27 September 2010

Beans with History

My most recent memory of Cuba involves the documentary Sicko and how "amazing" Cuba's health care was portrayed. Heath care issues seem to come up time and time again and it seems like comparing other countries and their health care systems to that of the United States has definitely added some heat to the debates. From my own experience I will say one thing, not everything appears as nice (or not nice depending on viewpoint) in real life as it does in a documentary. Now Cuba may have free health care, yes this is true. This sort of comes with socialism if I remember correctly from my high school history classes. Which by the way, if free health care isn't part of a socialist government correct me because it's a miracle I even passed those classes since me and history are less adhesive than oil and water. Now I don't want to turn this into some huge health care debate, but I will say one thing, free health care makes it difficult to pay doctors and keep facilities equipped, higher life expectancy or not, it's not a walk in the park. So that's my spiel on Cuba and their health care.

As one of the remaining Communist countries, Cuba also suffers from what probably isn't the best reputation. However, politics aside, their cuisine is something to be desired, no matter what kind of government eats it. This place knows how to make great food. Any list of Cuban dishes will be extensive, all noteworthy in my opinion. In fact when I first began my research for Cuba, which seems like ages ago, I had a very difficult time choosing a dish. I had realized that every single dish sounded amazing, each bursting with flavor and spices, all fusions of Spanish, Caribbean, and African cuisines. So I went for one of the most obvious, their national dish, something called "Monk's Black Beans." Well after some extensive recipe hunting and digging around in Cuban cuisine, I emerged without a clue on why the dish was the national dish or where the name came from. I ended my search with the conclusion that Monk's Black Beans and a bean and rice dish called Moros Y Cristianos (Moors and Christians) were one in the same. Now I can't guarantee the accuracy of this statement, but the ingredients for the two are pretty much identical. Having said that, I am formally changing the original name of my chosen dish from Monk's Black Beans to Moros Y Christianos, which actually has cultural and historical significance.

The name of the dish refers to wars between the Moors and the Spaniards. The black beans in the dish signify the Moors and the rice represents the Christian Spaniards and the centuries of battle that happened between them in Spain. Nowadays, this rice and bean dish is found on almost every Cuban table to act as a reminder of the Spanish influence on Cuba. It's not a daily ritual to think about the Spanish invasion that happened centuries ago, but it does show you just how much ancient history can impact the cultures today. That is what I found so incredibly fascinating about this dish. Can you imagine, I mean we're talking about an event that happened more than 500 years ago and how it has impacted everyday cuisine. This goes to show you how sometimes finding the origins of dishes can be a long and laborious process and even just discovering the names behind some dishes can remain a mystery.

I do have to say right off the bat, this recipe is definitely a keeper and one of my favorites. It was so incredibly easy but so incredibly tasty that I will be making it again very soon. I do have a strong love of black beans so that certainly contributed, but I did love the infusion of the spices. I also love cumin so with the black beans the likelihood of me disliking this was pretty slim. The best part, you stick it in a pot and let it cook, no tending or difficult steps needed. The most intensive process is cutting up the veggies and the results do wow. You could definitely serve this as a side dish no problem, or be like me and eat it alone with some tortillas. It's not spicy, it's incredibly flavorful, it's easy to make, and it is one of the standout dishes I've made out of this cooking challenge. Cuban food will become a part of my cuisines I cook more of!

1 comment:

  1. Servings: 2-3

    1 chopped onion
    1 chopped green bell pepper
    2 cloves chopped garlic
    1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
    1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
    1 4oz. jar diced pimentos, drained
    1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper – optional
    1 bay leaf
    1 Tablespoon olive oil
    1- 1 1/2 cup rice cooked
    1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes
    2 cans (15 ounces) black beans, drained – try to get low sodium, black beans have ridiculous amounts of added sodium otherwise
    1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
    1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt – optional
    1/2 teaspoon black pepper

    Saute onion, bell pepper, garlic, cumin, thyme, crushed red pepper, and bay leaf in olive oil until onion is tender, about 5 minutes.
    Stir in tomatoes, black beans, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add water if needed. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes and mix with rice. Serve hot.