A few days ago, I shared my secrets to making the perfect (to me) Cuban sandwich, one of which was a succulent and juicy, marinated roast pork or lechon asado. But, man (or woman) cannot live by Cuban sandwiches alone. No, no, no! One also needs a few fabulously delicious Cuban side dishes to complement those sandwiches. And, Moros y Cristianos is one of them.
Moros y Cristianos is the Cuban version of rice and beans. It translates to English as “Moors and Christians”. This interesting title is presumed to be a reference to the period during the Middle Ages called the Reconquista, when the Moors occupied the Iberian Peninsula, and the Spanish won it back. The black beans represent the Moors, who were dark-skinned, and the white rice represents the Christians, who were light-skinned. Since Cuba was colonized by the Spanish in the early 1500’s, and since Spain continues to have a strong influence on Cuban culture, the name has stuck.
Though just as traditional, this dish differs from seasoned black beans over rice you might find on the menus of various Cuban restaurants. To make Moros y Cristianos, a sofrito of onions, peppers and garlic is first prepared. The beans and either water or broth are added and the beans are simmered in it until tender. Then, the rice is added right to the same pot and cooked with the beans and vegetables. It’s a perfect one pot dish!
As with the lechon asado, the recipe I’ve used for my Moros y Christianos is adapted from Three Guys from Miami. To make this dish a little more user friendly and realistic for a quick weeknight meal, I’ve used canned black beans in this recipe instead of dried. I’ve made it both ways, and trust me, it is just as tasty using the canned beans. Just make sure you drain and rinse them well before cooking.
I used chicken broth to make this dish, but you can easily use water or vegetable broth to keep it vegetarian. You can also amp it up by plopping the bone left over from your lechon asado in the pot while cooking. As always, you just need to do what works best for you. However you choose to make Moros y Cristianos, it will be a hearty, flavorful and very satisfying meal!
Moros y Cristianos
adapted from Three Guys From Miami
4 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup olive oil for sautéing
2 1/2 cups white onion, diced
2 1/2 cups bell peppers, seeded and diced (I used a mixture of green, red and yellow.)
4 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 1/2 cups chicken broth
3 cups long-grain white rice
1. Rinse the rice with cold water until the water runs clear. Set aside.
2. Use a large, eight-quart covered stockpot. Sauté the onion and green pepper in the olive oil until tender. Add the garlic, and sauté another minute or two. Add the tomato paste, black beans, oregano, cumin, bay leaf, and vinegar. Cook for about five minutes, stirring gently.
3. Add the chicken stock and the rinsed rice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for about 20-30 minutes — until the rice is fully cooked.
4. Remove the bay leaf and add salt and pepper to taste.
For an added treat, drizzle some Spanish olive oil (don’t be stingy!) over the rice in the pot and fluff cooked rice gently with a fork. If plating the rice as a side dish, drizzle a little olive oil over individual servings and garnish with some parsley or cilantro.