.
To make congrí, start with pre-cooked black beans (try this delicioso recipe from Emily’s family) and rice, boiled together. Add sofrito (the cooking base of so many Cuban dishes), adobo, and spices like oregano and cumin. After 30 or so minutes, when the dish is done — it will be steamy-hot and fluffy — your house will smell great and you’ll be ready to feed a large group of happy people.
Here’s a congrí-cooking tip from Emily: ”Our family has a trick for knowing how much rice to add to to this dish with the Cuban beans. If you put your spoon into the pot with the rice and beans, and the spoon stands up and holds still for a few seconds, you added enough rice.” (We just love #abuelacooking tips here at Family Kitchen. Thank you, Emily!)
In Emily’s family, this dish is so loved and essential, it’s even made for Thanksgiving, replacing the traditional mashed potatoes every year. They also ditched the turkey, replacing it with another Cuban beloved dishes, ropa vieja, a braised beef one-pot dish that is one of Emily’s all-time favorites, she says.
Check out Emily’s family’s delicioso Cuban-Mexican Thanksgiving menu, starring ropa vieja, freshly cooked black beans, this congri, boiled yuca with garlic and lime, shrimp empanadas, and pastelitos de guayaba or guava pastries. You can find links to the Gonzalez family Thanksiving’s six recipes, with videos of Emily cooking each one here.