When it comes to different cuisines, Oxford has its fair share of offerings. On High Street alone, you can find Indian, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Cincinnatian, American and all sorts of other options.
One of my favorite cuisines, however, is conspicuously missing from the Uptown amalgamation: Cuban.
Anyone who has ever heard me speak of home, or read one of my many hometown-themed articles for that matter, knows that I grew up just outside of Tampa, Florida. Although a bit hot and a bit crazy sometimes, Tampa is a fantastic place that shaped me into the person that I am today.
And that is a person who loves Cuban food.
You see, there’s a neighborhood in Tampa known as Ybor City — or, as you may have heard it called, “Tampa’s Little Havana.” Ybor is so packed with Cuban heritage and cuisine that my fifth-grade Spanish class once took a field trip there to learn about Cuba, since we couldn’t go to the country itself.
From black beans and rice to fluffy Cuban bread and, of course, the Tampa classic of a Cuban sandwich that’s made like no other Cuban you’ve ever had before, I was raised on Cuban cuisine.
It’s not just in Tampa proper, either. The influence of our Little Havana extends beyond the bay, all the way down to St. Petersburg, where my mom has worked my entire life. And tucked on the side of a busy street in Gulfport, just a 3-minute drive from my mom’s work, lies Habana Café.
This little café, with its charming mural-covered walls and big arched windows, was always my go-to lunch spot on bring-your-daughter-to-work days, which happened quite a lot when I was younger. Mom would get her Cuban sandwich, and in my practicing little-kid Spanish, I would order the same thing every time: arroz congrí.
You may have heard this dish called “moros y cristianos,” since it originated in Spain, named after the centuries-long clash between the Muslims and Christians of the Iberian Peninsula. Or maybe you’ve just heard it called black beans and rice.
But arroz congrí is so much more than just beans and rice tossed in a pot and cooked. There’s a long, slow process of sautéing peppers and onions, adding spices and watching the dark liquid from the black beans seep ever-so-slowly into the white rice, giving it that murky color. It tastes unlike any beans and rice you’ve ever had — so rich and full of flavor that only time can lend to food.
Or so I thought.
Because, this week, I found a 35-minute version of the recipe online, and now I’m here to share it with all of you.
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From self-proclaimed healthy recipe blog SkinnyTaste, this quick recipe perfectly encapsulates all of those mother-daughter lunches of my childhood — and, even better, it’s easy as pie. Or should I say easier than pie?
There’s a little bit of chopping (peppers and onions) and measuring (spices, rice and water) involved, but other than that, the prep work is very minimal. You sauté the peppers and onions with some garlic, then dump everything — that mixture, the beans, the rice, the water and the rest of the spices — into a pot and cover it for twenty minutes.
It sits for five more minutes off of the heat.
And that’s it. That’s the recipe.
It might be the easiest Weekly Veg recipe we’ve encountered so far. Best of all, I didn’t have a conniption trying to open the can of beans with a can opener — Goya, the brand recommended by SkinnyTaste, packages their black bean cans with a handy little tab opener instead.
After my (admittedly minimal) cooking work was done, I had a whole pot full of arroz congrí to eat. My taste buds couldn’t wait for it to cool down, even, and I burned my tongue on the first bite — but it was worth it.
This recipe tastes like home to me. There’s no other way to describe it.
Somehow, this little 35-minute recipe brought me back to the Habana Café. The full-bodied spices and rich flavors on my tongue sang me all the way back to Ybor City. And if I closed my eyes for just a moment, it was almost like I was a seven-year-old having lunch with her mother again.
Try this recipe — journey to my childhood with me. You won’t regret it.
Have a recipe you’d like to see on The Weekly Veg? Email it to me and I’ll be happy to test and rate it.