When I decided I wanted to make a Cuban Turkey for Thanksgiving, I made sure Nitza had a recipe for it. I wasn’t going to try to do my first turkey without Nitza. She has a recipe for a congri-stuffed Turkey and, I figured it would be good to practice making congri first before feeding 20+ a first time turkey and first time congri. Good thing Nitza has two congri recipes – this one here and the one for the turkey. Not sure why they’re different, but I guess I’ll find out.
Recipe #221: Congri
Apparently congri is one of those Cuban recipes that are debatable. Red or black beans. Cook on the stove or in the oven. This recipe calls for red beans, but right under this recipe (#222) is Moros y Cristianos (which translates literally into: Moors and Christians. That recipe calls for black beans and white rice. But, some debate whether the Moros y Cristianos are the red beans and rice and the congri is the black beans and rice.
Nitza doesn’t settle it, either. In my Cuban Turkey for Thanksgiving, the congri recipe calls for black beans. So…maybe it’s a family thing. To me, congri has been black beans and white rice all together, which tastes completely different than when you put white rice and black beans on your plate.
Ahhh, the joys of Cubanisms. Nothing makes sense and everything is right. That’s just the way it is.
And, for my friends on facebook that quickly took my unofficial survey and came to no consensus about red or black being the right color for the congri bean, thank you: Vivian, Michelle G., Mariela, Jenny, Elsy Elena and Claude.
Anyways, back to the recipe.
Take your red beans and soak them overnight if you have time. If not, you put them in a pressure cooker with enough water to cover them and then some (I know, I sound like your abuela saying that, but it’s the right thing to do). Put a green pepper in there with the water and the beans. (Note: although my picture below is a thing of beauty (to me), it's not practical. Cut the green peppers in big chunks - otherwise, they're a bear to pick out.) I cooked them for 30 minutes since I hadn’t soaked them overnight and I wanted to make sure they were soft enough.
While you have the beans in the pressure cooker, start getting the rice ready for later on. You fry up some bacon in a deep pot (can be the same one you’ll use to make the congri in) and once they’re crispy and done, you remove half of them and half the grease they release. That you save for later (no joke). Add the rice to this remaining half grease and bacon and coat it well. Ahhh, the arteries are screaming for help.
Set your grease-coated, bacon rice aside.
Once the beans are done, you take them out of the pressure cooker, you strain them and reserve three cups of the bean liquid. (Note: Nitza says three cups, I’d save five cups just in case).
You take pork and cut it into chunks and put the chunks in a deep pot over high heat. Once they have released their grease, it’s time for you to sofreir some onion, green pepper and garlic that you have food processed. Then, add the frijoles.
Since food processing the vegetables together makes them liquidy, you may be stunned when you see your bright green Cuban-trinity (onion, green pepper and garlic) mix in with the pork fat and the beans. I don’t know why, but I was amazed by the bright green and I could just taste how it would affect the dish in the end as it cooked through all the ingredients.
Once you’ve covered everything in the green and the green isn’t green anymore, you add the bean liquid (make sure you cover everything with the liquid you add), salt, pepper and a bay leaf. All of this still on high heat.
When you bring everything to a boil, add your grease-coated bacon rice and bring back up to a boil.
Lower the heat to medium and let it cook, covered, for thirty minutes.
Right before serving, take the other half of the bacon, crumbled, and the bacon grease and toss it into the congri.
Seriously, who thought of that?
Hey, let me reserve some grease to swirl over my dish as a flavor enhancer.
My congri turned out to be a bit dry and I think it may have been because I didn’t let the beans sit for a few hours in water before cooking them. I skipped it because I felt it was just an old 1950s thing, but it would help (as I learned for my real Thanksgiving congri that came out better).
The way I think of it, if you let the beans sit in enough water to cover them for at least two hours before cooking, they’re getting the water in and letting the water out that they need. Once you put them in the pressure cooker, they have enough moisture and don’t need any more – they just cook in the pressure cooker as they should.
If you go straight to the pressure cooker, the dry beans start to look for water in there and don’t leave as much water in the end.
Maybe that’s a very long way of explaining it, but my moist beans (for Thanksgiving) did much better than these poor dry red ones and this is my explanation for why.
So, there you have it. Congri. Not too daunting. I was actually loathing having to make congri because it’s just something that’s there, but it’s not a Cuban dish I love. I’m more of a white rice and black beans kind of girl.