Disclaimer: This is a traditional recipe based on a historical event. It is not a commentary on any religion or ethnicity.
Why the disclaimer? The recipe is Moros y Cristianos, a dish commemorating the Islamic Conquest of Spain by Moors in the early 8th century, the ongoing wars between the two sides and the subsequent Reconquista by Spanish Christians in the 15th century.
WHAT IS “MOROS Y CRISTIANOS?”
Moros y Cristianos means “Moors and Christians” and refers to the popular white rice and black beans dish of Cuba. It was inspired by historic events that are commemorated annually with battle re-enactments across the southern coast of Spain.
Platillo Moros y Cristianos is a staple served at virtually every Cuban restaurant and home. It is the Cuban version of the rice and beans dishes that are consumed throughout the Caribbean, Brazil, Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, and in the southern United States. It can be simply called arroz moro, moros, moro or congrí.
The black beans, or Moros, represent the darker-skinned Moors; the rice, Cristianos, represents the lighter-skinned Spaniards. They are simmered together or separately with herbs and vegetables: a sofrito* of bay leaf, bell pepper, garlic, onions and oregano. Bacon can also be added.
This nicely seasoned side is often served with grilled or roasted meat, poultry and seafood. It’s a good party dish, too: It can be made well in advance and be served at room temperature.
MOROS VS. CONGRÍ: THE DIFFERENCE
In the traditionally preparation, the Moros and Cristianos are prepared separately; they don’t meet up until they’re placed side by side on the plate. In the variation called Congrí, the rice and beans are cooked together†.
These days, many cooks make the rice and beans together Congrí-style, but call it Moros y Cristianos.
There’s no need to split hairs. Both methods work fine, although Steve Sando, the proprietor of Rancho Gordo Heirloom Beans who has cooked bean dishes in every way possible, prefers “the sharper, more distinct flavors the old-fashioned technique delivers.”
We’ll start with his recipe, and follow with a very quick version from Kraft.
*Sofrito is the Spanish version of mirepoix, a chopped vegetable mix that is cooked in oil or butter to add flavor to sauces, soups, stews and stocks. Similar flavor bases include the Italian soffritto and the Portuguese refogado. Depending on the country, ingredients can include bell peppers, carrots, celeriac, celery, onions, and seasonings; refogado includes tomatoes. Cajun and Creole cuisines use what is called the “holy trinity”: onions, celery and bell peppers.
†The beans are first boiled in water; the rice is cooked in another pot with some of the water from the beans. The cooked ingredients are combined with a flavorful sofrito (see footnote above).